The death of Governor Nderitu Gachagua has introduced new dynamics in the battle for Nyeri’s highest seat.
The former governor’s brother Rigathi Gachagua had earlier said that he would gun for the Mathira parliamentary seat and his change of heart to join the race to succeed current Governor Samuel Wamathai will be a game-changer.
This is because the Gachagua family family had been sending strong signals that it would back either Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe or Gachagua’s successor Wamathai.
“I cannot comment on the issue now. I am still mourning my brother and such decisions will be made in a few weeks,” Rigathi told the Nation.
But sources told the paper that the late Gachagua’s political network in 250 sub-locations are meeting and are drawing up plans for a Rigathi candidacy, which is also backed by the Jubilee establishment led by Devolution CS Mwangi Kiunjuri.
“The people of Nyeri should not be left alone. Rigathi, please take care of them,” Kiunjuri told thousands who were gathered for Gachagua’s funeral last week.
Rigathi comes to the race with several advantages like cash, connections and a grip on the populous Mathira constituency, which is the bellwether of Nyeri politics. He is not only a wealthy businessman, but is a former personal assistant to President Kenyatta and is thus close to power-brokers in the current government.
During the 2013 General Election, he headed his brother’s campaign secretariat and still controls a political network spanning 250 sub-locations they set up with the brother. He has a firm grip on Mathira, the most populous of the six constituencies, and where he was expected to run.
Mathira has more than 102,000 voters, one of the biggest of the six constituencies.
Tetu has 50,919 voters, Kieni 109,412, Othaya 59,477, Mukurweini 54,612 and Nyeri Town 85,523. Kieni traditionally votes with Mathira.
In the battle for the 461,559 votes in the county, the three will face stiff opposition from former Vision 2030 Director Wahome Gakuru, hotelier Patrick Munene, Athi Water Board chairman Wachira Keen and industrialists Thuo Mathenge and Githinji Kinyanjui.
Kagwe and former Mathira MP Ephraim Maina are expected to make major political announcements this week.
All have their weaknesses and strengths going to the race. According to Nyeri Town parliamentary aspirant and former Gachagua political adviser Maina Mathenge, Rigathi’s decision will muddy the waters for all contestants.
“He comes from the same area with businessman Kinyanjui who declared his candidature way earlier. The two contesting the same seat will split the rich vote bloc,” he said.
“Rigathi’s candidature could also be seen as a betrayal of either Mr Wamathai or Mr Kagwe, both of whom supported the late Gachagua during his battles with cancer and MCAs. Rigathi needs to expand his popularity beyond Mathira if he is serious about running for governor,” Mathenge said.
Nyeri Knut boss Mutahi Kahiga dismissed Rigathi’s candidature. “Leadership is not genetic. He cannot make it within such a short time,” he said.
Some have claimed that the new governor will not survive in politics and will lose in this year’s General Election for lack of popularity.
Former Mukurweini MP Muhika Mutahi said that Wamathai is soft and not aggressive in politics compared to his predecessor.
“The current governor was in the political arena because of the deceased. He is a technocrat but governorship is all about politics,” Mutahi said. He added that Senator Mutahi Kagwe, who has trained his guns on the gubernatorial seat, stands to attract Gachagua’s following.
“Mr Kagwe stands a chance of becoming the next governor. He can fit into Gachagua’s shoes and will get support from Gachagua’s backyard of Mathira if he is endorsed by Rigathi,” the former lawmaker said.
Kahiga, the teachers’ boss, noted that alliances will shift fast.
He said Gachagua left “political orphans” who depended on him for survival and they will likely split and follow any candidate who pleases them.
“He had a huge following and they are now orphans. They will follow whoever gives them hope and they are now looking for a camp to join,” Kahiga said.
He said the relationship between the current governor and his predecessor’s family is a “political marriage of convenience”.
According to him, former Vison 2030 Director Wahome Gakuru has an upper hand in the upcoming polls given that he lost to Gachagua in 2013 with a small margin.
Governor Gachagua had close to 140,000 votes while Gakuru had 130,000 votes.
“If the ground does not change, Gakuru will easily clinch the seat,” Kahiga said.
Mathenge said it would be hard to predict who would inherit Gachagua’s supporters but the governorship candidate who contacts them first will be one step ahead.
“Gachagua had a political network felt in each of the 250 sub-locations. He would engage and meet them consistently and that is the reason he remained popular,” said Mathenge, who is a former political adviser to Gachagua.
Woman Representative seat aspirant Mukami Wachira said convincing Gachagua’s followers will not be easy and aspirants need to go back to the drawing board.