- The Standard
Deputy President William Ruto on Sunday, May 15, named Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as his running mate - officially thrusting the first time lawmaker into the annals of history.
Ruto hailed Gachagua’s humble roots as part of the motivation for naming him - a statement that was repeated by the running mate hopeful in his speech.
“One needs a family that provides a pillar. Indeed, from the grass thatched house, I now stand here with over thirty years of leadership experience and I have worked in nearly every part of this country.”
It may have sounded like a normal political speech but with a look at the Gachaguas' political influence - one cannot dismiss the place of family in his political rise.Deputy President William Ruto (left) and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua.File
Indeed, Gachagua was first thrust into national politics during the burial of his elder brother Ndiritu Gachagua.
Although little known to Kenyans, he stood out due to his ability to discuss Kikuyu culture, politics, and the meticulous way he planned a befitting send-off for his fallen brother where he served as MC in the county boss’ funeral.
This was in 2017, but fast rewind to 1978 when Rigathi did his Certificate of Primary Education. His mother, Martha Kirigo was a powerful Kanu mobiliser who had earlier supported the Mau Mau war at great risk.
The Mathira MP recalls that he had been admitted to a village day school despite the family’s belief that his results merited him to a better school.
“My mother went to the provincial administration offices and caused a scene, saying she would not leave until her son was admitted to Alliance High School, The officials eventually conceded and although I did not go to Alliance, I went to a better school,” the MP narrated while eulogising his mother in January 2020.
But Rigathi had not been the first beneficiary of Martha’s political connections, some years earlier, James Nderitu Gachagua had completed a bachelor's degree in Building Economics from the University of Nairobi - class of 1976.
He was employed by the government as a quantity surveyor in 1977 and within four years, he had risen to the rank of Provincial Quantity Surveyor for the Ministry of Public Works - partly due to the influence of his mother and family friend Davidson Ngibuini Kuguru.
The elder Gachagua was later moved to the National Housing Corporation (NHC) as the company’s chief quantity surveyor before leaving the government to found his own company - Jaga consultants.
His company relied on the political connections he had made to consult for the government on mega projects that were mostly beneficial to the Moi powerbrokers - making him an overnight billionaire.
By the late 1980s, the Gachaguas had become a powerhouse in Nyeri politics, earning them the nickname “Mbari ya Martha” in reference to their straight-shooting mother.
Alongside Kuguru, they were behind the infamous attempt to oust then-Vice President Mwai Kibaki in the 1988 mlolongo elections.
As their support for the government became more prominent, more members of the family found themselves in critical positions in the Moi regime.
In 1989, fresh out of the University of Nairobi, President Daniel Arap Moi had Rigathi appointed as an undersecretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
During his university days, the young Gachagua had earned Moi’s trust as a vocal supporter of Kanu - at a time when most university students were engaged in demonstrations against the government. Indeed, a speech made against the forces advocating for multiparty democracy earned him a special place with the Nyayo system.
“I met Moi in 1986 when I was at the university. I had led a delegation to Kabarak Gardens and I made a speech that Moi liked and I think he started seeing leadership capabilities in me. After that, he called me to State House to see him the next day.
“From there, every two weeks we would have a chat and we became very good friends. In 1987, while still in university, he asked me to accompany him to the Commonwealth Conference in Vancouver Canada where we bonded for ten days,” he recalled his relationship with the former President.
After the multiparty elections of 1992, the Gachaguas continued to be Moi’s trusted supporters in Mt Kenya region - particularly in Nyeri.
Kibaki’s supporters would often accuse them of using state resources to fight the then opposition politician - specifically Nderitu and Rigathi - who by then had become a powerful D.O who would occasionally help Moi with mobilisation in Nyeri.
For instance, in 1996, Jaga Consultants was listed in a parliamentary report that it had bought 62 houses, two bungalows and 27 staff quarters at the Nyayo Highrise through malpractice by NHC employees - Gachagua’s former colleagues.
The Kibaki-Gachagua hostility resurfaced in 2002, when Nderitu was denied a NARC ticked despite winning the nominations.
Handlers of the man who later became president were keen to revenge against Nderitu although he later got the ticket after Kibaki intervened.
For Rigathi, President Moi trusted him to run Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2002 presidential campaign - after which he became a Personal Assistant to the current President (at the time Uhuru was the Leader of the Official Opposition).
He left Uhuru’s private office in 2006 to run his businesses and kept a rather private life.
However, after Nderitu was elected Governor in 2013, Rigathi made a comeback to public life - this time as his brother’s defacto fixer.
His presence, despite holding no formal position in government, alienated the governor from the county assembly - which ultimately impeached Nderitu on September 2, 2016.
Rigathi defended his role as that of a faithful brother taking care of his ailing brother.
“There are people who accuse me of meddling in county affairs when the governor is away, but do they expect me to simply sit and watch? I would not be forgiven for neglecting my brother,” he defended himself at the time.
As MCAs complained of Rigathi’s ubiquitous presence in Gachagua’s office, his companies continued to win lucrative tenders with the Nyeri County government and other government agencies.
According to the Assets Recover Agency (ARA) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the Mathira MP received a total of Ksh12 billion from dealings with the Nyeri and Bungoma county governments; Athi Water Services Board; Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KERRA); Ministry of Health; Karatina University; Ministry of Defence - among others.
The matter is still pending in court even as the MP laments that he is a victim of politically instigated graft investigations.
As he takes his proper place as the number two in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, his story will make a perfect case study of the irony of self-made politicians who had all the privileges of coming from families that - in every aspect, qualify as mini political dynasties.The late Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachaguaprobe fight
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