Kenya’s Deputy President: Overshadows the President’s First Week in Office 

Kenya has a new president, William Samuel Ruto. The Kenya president and his deputy, Geoffrey Rigathi Gachagua, were sworn in at a colorful ceremony in Nairobi on Tuesday, September 13, 2022. 

The event’s highlights were handing over instruments of power by the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, taking oaths of office by the incoming president and his deputy, and the president’s inaugural speech.

The deputy president of Kenya fumbled and floundered with his oath of office even though all he needed to do was follow the prompts from the Chief Registrar of Judiciary, Anne Amadi, who administered the oath. And, in an embarrassing gesture, Amadi was forced to ask Gachagua to retake the oath. Gachagua appeared anxious and distracted and clearly needed the registrar’s redirection. 

Then came the time that everyone was waiting for – new president’s speech. But before the president could address those in attendance and the nation at large, the deputy president took to the podium to formally introduce and welcome the president, as is the tradition and quickly turned the event’s peak into an anti-climactic event.

FULL SPEECH of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua

If one listened to Gachagua’s speech, he would have been pardoned for mistaking it for a campaign speech. In barely ten minutes, the deputy president succeeded in dampening the spirits of all Kenyans, looking at the future with cautious optimism.

Gachagua an Embodiment of Hypocrisy among Kenyan Political Elite

Gachagua’s speech was laced with contradictions. He started with call and response phrases that are common among Evangelicals in Kenya, oblivious of Kenyans who may not be of the same faith.

“God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.”

Bwana Asifiwe!” (Swahili for “Praise the Lord”)

Something noteworthy is that Gachagua’s spouse is a pastor. Gachagua noted that it was only by God’s enablement that Ruto was elected to be president. The tone that followed was as far removed from the gospel as can be.

Gachagua used the opportunity to bestow accolades and pledge his allegiance to the man he calls his “boss,” the president. He used the same narrative that Ruto used when he was interviewed by CNN’s Christian Amanpour – that Ruto came from a very poor, “ordinary” background and rose to the highest office. The rationale of this narrative is that any Kenyan can rise to power regardless of their background.

However, Ruto (during his CNN interview) and Gachagua failed to acknowledge the role of the man who supported their ascent to power – Daniel Toroitich Moi, the second president of Kenya. Ruto and Gachagua were not ordinary men who rose to power from grassroots campaigns but were propelled into those corridors of power by Moi.

Gachagua was also once the Personal Assistant to the immediate former president of Kenya – Uhuru Kenyatta. Ironically, Ruto and Gachagua used their populist narrative to ensure that Moi’s sons – former Senator Gideon Moi and former Member of Parliament Raymond Moi – lost in the recent elections.

Gachagua then announced to the world that the new administration was inheriting a dilapidated economy that was “facing almost at an economic shutdown,” to the dismay of his audience.

Kenya's Deputy President: Overshadows the President’s First Week in Office 
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Kenyan Political Elite Eyewashing Kenyans

For the deputy president to use this moment before diplomats and other dignitaries to negatively paint the nation was not only ill-advised but indicative of a man with poor judgment.

It had the same effect as Donald Trump’s “American carnage” rhetoric during Trump’s inaugural address after he was sworn in to be the 45th president of the United States of America.

Gachagua’s speech took a vindictive tone as he directly attacked the outgoing administration even though the incoming president was the Deputy President for ten years and Gachagua was a member of the National Assembly for five years. It is not a surprise that Uhuru skipped the luncheon that followed the inaugural address.

After painting gloom and doom, Gachagua then incongruously announced to Kenyans that this was a new dawn and that,

“Freedom is here with us! Finally, you are now a democratic country.”

He said Kenyans no longer needed to worry about their phones being tapped. The deputy president may have harbored a lot of paranoia following his brush with the law and assumed that his experience was the experience of all Kenyans.

If the deputy president wanted to remind Kenyans of their sovereignty, he failed to acknowledge the history of Kenya and the strides Kenya made from colonial Kenya to a country that will, in 2023, mark 60 years of independence.

Typically, Kenyan presidential inaugural address is an opportunity to renew hope and generate new energy for a populace. It is a moment of uniting a nation after a campaign period.

Presidents also use this address to assure the nation that they will be a president for everyone – including those that may not have voted for them. Presidents have also used inaugural addresses to remind the nation of the strides that they have made as they forge ahead. 

For a clearly divided country, Ruto won with a razor-thin margin. The incoming administration needed to prioritize unity and not appear to divide Kenyans further. 

Kenyans were looking up to their new president and deputy president in the hope of a brighter future, money in their pocket, equity, and equal opportunity for all Kenyans, irrespective of their background.

Gachagua’s speech cast pessimism and despondency on a day that was supposed to be celebratory. It failed to set the pace for the president, detoured from a reconciliatory tone and embellished the populist narratives that marked the Kenya Kwanza campaign.

Some may say that the deputy president was not speaking for the president and may want to dissociate his rhetoric from the president.

But for such an epic moment in the nation’s history, this would be a hard narrative to sell, especially because the deputy president has continued to double down on his vindictive and divisive rhetoric since the inauguration ceremony.

While addressing Kenya Kwanza Alliance coalition governors, the deputy president attacked the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI), accusing them of having been used by the previous administration to harass and intimidate Kenyans.

Kenya's Deputy President: Overshadows the President’s First Week in Office 
Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) address delegates during the launch of their manifesto ahead of the forthcoming presidential election at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, June 30, 2022. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

Is Kenya Returning to Dictatorship?

In a classic Trump-like style of attacking intelligence agencies, Gachagua scathingly warned the DCI to stay away from public offices and operate from their field offices. 

This is ironic, given that the Ruto administration has pledged to respect institutions. Besides, Gachagua has a background in paramilitary training. Former US President Trump attacked the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and other security agencies on many occasions and painted himself as the victim of their investigative activities. 

Gachagua appears to be intent on settling scores with the DCI. Last year Gachagua, then a Member of Parliament, was arrested by DCI agents and charged with crimes committed between 2013 and 2020. The counts included conspiracy to commit an offense of corruption, fraudulent acquisition of public property, conflict of interest, money laundering, and acquisition of proceeds of crime.

He was suspected of using proxies to fraudulently secure tenders through many companies, with himself as the sole beneficiary. 

The Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) filed a case to force Gachagua to forfeit more than Sh200 million in his accounts suspected to be proceeds of crime, money laundering, and corruption. A High Court judge found that the funds were liable for forfeiture to the government.  

Gachagua also used the inauguration speech to acknowledge his immediate family “as a Christian” and appeared confused about his role in introducing the president. 

He thanked them for standing by him even when friends abandoned him after his arrest. For a campaign that ran on a populist agenda, it is surprising that he did not highlight the plight of the regular Kenyan referred to as “common mwananchi” or “Wanjiku” or, in the term used by the Kenya Kwanza Alliance – “hustler.” 

Gachagua may also have been speaking to others who perceive themselves as the president’s future successors. During the campaign period, many felt Gachagua was an underdog and not a good fit for the deputy president position.

He may have been projecting his resentment toward such people as he reminded them that there was a new sheriff in town, and he was the deputy.

Traditionally a deputy president takes a very low profile remaining in the shadows of the president. And even though the vice/deputy president is the second most powerful person after the president, the success of the holder of this position stems from mastering the art of staying in the shadows. Gachagua is already struggling to stay in the shadows.

In a series of interviews that he gave after the president left the country for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, Gachagua continued to paint an economy in shambles even though such a role would be best addressed by the Treasury Cabinet Secretary. Something worth noting is that during his five-year stint in parliament, Gachagua did not sponsor any bill to empower his constituents economically or otherwise. 

When challenged by KTN’s Sophia Wanuna to explain why the new administration had adopted the narrative that they just found out that “the coffers were empty” when Ruto was in government for ten years, Gachagua categorically and defensively stated,

 “William Ruto was not part of this government!”

It is unclear why the deputy president of Kenya and not the president is issuing pressers when the president has not given a formal press conference to Kenyan media since taking the oath of office.

DP Rigathi Gachagua explains why he is yet to move to official DP’s residence

During his interview with KTN’s Sophia Wanuna, Gachagua spent a quality amount of time prosecuting his case against the DCI to the Kenyan public, who were hoping to hear what the new administration was going to do to lower the cost of living. Instead of listening to Gachagua, the deputy president, it felt like listening to Gachagua, the candidate, as he shared long-term projections for reviving the economy. Gachagua failed to assure Kenyans that Ruto and Gachagua were ready on Day 1. 

And like the gift that never stops giving, Gachagua surprised Kenyans when he posted a picture of himself with Raila Odinga – the former prime minister and the presidential candidate for Azimio la Umoja Kenya Kwanza Coalition in the just concluded elections. 

The nature of their meeting has not been made public, but this did not stop Kenyans from speculating. What has been made public is that Gachagua was in the coastal city for the governors’ induction, while Raila graced the inauguration of Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir, and they met at the airport. 

Interestingly, it was Gachagua who posted the images on social media about it, making many believe that he sought out Raila. It is noteworthy that Raila declined the invitation to attend Ruto’s inauguration ceremony.

“We have tremendous respect for our senior citizens. I was delighted this morning to have a tete-a-tete with our senior citizen, former Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga, in Mombasa,” Gachagua wrote on his Facebook account.

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Final Thoughts

The Monday after the inauguration – as the new administration started their first full week in office – while the president attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, the deputy president sent a series of tweets with redundant messages.

In one tweet, the deputy president seemed bent on reminding the nation that he was in charge while the president was away.

In another tweet, he posted a picture of bishops and thanked them for praying with him. Like a good populist, Gachagua appears keen on assuring his base that they matter. But even the scriptures tell us that there is a time for everything under heaven. There is a time to pray and a time to go to work for Kenyans.

Some may want to excuse the deputy president for his recent remarks. However, lest they forget, this was not a one-off for Gachagua. There are many instances where he has engaged in careless and divisive rhetoric.

He has referred to himself as a son of Mau Mau (an uprising by Kenyan freedom fighters against British rule), clearly alienating Kenyans whose heritage may not include an ancestor that fought in the Mau Mau uprising. 

He was also recorded at a campaign rally telling his community that money that had been set aside for his community was reverted and sent to another community by the former president.

In a post-election interview from his gym, Gachagua responded to critics who had made remarks about his appearance. Like Donald Trump, who was always conscious about his looks and often attacked his critics, Gachagua went at length to explain that the stressors of the campaign period did not afford them the luxury of exercising or shopping for clothes that fit.

He also said that now that they had won the elections, he would find time to shape up and improve his appearance. This was, to say the least, tone-deaf, given that many Kenyans cannot afford new clothes for their children, are worried about the prices of unga (maize flour) and fuel increasing contrary to campaign promises, and are least concerned about working out to look good.

Rigathi Gachagua: I had to protect my wife and children from state agencies

Gachagua just quashed the hopes of those who had given him the benefit of the doubt and imagined that he would be remorseful upon reflection on the inauguration event. When asked about his abrasive tone at the inauguration ceremony and concerns by Kenyans that it was divisive, he told KTN’s Sophia Wanuna.

“The problem we have in this country is that many Kenyans are allergic to the truth,” adding that he felt the need to assure Kenyans that they were finally “free.”

There is no better definition of gaslighting than this statement by Gachagua.

Gachagua should know that telling Kenyans that you have what it takes to take Kenya back to the years of Mwai Kibaki – Kenya’s third president who was often referred to as “the economist,” – and then turning around and declaring that this may not be possible because “the coffers are empty” is not being truthful. Mwai Kibaki, who is credited with lifting Kenya’s economy from the rubble, did not start his tenure with excuses.

There were many lows during Gachagua’s interview with KTN’s Sophia Wanuna. The lowest moment came when he indicated that the Ruto-Gachagua cabinet would reflect how Kenyans voted and that “the mountain” would be well-represented in the cabinet. If this is true, then Ruto and Gachagua’s assertions that any Kenyan can be president cannot and will not hold.

Ruto may experience challenges trying to subdue Gachagua or keeping him in the shadows. Gachagua – a self-proclaimed son of Mau Mau – is too insecure to operate behind the scenes. It doesn’t help that Ruto is surrounded by many young, overzealous individuals who appear to be eyeing the top seat.

For Gachagua, there is no shortage of examples of deputy presidents that he could learn from in Kenya’s history and abroad. Ruto may also need to assure his deputy president that his position is secure. Otherwise, Kenyans may soon see a repeat of what befell Ruto and his predecessor.

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