5 May 2017

Kenya: Sonko Ups Bid for Governor Job With New Image

It was a new-look Senator Mike Sonko who sat across host Jeff Koinange on Citizen TV's JKLive on Wednesday night.

Gone were the heavy gold and diamond rings and chains, the mohawk and other unconventional hair styles topped off with red, green, peroxide or other colourful dyes, the ripped jeans or zoot suits.

Instead, the controversial and rambunctious Jubilee nominee for the Nairobi gubernatorial elections was decked out in a conservative business suit, and in the interview came across as sober, calm and thoughtful.

IMAGE CHANGE

It was a far cry for the same Sonko, who, hosted on the same station six weeks ago, had appeared so loud, wild-eyed, unruly and out of control, that host Hussein Mohammed was forced to cut short the interview.

Social media chatter at the time showed a lot of disgust with the antics of a politician aspiring to be governor of the capital city, but the fact is that he was just being his typical self.

That time he was among many aspirants for the Jubilee nomination, but his latest appearance suggested a politician who has made a conscious effort to change his image.

Jeff Koinange was happy to play along. "No more bling? No more crazy hairstyles?" "No more", affirmed Mr Sonko, explaining his image makeover to a growing maturity with the passage of time, from a street hustler to a member of the National Assembly, Senator and now probably a front-runner for the office of governor.

VIOLENT OUTBURSTS

It was not just in the attire, but also in the way he behaved throughout the show.

As past TV clips played of his main rival, Governor Evans Kidero, and another aspirant for the seat, loquacious lawyer Miguna Miguna, pointing jibes at him over his lack of education, his deficient management skills, and his wild ways, Mr Sonko, most untypically, would not be goaded into violent outbursts.

He watched the clips calmly with the hint of a smile, and even when asked by the host to respond would politely demur, only asking for opportunity to debate his rivals on TV.

Mr Koinange had at hand the sort of questions that would normally have the mercurial Sonko going ballistic: The validity of his Kenya Methodist University degree, his previous criminal convictions, the source of his fabled wealth, allegations that he takes and deals in narcotic drugs, and his penchant for confrontation and surrounding himself with thuggish types.

CLUELESS

The guest was unusually unflappable, answering the questions calmly and with ease.

He clearly was prepared for all that the interviewer would throw his way, and most likely had rehearsed his answers in advance.

But that also raised the question whether Mr Koinange had helped Mr Sonko prepare by sharing the questions in advance, and maybe also priming him at rehearsals.

It was notable that where a lot of the answers were clearly evasive or unsatisfactory, a TV host who has earned notoriety for merciless hectoring and goading his guests, was unusually meek and passed up numerous opportunities to demand more credible responses.

He let Mr Sonko get away with glib answers, such as that his wealth comes from 'God'.

The same was evident when Mr Sonko tried to explain his vision and plan for the capital city.

Though he boasts of having Nairobi blood flowing in his vein, he came across as rather clueless on the real problems facing Nairobi and how they could be solved.

ECONOMY

On unemployment and crime, for instance, he claimed that he had already solved 30 per cent of the problem by employing youth on his famous Sonko Rescue team that runs free private fire engine, ambulance and hearse services.

The number was not queried, and neither was his vague response on how he funds the free services.

He also said that he had identified a German company and signed an MOU for management of the Dandora dumpsite in a way that will create employment and also generate electricity; and has machinery that will seal potholes on city roads.

There was no follow-up on how even before being elected, he was already cutting business deals for the city outside laid down procurement guidelines.

All the same, viewers saw a new Mr Sonko far removed from his 'gangsta' image, and many commentators on social media were quick to say that he finally presented the picture of a governor they could live with.

So was the makeover just for one TV appearance or will it be a lasting feature of the new Mike Sonko? Only time will tell.

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