By Ouma Ojango
The emerging shaky relationship between President William Ruto and his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, in their Kenya Kwanza Government ignites a feeling of déjà vu. It is a copy-and-paste template from the last term of the previous regime, where President Ruto served as Deputy to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
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Should their relationship, however, degenerate to a complete fallout like that of Ruto and his former boss, Uhuru Kenyatta, in the last government, does Gachagua have the political mettle to survive it and still retain his relevance to the end of the term? Is Mr Gachagua’s position in the present-day political chase game critical such that President Ruto will unavoidably need him as a running mate for his second-term stab at power?
The Deputy President, unlike his boss, has everything going against him. When, for instance, Ruto joined hands with Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013 for a joint presidential ticket, it was in a pre-election coalition agreement in which he became a running mate for Mr Kenyatta and, upon victory, his United Republican Party (URP) got half the spoils. Ruto had been on the national political stage longer. He had grown a solid, if not fanatic, following his ethnic voting block and penetrated pockets of the national political landscape.
This afforded him a vital bargaining chip on the negotiation table with his counterpart. Subsequently, he took advantage of his position as Deputy President to grow firm political tentacles beyond his tribal backyard such that a Uhuru presidential ticket for the second term in the 2017 General Election without Ruto as a running mate would be dead on arrival.
Gachagua, on the other hand, has no political party. He is a member of the President’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) Party. Secondly, Gachagua does not have a solid tribal bedrock that he would leverage on a negotiating table. In fact, prior to the General Election in August 2022, Deputy President William Ruto, as he was then, was the true kingpin of Gachagua’s Mt. Kenya region. Gachagua’s ascendency to the presidential ticket of the UDA Party as a running mate in the last General Election was out of consideration other than the fact that he was Mt. Kenya region’s most influential leader at the time.
Nevertheless, Mr Gachagua is the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya. What, however, is the ‘truthful man’, as he fondly refers to himself, doing wrong that he finds himself widely isolated? Why is he falling out of favour in his political formation early in the regime?
One, the truthful man’s biggest political blunder, which could potentially kill his political career, was to personalise and carry his differences with the former President, Uhuru Kenyatta, post-August 2022.
The entire brigade of the UDA political machinery, patronised by their boss, William Ruto, bastardised President Kenyatta’s leadership his whole second term. They camped and spent all their political wherewithal in the region, including huge church donations. They took all the credit for whatever development projects Uhuru’s government did in the region. By election time, Uhuru’s influence on the ground in his backyard had irretrievably waned. Out of this, his political bedrock flipped in the August 2022 General Election and voted against his heir apparent.
As much as Uhuru did not welcome their victory, let alone congratulate them, he remained truthful to the Constitution. He handed them power as per every dictate of the law. However, after he was sworn in, Mr Gachagua’s inaugural address as Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya on September 13, 2022, was shocking. He continued the onslaught on the immediate former President. He, amongst many other untruthful claims, originated the narrative of inheriting a broken economy.
“Our new President and his team have a difficult task ahead. The truth of the matter is that we have inherited a dilapidated economy that is facing almost an economic shutdown. We have a Sh10 trillion public debt, 6 million Kenyans are unemployed, and 14 million Kenyans are in CRB. We have a demoralised public service. It is your (the public’s) prayers that will help our President to put up a team and start work from day one to liberate this country economically and put it back to where President Mwai Kibaki left us ten years ago,” the new Deputy President waltzed at the swearing-in ceremony right in the presence of the former President and international guests and media. It was uncalled for.
If Mr Gachagua were wise, he would have buried the hatched with Mr Kenyatta immediately after he was sworn into the office of Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya. He should have promptly embarked on galvanising the Mt. Kenya region so that he could become its undisputed kingpin. That would have meant he found Mr Kenyatta to iron out their differences and seek his blessings. He should have even strengthened Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party in readiness for a takeover whenever necessary.
One of the rear miscalculations of Mr Ruto’s dealings in his alliance with Uhuru Kenyatta was to dissolve his party, against all counsel and join Uhuru in the Jubilee Party towards the end of their first term. Mr Gachagua did not pick lessons from Ruto’s tribulations out of this mistake.
In the one year that UDA has been in power, they have subjected Mr Kenyatta to humiliation as no other regime has ever to any other retired President in independent Kenya. They continued with the campaign rhetoric, abusing Uhuru and claiming he had left public coffers empty even as they collected revenue and took fresh loans. They downsized his security and family, including his octogenarian mother, whom they also abused and threatened to urinate at her doorstep. They raided his farm in Ruiru, destroyed it, and carted away valuables, including farm animals. They planted guns on his children and went for them with the intent to arrest them. All this, we were made to understand, was orchestrated by none other than the Deputy President.
Kenya has had three retired Presidents, including the late Daniel Arap Moi, the late Mwai Kibaki, who took over from Moi in 2002, and now Uhuru Kenyatta. The founding President of the Nation, Jomo Kenyatta, died in office. Kibaki had every reason to humiliate Moi. One, after a 24-year rule within which he messed up the economy and strangled democracy, the masses could have cared less for Moi at the moment, and Kibaki would have exploited that advantage. Two, Moi had betrayed Kibaki. He fired him as his Vice President in 1988. When Kibaki finally joined Opposition politics in 1992, he suffered heavy-handed suppression by Moi and the ruling party, KANU, for ten years until 2002, when he finally ascended to power.
Kibaki, nonetheless, never harassed Moi once he became the President. He never even dwelt on his economic mess or the democratic transgressions of his regime. Kibaki got down to work immediately after he was sworn in, and the fruits of his hard work were seen years later in a revived economy, free primary education, and improved infrastructure.
Uhuru Kenyatta, too, had some beef to pick with retired President Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki refused to endorse and support his 2013 Presidential bid when it meant a lot to him. Uhuru was indicted at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity following the post-election violence in 2008. After all other avenues of stopping the indictment had failed, the only escape route was ascending to the land’s top office and frustrating the International Court. Having been involved in the post-election fracas to save Kibaki’s presidency, Uhuru felt betrayed when the latter did not come through for him. He, however, never raised it after he became president. He even had the odious task of burying the two retired presidents, Moi and Kibaki, who died during his tenure. He gave them honourable State sendoffs.
Respecting retired presidents is important for democracy. It enables reigning leaders to vacate offices peacefully, knowing they will not be hounded in retirement. For Gachagua, respect for Uhuru Kenyatta meant more than that. It would have accelerated his ascendancy to the kingpin status of the community and region and the inheritance of that constituency. It needed a seasoned political eye or a listening ear to great counsel to see it that way. Gachagua has no mettle for both.
It appeared the king for the mountain at the time was President Ruto, and so Gachagua, whose political naivety is unrivalled, took the easiest route of associating closely with Ruto. That has gone up in smoke. This is so because Ruto’s leadership has failed, especially with heightened taxation, whose ripple effect is suffocating the economy, with the most affected being in Mr Gachagua’s backyard.
Gachagua has refused to grow onto the national stage from tribal politics. He has refused to become the Deputy President of all Kenyans. President Ruto is exploiting this shortcoming to cut him to size. addressing.
The Mt. Kenya constituency, which had been sufficiently warned by Uhuru Kenyatta of the penmanship in UDA’s campaign promises, is now beginning to regret their political choices. They think they should have listened to President Kenyatta. With that, Gachagua’s reliance on his boss was the key to his ascendancy to the kingpin of the Mt. The Kenya region has come to a cropper. It is now open to anyone in the region, and whoever becomes the kingpin, retired President Kenyatta, will play a significant role in making that person, especially if the Rutonomics will remain on the same trajectory it is on now for longer.
Gachagua has also refused to grow onto the national stage from tribal politics. He has refused to become the Deputy President of all Kenyans. President Ruto, being the seasoned political schemer, exploited pitfall and cut him to size by assigning him duties restricting him to his region, of addressing coffee-related issues and the scourge of alcohol on the masses.
Gachagua must deliver on these assignments and outgrow them as soon as possible. He needs to, as a matter of agency, cut himself a niche on the national stage. His immediate task is, however, to consolidate his larger backyard, from Kiambu, his Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Meru counties behind him to up his stake at the negotiating table.
Gachagua has realised that the route for his ascendancy to the coveted position of Mt. Kenya’s spokesperson as a launchpad for greater things is through Kenyatta, not Ruto. He now salivates at mending fences with the retired President. Will Mr Kenyatta buy-in, given the humiliation he has suffered at the hands of the Deputy President? Only time will tell.