Rigathi Gachagua: Ruto's scandal-hit right-hand man

Rigathi Gachagua: Ruto's scandal-hit right-hand man

Gachagua is known for his business acumen
Gachagua is known for his business acumen. Photo: Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP/File
Source: AFP

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Kenya's deputy president-elect Geoffrey Rigathi Gachagua has weathered corruption scandals and links to the country's former authoritarian regime to end up within striking distance of the nation's highest office.

Once the personal aide to departing President Uhuru Kenyatta, Gachagua and his new boss William Ruto shrugged off graft allegations to win a closely fought election race.

Born in 1965 in Hiriga village in central Kenya to parents who fought in the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule, Gachagua was one of nine children.

He studied political science and literature at the University of Nairobi before undertaking paramilitary training to become a district officer in charge of internal security.

In 1991, Gachagua became a junior district administrator in the authoritarian government of the late president Daniel arap Moi.

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He quickly made a name for himself -- at a time when district officers wielded massive power and were used by Moi's regime to suppress any opposition.

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Known for his business acumen, Gachagua later quit public service to focus on entrepreneurship, before returning in 2001 to work as the personal assistant to Kenyatta, then a minister in Moi's government.

He managed Kenyatta's diary for five years, before returning to the private sector.

The pair joined forces again in 2017 as Kenyatta sought re-election and Gachagua contested legislative polls in his tea and coffee-rich hometown of Mathira.

Tapping into the political network he had established as an administrator, the outspoken Gachagua become a stalwart of the Kenyatta campaign.

Both men won their seats.

Switching sides

But when relations between Kenyatta and Ruto soured, leading to an acrimonious falling out during their second term, Gachagua became an instant casualty.

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Kenyatta mounted an anti-corruption push decried by Ruto and others, including Gachagua, as unfairly targeting them.

He also buried the hatchet with his longtime foe Raila Odinga, eventually backing him in the presidential race against Ruto.

As loyalties shifted, Gachagua became part of Ruto's inner circle and a fierce critic of his former boss.

Few, however, expected him to be Ruto's pick for running mate, pointing to his limited national profile.

Yet the choice proved to be prescient, as the duo sought to tap into tribal allegiances which have traditionally affected the outcome of Kenyan elections.

Gachagua -- a Kikuyu -- hails from the populous Mount Kenya region, which has produced three of the country's four presidents since independence in 1963.

'Sham trial'

Some observers say Gachagua could shape up to be a key leader in Mount Kenya, potentially dominating the country's most politically influential community.

But others say he has a lot of work to do before that happens.

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Gachagua was charged last year with acquiring more than 7.3 billion Kenyan shillings ($61.2 million) suspected to be the proceeds of crime.

Macharia Munene, professor of history at Nairobi's United States International University, told AFP that Gachagua, who is married to a pastor and has two sons, would need to address corruption allegations before aiming to conquer Mount Kenya.

"He would clearly have a good chance... but right now he has a shortlist to clear some problems," he said.

Yet his tarnished reputation did little to harm his prospects at the ballot box.

Less than two weeks before Kenya went to the polls, a court ordered the 57-year-old to forfeit almost $1.7 million that had been frozen in a corruption probe.

The judge ruled that Gachagua had failed to explain the source of 200 million shillings found in his bank account and should therefore surrender it to the state.

An unfazed Gachagua dismissed the ruling, accusing the judge in turn of "conducting a sham trial".

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Source: AFP

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