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Kenyans discovered this during the election campaign. The enigmatic and sulphurous Rigathi Gachagua is on the way to becoming the next vice-president of the Kenya after the validation of the victory of its candidate, William Ruto, by the Supreme Court. On Monday, September 5, the highest court in the country rejected the appeals of opponent Raila Odinga, who contested the results of the ballot for irregularities.
Many Kenyan political commentators had expressed their surprise in May when William Ruto, then outgoing vice-president, had appointed this MP from the small constituency of Mathira (center), poorly known to the general public, as a running mate in his presidential race. But Rigathi Gachagua’s influence has proven to be far greater than his near-anonymous career in government would suggest.
The 57-year-old has so far held shadow positions, first as an assistant in ministries and to the presidency, then as district officer (canton chief), before becoming an MP late in 2017. Despite this essentially technocratic trajectory, he stands out for his interpersonal skills in political circles in the Mount Kenya region, the country’s largest vote pool. What attract the attention of William Ruto.
Rigathi Gachagua is the scion of an illustrious family in this province from which three of Kenya’s four presidents have come since independence in 1963. “My parents were in the forest during the years of struggle”does not fail to recall to underline their participation in the famous rebellion of the Mau Mau against the British colonists in the 1950s. As for his brother, he was a time governor of the county of Nyeri, in the heart of Mount- Kenya.
A member of the Kalenjin ethnic group, William Ruto had to find a Kikuyu running mate from this province. The choice to appeal to Rigathi Gachagua has also proved to be profitable since the candidate of the Kenya Kwanza coalition (“Kenya first”) won around 80% of the votes of the voters of Mount Kenya.
“He weighs a lot more than he says,” says one of his Nyeri County opponents
The other distinctive feature of the future vice-president is his fortune, officially valued at 8 million euros. Not that he displays it: this graduate of political science and literature does not wear gold rings or bracelets and often floats in modest colorful costumes. But how he got rich raises questions. Accused of being involved in murky business, Rigathi Gachagua built his fortune as a “tenderpreneur”an entrepreneur invested in politics who uses his network to facilitate the obtaining of public contracts. “He weighs a lot more than he says”assures one of his opponents from Nyeri County.
Between 2013 and 2017, more than 100 million euros passed through 33 bank accounts linked to the candidate. Some were recently frozen as part of a corruption investigation. Its grouping of fifteen companies hides “a complex scheme of embezzlement of money”, according to the Assets Recovery Agency, a public institution that tracks embezzlement and has conducted investigations into the origin of 1.7 million dollars found in its accounts. At the end of July, ten days before the election, the courts ordered him to return this money to the state. Last year, he had already been accused of having acquired more than 7.3 billion Kenyan shillings (about 60.5 million euros) in a dubious way.
Blunders and skids
If he was not until now a familiar figure to Kenyans, Rigathi Gachagua is on the other hand an old acquaintance of William Ruto. The two neighbors of Karen, an upscale suburb of the capital, entered politics at the same time, while attending the University of Nairobi, in the late 1980s. Spotted and co-opted by the then president, Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002), they quickly integrated circles close to the State House.
Their respective wives, Dorcas Gachagua and Rachel Ruto, are both ministers of the evangelical movement : a considerable advantage in a country where demonstrations of faith are a not insignificant electoral argument and where these churches constitute a precious relay of influence.
Still a novice at this state level, Rigathi Gachagua will have to undertake an accelerated apprenticeship, starting by erasing the slippages and blunders that may have annoyed his camp during the electoral campaign. In May, he said he wanted to focus on small and medium-sized businesses “rather than supporting big companies like Safaricom”. The comment made people cringe; the telecom giant is the flagship of Kenyan industry. More recently, during a televised debate, when asked about the price of gasoline, Rigathi Gachagua kicked into touch, responding that he was not going to ” at the supermarket “.