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Underdog Gachagua turns the tables on Karua

Kenya’s presidential running mates went head-to-head on July 19, 2022. Azimio’s Martha Karua was an easy favourite to dominate the Deputy Presidential debate but Kenya Kwanza’s Rigathi Gachagua caught her flat-footed. Styling herself as a champion and chief crusader of fighting corruption, Karua didn’t convincingly persuade Kenyans on many issues, including how an Azimio government would deal with the runaway vice.

“Give (Rigathi) Gachagua the mike,” Martha Karua’s recently minted fun club and Azimio coalition cohorts taunted William Ruto’s running mate. The taunting was the prelude to the eagerly awaited Deputy Presidential debate that took place on July 19, 2022. True to their hubris, they had misjudged the “unsophisticated” and “untested” Gachagua’s debating capabilities.

The fun club members were cocky and confident that the eloquent, experienced and straight shooting Karua would obliterate the presumably lackadaisical Gachagua; whose ill-fitting drab suits, compared to Karua’s dera designs, would for sure, give the Kenya Kwanza coalition deputy presidential candidate, a real dressing down.

But Gachagua the underdog, like a conscious student, cognisant of the task ahead him and aware of his formidable opponent’s reputation, came well-prepared. The underdog’s well-preparedness was evidenced by bringing along reference material, that he knew would come in handy. His team that coached him, just like the candidate himself, did not take anything for granted: It is better to be fully armed, than to be half-armed.

Turning the tables on his daunting rival, it was Gachagua, as opposed to Karua, who came out confident and composed, shooting straight from the hip, had his facts on the finger tips and for good measure, suffered no fools. He held his fort, by being himself, and now and then, even tickled the carefully selected audience and the millions, who watched the inaugural debate, with some humour.

Karua, was careful to portray herself as calm, coquettish, coy, even non-confrontational

On the other hand, Karua, was careful to portray herself as calm, coquettish, coy, even non-confrontational: There was evidence of great effort to comport her composure; she lowered and softened her voice for effeminate effect and even once agreed with Gachagua’s point of view. Known for her legendary temper and losing her cool at the slightest provocation, her minders must have warned her several times, to be cautious of her Achilles Heels.

Martha Karua Deputy Presidential Candidate, Azimio-One Kenya. Photo credit: Presidential Debates Kenya via Facebook

Yet, with all these precautions, she was in unfamiliar territory: The Karua people watched on TV was not the feisty and vintage Karua; a great debater, who arms herself with facts and figures, takes on her antagonists with candour and panache, entertaining people with the grammar and prowess of her masterly of the English language. It wasn’t the Karua famously known to get pissed off, and rightly so, with indolence and ignoramuses.

All these awesome qualities and debating skills that have distinguished Karua as able, ready and willing to take on her adversaries anywhere, were lacking on July 19. She came off as a duck out of water: Ill at ease, spattering on water to find her balance. She didn’t inspire confidence, she wasn’t herself, didn’t fully have a grasp of issues, couldn’t fire at her opponent with conviction and zeal. In short, she did not have fire in her belly. 

Her opponent Gachagua had both strategy and tactic: Don’t attack her personality, attack what she has been made to represent; dynastic politics. Keep reminding her she is a project of forces that have vowed to continue controlling the levers of state machinery, through proxies such as herself. Push her to a defensive corner, hence, force her to accept that her and her principal Raila Odinga are projects, of the people, but not of Azimio coalition chairman, President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta. 

Gachagua cleverly left to Kenyans watching the debate to make up their minds, who Raila and Karua were projects of – dynastic projects or people’s project

To the extent that Gachagua forced her to finally use the word “project” was enough to drive his point home. He cleverly left to Kenyans and anybody else watching the debate to make up their minds, who Raila and Karua were projects of  – dynastic projects or people’s project. Inevitably, Gachagua, just like a defence counsel, had made his point to the public jury.

Gachagua also exposed Karua as not being her own person; just a proxy, that of the chairman of Azimio coalition. Hence, her unfamiliarity in the debating hall and inability to persuasively put her points across. Because, at the back of her mind, she knows President Uhuru picked her to be Raila’s running mate, so as to push a particular agenda. She, also, knows she’s expected be the de facto defender of politics of patronage.    

So, when she was not being condescending, she carefully ducked certain questions; “When I was in politics (for 30 years), you were a DO (District Officer).” She ducked the question of her saying both Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila should retire together. To be fair to her, the moderators didn’t press her on this question.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga Photo: @UKenyatta/Twitter

 

Yet, how was she going to answer a question that possibly was a statement said, a couple of years back, in the heat of the moment? Just the other day, she berated both Uhuru and Raila, when they were busy pushing the impotent Building the Bridges Initiative (BBI) arguing against the folly of passing it, by asking them to respect the new constitution of Kenya. What changed, so soon?

She contradicted President Uhuru’s assertion that he picked her as Raila’s running mate, by giving the impression that it was Raila himself who did the selection.

While Gachagua gave a detailed explanation why President Uhuru haunted him to force him to support him, instead of his recalcitrant deputy Ruto, hence, his subsequent financial woes and High Court troubles, Karua on the other hand couldn’t clarify and explain what President Uhuru meant when he said that Karua as Deputy President, would jail some Kenyans. 

How would she do it? Not even when doubling as the proposed Minister of Justice, because taking “corrupt” Kenyans to police cells is not the work of the Justice minister, leave alone the work of Deputy President. The Ministry of Justice will neither have the investigative nor prosecutorial powers.

Karua was also unable to convincingly explain why Azimio coalition meetings are sometimes attended by influential government bureaucrats, who have openly campaigned for Raila. Her debating opponent alleged Azimio was using public money to shore up its presidential campaigns. Her rebuttal was amorphous and weak.

Styling herself as a champion and chief crusader of fighting corruption, Karua didn’t persuade Kenyans on how an Azimio government was going to deal with the runaway vice. She repeated the assertion her chairman made of KSh2 billion being stolen everyday and his inability to rein-in the culprits. 

When Gachagua asked Karua whether she has taken up the issue of the KSh2 billion daily heist, now that she regularly meets her chairman, she ducked the question. To deflect the question, she resorted to Azimio’s new narrative of blaming the division between Uhuru and Ruto for the institutional corruption. She also kept on blaming the “cartels” for the mega corruption. Cartels don’t operate in a vacuum. If President Uhuru has been unable to fight the cartels, how will Azimio government do it? “We’ve a track record, my principle and I”, she reminded her audience.

Gachagua also caught her flat-footed on fertiliser prices. As a President Uhuru project, she wasn’t going to contradict his government, which has inflated the prices. Still, she didn’t know the retail fertiliser price that the famers have been burdened with, courtesy of Jubilee government and the Ministry of Agriculture under the “performing” Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.  

That is why I wasn’t going to hold my breath, if Raila minders, advised him to keep off the presidential debate on July 26, with William Ruto, just like President Uhuru and chairman of Azimio did in 2017. That is why I was sure, the Raila fun club wasn’t going to taunt Ruto by telling him to grab the mike.

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