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Meet Rigathi Gachagua, shrewd enforcer with the talent for cutting deals

Mathira Mp Rigathi Gachagua at his home in Sagana, Nyeri county, May 12, 2022.[Mose Sammy, Standard]

When asked to vote their preferred running mate to Deputy President William Ruto last weekend, UDA-affiliated MPs from Mount Kenya region overwhelmingly picked Senator Kithure Kindiki over Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua. Never mind the boss overruled them and decreed it must be Gachagua.

Quietly, the MPs said they rejected their Mathira counterpart because he is abrasive, quarrelsome and dictatorial. But foremost, they were apprehensive on matters integrity with fraud and money-laundering cases hanging over Gachagua like the sword of Damocles.

Characteristics the MPs described in Gachagua are the same that defined his mentor in the 1990s when he was a youthful District Officer in Kiambu. The mentor he reproduces to a carbon copy was then Kiambu Kanu branch chairman Kuria Kanyingi.

This is how the authoritative Weekly Review magazine of April 18, 1997, described Kanyingi: “An abrasive self-promoter who has managed to keep a high public profile by manipulating events around him, keeping up appearances and dropping names of people in high offices. Kanyingi’s personality and the manner in which he has conducted affairs of the KANU branch represent all the excesses and the problems the ruling party has. He is noisy, self-opinionated and among the few KANU leaders who have refused to change with the times. He still lives in the world where KANU branch chairmen ruled by playing factions against another and where criticism is dealt with only in terms of enemy conspiracies.”

I met Gachagua several times when he was DO in Kiambu and once when he was Personal Assistant to then Local Government minister Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002. In those days, he was called Geoffrey before conversion to Rigathi on the road to the hustlers’ Damascus.

In the instances I met him, I observed at close quarter the characteristics fellow MPs see in him, as well as those the Weekly Review saw in his mentor, Kanyingi. He is a good organiser, conspiratorial, a deals man, and like the character in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, he smells and goes after money.

I would meet him when he was DO in Limuru Division. Later, a new division called Tigoni was carved out for him. Gachagua was more of a Kanyingi spanner boy than a government employee. He often would be found at one of the politician’s two homesteads in Tigoni running personal errands for him.

The multi-party political system had just been reinstated in the country and Kanyingi had sworn to frustrate the opposition in an area that had rejected Kanu in toto. Gachagua came in handy as his enforcer and hatchet man. At one opposition rally in Limuru town, an angry Gachagua threatened to snatch a tear gas canister from a cautious police officer and throw it at elderly opposition leader Martin Shikuku. When the senior politician told the DO he would report his excesses to the President, the latter mocked him: “So what? Just go ahead and report me!” I guess it is for the same utility value the DP would prefer Gachagua to the diplomatic and even-tempered Senator Kindiki.

Conspiratorial

Like Gachagua, Kanyingi loved publicity and often would invite media to one of his homes in Tigoni. In particular, he liked to be covered by the People Weekly newspaper where I worked. He would call us to give what is called ‘exclusives’ in the media parlance. I would meet Gachagua at Kanyingi’s home and saw the mobiliser in him. He is one who arranged for assorted delegations to meet the politician. There would be meetings with women and youth groups, religious leaders, the business community, PSV owners – name it. Kanyingi was in good books at State House, so there would be a long queue of rent-seekers begging him to arrange meetings or deliver messages to the big man.

He was a master at divide and rule, which is how he managed to ride roughshod and remain in control of the Kiambu Kanu branch. He would create and fund rival factions which he made sure were ever fighting and coming for a ‘truce’ at his home even as he discreetly set them against each other.

It is Gachagua who used to light fires here and there and then arrange for ‘peace’ talks at the politician’s home. The young DO was at his conspiratorial best when doing the assignments. I remember one Saturday afternoon he came to brief Kanyingi. They agreed the latter would separately meet rival groups at his two homes about three kilometres apart on Limuru Road. Neither of the group would know about the other’s meeting and would go home with instructions and facilitation to tear down the other.

Deals man

In those encounters, I also came to see the ‘deals’ side of Gachagua. He would come with brown envelopes and proceed to an isolated corner for consultation with his master. From the corner of my eye, I could see it was title deeds or land allotment letters they were discussing. Bundles of cash would also change hands. At the time, I learned Gachagua had acquired land in the city’s Karen area and was putting up a palatial home – quite an achievement for the lowly paid junior civil servant! Another aggressive young man by name William Samoei Ruto also had acquired land in Gachagua’s neighbourhood and was putting up a home.

My last encounter with Gachagua was when he was PA to Uhuru. Kanu had picked Uhuru as its presidential candidate in the 2002 election. A few days earlier, overenthusiastic politicians in Murang’a had organised demonstrations by the outlawed Mungiki sect followers in support of Uhuru’s candidacy. The media erroneously reported Uhuru was behind the demonstrations and he wasn’t amused. He asked his PA to get him journalists to tell his side of the story. Gachagua remembered me and colleague Mwangi Chege from the days at Kanyingi’s home and arranged a meeting with candidate Uhuru.

We met at his ministerial office in Jogoo House A. Our appointment was at seven in the morning. I saw firsthand the rigours of a presidential campaign.  We got to Uhuru’s office a few minutes before the appointed time and found the reception area already overflowing with humanity. We were told the candidate had been having meetings from quarter to six.

Once again, I saw Gachagua at his best in organising, conspiring and cutting deals. He would enter an empty room with visitors to have a tete-a-tete on what to tell and ask from the candidate. As they left, he would debrief them on what they had discussed and ask what they had received from the candidate.

Uhuru received us at the door and we casually chatted seated on a sofa, not at his stately desk. He expressed frustration that the media kept misrepresenting him and didn’t bother to seek his side of the story. We advised him to find out what kind of rapport his team had with the media and encourage them to cultivate a close working relationship. He denied links with Mungiki and told us he had warned concerned individuals against dragging his name into their machinations. He looked exhausted from non-stop meetings and on noting my colleague had a packet of cigarettes in his shirt pocket, he borrowed a stick and did a few puffs. We left on a friendly note and he promised to soon look for us for a bite of nyama choma.

Postscript: Uhuru became rather busy and has remained so to this day. When he resumes life as an ordinary citizen in August, maybe my colleague and I should look for him to have that nyama choma and probably have a puff together, if he still smokes.