Today Nyeri bids final farewell to our first Governor, Nderitu Gachagua.
History will remember Gachagua as one who earned that rare Kikuyu epiphet ‘njamba’ – legendary warrior. A man who faced and surmounted great odds, especially in his public life.
In 2002, when he made his debut in elective politics, his competitor was Matu Wamae – a political and financial behemoth and longtime confidant and political ally to Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki was then poised to become Kenya’s third President. Many would have given up, but not Gachagua. He ran his campaign and won the Mathira parliamentary seat by a landslide.
In 2013 Gachagua faced another herculean challenge. He wanted to be the Nyeri governor, but it was clear that he would have trouble getting the TNA ticket. Rather than despair, he created a small party called GNU, ran an intensive countywide campaign and managed to beat the TNA wave that swept across the rest of Central Kenya to become Nyeri’s first governor.
But nothing signifies Gachagua’s ‘njamba’ status like facing up to the vicious coffee cartels that had fleeced Nyeri coffee farmers for decades. As governor, he fought them for three solid years, at great political expense.
He did not get what he wanted, but by the time he was done the Nyeri coffee farmer’s earnings had more than doubled – up from Sh28 in 2013 to Sh58 kilo three years later.
Even in the midst of his illness his courage did not fade. A few months ago he came up against Members of the County Assembly, after they ganged up to send him home through an impeachment motion. Gachagua took the war to them – literally and figuratively.
Even when several MPs from the county joined in street demonstrations, demanding that he vacate office now that he had been impeached, Gachagua was unmoved. When the motion finally made it to the Senate, Gachagua defended himself so well it was thrown out.
In addition to courage, history will also note that Gachagua was a brilliant politician.
As governor he started a county education bursary scheme that saw 16,000 families across Nyeri receive school fees for their children attending secondary school and tertiary institutions.
What was unique about this bursary was that the decision on who would benefit was made in village ‘barazas’ across the county. Beneficiaries were given full annual fees and guaranteed that they would not have to reapply in subsequent years until they finished whatever level of education they were in. Very smart!
Gachagua also established a county NHIF-like scheme that benefitted more than 6,000 elderly and vulnerable people. He kept the majority of the county-based hospitals stocked with drugs, despite administrative difficulties with the main hospitals – especially Karatina District Hospital and Nyeri PGH. In addition, I will always remember that it is Gachagua who finally delivered on the town’s modern market that local town MPs had been promising for decades.
However, what I personally will never forget is the loyalty of Gachagua’s team. The people who worked for Gachagua were so loyal they would not even tell you when he was ill! When he was out of the country they worked in such a way you would never know that he was not around.
When he was politically attacked they fought back, viciously. Deputy Governor Samuel Wamathai (now the second governor of Nyeri) even declared that if Gachagua were impeached he would go home with him rather than benefit from his impeachment! It takes a great man to inspire such loyalty – especially in other men – and especially in politics.
As Nderitu Gachagua finally rests, I can confirm that he did his part for our great county of Nyeri. We will not forget him, even as we do ours.