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11 things to know about Rigathi Gachagua, Kenya’s deputy president

By Son Gatitu

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Posted on August 16, 2023 11:33

 © Kenyan Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (L) walks next to his wife, Dorcas (R), (Tony Karumba/ AFP)
Kenyan Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua (L) walks next to his wife, Dorcas (R), (Tony Karumba/ AFP)

Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua was until his election last August one of the most unlikely candidates for the second seat.

The closest he had been to power was working as personal assistant to a leader of the official opposition who later became president: Uhuru Kenyatta.

From his contentious Mau Mau heritage to corruption investigations, Kenya’s self-proclaimed “truthful man” appears on a path of his own, forcing his way however unpopular his thoughts may be.

Here’s a look at 11 things to know about Rigathi, or ‘Riggy G’, as he is referred to on the street.

1. Son of Mau Mau?

Born in 1965 in Nyeri, Rigathi is the last born in a polygamous family of nine. During the 2022 campaigns, he claimed to come from a family of Mau Mau – the militant group that fought for Kenya’s independence.

On 8 April, after trekking through Mt. Kenya forest with his wife Dorcas, he tweeted: “My journey through the thick forest was very nostalgic; my late father and mother spent over 10 years in the same forest during the liberation struggle of driving the white colonialists from our land.”

Kenya’s opposition chief Raila Odinga has consistently questioned the Deputy President’s claim. “Tell us if your father was a Mau Mau, tell us what his service number was in the movement,” he said on 5 June.

2. Politics

Until 2017, very little was known of Rigathi. At the time, his elder brother Nderitu Gachagua was the governor of Nyeri County until his death in February 2017.

The elder Gachagua had been ailing since 2013 for much of his term as governor; during this time Rigathi was his personal assistant. So powerful was he that many believe he called the shots during Nderitu’s absence.

During the funeral of his elder brother James Reriani in May 2022, Rigathi narrated how Reriani refused to step down from running for a parliamentary seat in Mathira in 2013.

“The people of Nyeri termed it selfish that two people of the same family were going for major seats,” Rigathi said.

The deputy president in 2017 said he had asked Reriani to contest for the Mathira seat a second time given that Nderitu had died, saying the former declined and urged him to go for it instead. Rigathi won, serving until August 2022 when he was elected Deputy President.

3. Family man

Rigathi is married to Dorcas Wanjiku, a pastor whom he met at State House.

The DP has two sons aged 32 and 31. During a funeral in May 2022, he said his late father had instructed him on the line of succession in his family. He was speaking at the funeral of Reriani, who at the time was the family leader.

“By the powers conferred to me by my late father you are now the head of this family; please take care of us. Keep us united,” he told his brother Johnson Kibaara.

4. Provincial administrator

His student politics connections paid off as soon as he graduated from the University of Nairobi in 1988. Rigathi was absorbed into the country’s public service, starting off as an administrator in the ministry of home affairs in the office of the president.

He went on to hold different positions as a district officer (DO) between 1990 and 1999. He served in Kirinyaga, Kakamega and Laikipia, alongside other roles. During the reign of President Daniel Moi, provincial administrators were known for high-handedness, use of force, corruption and abuse of power.

In the 2022 general election, Rigathi was accused by opponents of abusing power during his tenure as DO, though no tangible evidence was ever presented.

5. Master understudy

Between 2001 and 2006 Rigathi worked for Uhuru Kenyatta as his personal assistant while Kenyatta served as minister, presidential candidate and later as leader of the opposition.

Working as Mathira constituency MP was Rigathi’s entry into competitive politics. His previously calm demeanour transformed and he became a passionate debater, especially when he differed from his former boss president Kenyatta. The 2018 Kenyatta-Raila handshake was the turning point in his allegiance.

Rigathi chose to side with William Ruto, the then-deputy president. Together with several MPs from the Mt. Kenya area, they forged a political revolution against Kenyatta.

“Uhuru Kenyatta knows me [and] if there’s somebody who knows him, it is me. We have done many things together,” Rigathi said in February 2022.

“He appears to understudy the people he serves and uses those lessons to craft his own path. It is no surprise he is where he is today,” says Martin Migwi, a journalist in Nyeri county.

6. Kingpin wannabe

Since ascending to the office, Rigathi has been on a path to stamp his authority in the Mt. Kenya region. This is a region that commands over 4.4 million votes, based on the latest voter register. The area gave Ruto 78% of the vote in the eight counties of Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Kiambu, Nyandarua and Nyeri.

Combined with Laikipia and Nakuru counties in the Rift Valley region, there at over 5.8 million voters. Out of 7.12 million votes nationally, more than a third came from the eight-county region.

As soon as Kenyatta retired, Rigathi embarked on a consolidation agenda. He was behind the election of former Kieni MP Kanini Kega who backed Raila in the 2022 election.

From a vocal defender of the Azimio candidate and right-hand man of Kenyatta, Kega has taken a 180-degree turn to reject the Azimio grouping and is currently fighting to kick out Kenyatta and Jeremiah Kioni as the party leader and secretary general of the Jubilee party respectively.

To boost his command of the region, Rigathi has been leading the war against alcoholism and drug abuse in Mt. Kenya.

With his “shares” narrative and the apparent sizable appointments in government for persons from Mt. Kenya, Rigathi may have fewer opponents for the Mt. Kenya torch. With the spirited political attacks against Kenyatta and Azimio by the Ruto administration, this may be a simple battle.

7. Corruption tag

In the run-up to the 2022 elections, Rigathi had been fighting corruption charges in the courts. He had been charged with defrauding various government agencies, including the county government of Nyeri and the Mathira Constituency Development Fund (where he was MP), allegedly raking in Ksh7.3bn ($51m) in undelivered supplies.

First arrested and arraigned in July 2021, he waited 15 months for the case to begin. Rigathi believes he was being persecuted for backing Ruto. “Leaders around William Ruto are charged with corruption because they are with him,” Rigathi said in February 2022 as he claimed political victimisation.

In November 2022, barely two months in office, the anti-corruption court freed Rigathi after the prosecution withdrew the charges for lack of evidence. The court’s magistrate, Victor Wakhumile, reprimanded the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for half-baked cases.

“How come […] the DPP seems to have acted and preferred charges based on an inconclusive investigation since they were anticipating evidence?” Wakhumile said. “One cannot be faulted for inferring they acted on pressure from their junior, the DCI.”

The then-DPP Noordin Haji has since been appointed director general of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), raising questions as to his mission in freeing Rigathi and other high-ranking persons before joining Rigathi at the National Security Council by virtue of his position at the NIS.

8. Billionaire politician

Despite his lengthy service as a ‘backup’ politician, Rigathi has always followed the money. In his CV he lists directorship at Ridor Group of companies, a holding company for many firms involved in supplies and contract works.

His larger family is associated with numerous investments in the hospitality industry, land and others that have thrived on numerous procurement opportunities at the national and county governments.

Rigathi, however, told a deputy presidential debate in July 2022 that he is worth Ksh800m, which is thought to be an understatement. When his brother Governor Nderitu died, he listed Rigathi as one of three executors and a part beneficiary of his will, valued at Ksh2bn ($14m) worth of property in 2017.

9. Vengeful deputy

Since ascending to high office, Rigathi has made clear his disgust for former president Kenyatta and the people who served in his administration.

“We have inherited a dilapidated economy that is facing almost an economic shutdown […],” he said during Ruto’s inauguration in the presence of Kenyatta in September 2022. “It is your prayers that will help the president put up a team and start work to liberate this country economically and put it back to where President Mwai Kibaki left us 10 years ago.”

Rigathi has been on a mission to “free” Mt. Kenya from cartels that he says target key produce of the region – coffee, tea, and milk. He says Kenyatta’s family is at the apex of these cartels, which control the trade, to the detriment of farmers. While the Kenyatta family is connected to dairies through their Brookside brand and owns a number of tea farms, there has been no evidence offered that links them with these alleged cartels.

“We will have a very lengthy battle with cartels,” Rigathi said on 24 June. “Even if they fight me and I lose my seat, […] I’d rather I am not elected but the farmers are able to sustain themselves.”

10. Ruto’s war proxy

In September 2022, almost two weeks after their inauguration, Rigathi opened a can of worms when he advocated for a shamba system that allows the exploitation of public forests by community farmers.

“This is your government; we have issued an order that citizens be allowed to farm in the forests […]. What is the need of denying people from growing maize and then we go to import maize, isn’t that foolishness?” Rigathi  said in Baringo on 24 September.

The sentiments caused a public furore. At the time Ruto had travelled to the UK and the US, telling of his greening agenda at the UN General Assembly.  Ruto never openly rebuked nor supported his deputy.

In early July, however, Ruto lifted a six-year ban on logging in public forests, revealing what may have been the thinking in government all along. “There was a minister (former environment minister Keriako Tobiko) who stopped forest activities,” Ruto told a church congregation in Molo, Nakuru County, on 2 July.

“Trees are rotting (in the forests) as people suffer without timber, you see the foolishness in this country?”

11. Divisive or protective?

Rigathi has been championing a narrative that the government is like a “shareholding company”, where positions are allocated to regions based on their ‘shares’, meaning, their contribution to the Kenya Kwanza administration in the last general election.

Ruto never castigated him for this seemingly divisive plan. “He is a very eloquent man who can explain himself. You can ask him,” Ruto told journalists in May.

In his quest to keep the relevance of his office, Rigathi has emerged as the most important reference point of any political move the Kenya Kwanza administration makes.

In July, opposition leaders led by Raila were leading anti-government protests citing a spike in the cost of living and electoral injustice. Religious and rights groups had been calling for dialogue, which Rigathi was opposed to.

“I have no other job. The president can continue with the work of building the economy. As for me, I will keep putting traps all over (at State House). When they try to come nearer, I will deal with them,” he told a gathering in Kericho county on 19 July.

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