Kenya: Mr Moneybags City Chief's Style Baffles Friend and Foe

9 November 2019

The demeanour of Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko - a man who has had a date with the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission twice in the past few days - as a reckless, loose canon and a streetwise leader belies a shrewd political schemer.

Behind that veneer of a combative and a functionally illiterate leader who knows nothing but confrontation lies a discerning politician with some underestimated wit.

Mr Sonko's leadership style has rubbed many people the wrong way, as he is a man known for unorthodox means of addressing matters.

The governor is not your ordinary political neophyte. The man has deep pockets and his antics can be intimidating, to say the least.

This has seen him run the city's devolved government as a one-man show, exerting unparalleled control and influence over the Executive and the Assembly with those who dared stand in his way being swept aside.

CECs DISMISSED

City Hall has been on auto-pilot. It is almost to two years since the capital city had a deputy governor.

Mr Polycarp Igathe resigned in a huff in January last year after failing to earn "the trust of my boss".

Rather than reach out to his real or imaginary enemies, Mr Sonko started pointing the finger at "people close to the seat of power", accusing them of hatching a plan to control operations at City Hall.

That happened as pressure mounted on him to replace Mr Igathe. Given his reputation, no politician in Nairobi dared take Mr Sonko head-on.

Since becoming governor in August 2017, more than 50 top county officers have either been suspended or dismissed as he engages in endless fights with "cartels infiltrating my administration".

Education executive Janet Ouko resigned in January after having had enough. Her finance counterpart Danvas Makori was dismissed last year.

The same fate befell county secretary Peter Kariuki, health chief officer Mahat Jimale, and many others.

TENSE ENVIRONMENT

Working for the City County government has turned into a nightmare for many.

The employees confess that they live in constant fear of the unknown in light of intimidation, harassment and having their every move monitored on the radar screen of the governor through "my people".

There is always the fear of losing one's job every single day as professionalism has been thrown out of the window, giving way to bootlicking and sycophancy.

Finance and Economic Planning executive Charles Kerich and his Health Services counterpart Mohamed Dagane are on suspension as are 14 other top officials in the planning department.

However, Mr Sonko does not seem moved, saying the suspensions and dismissals will not interfere with services.

"The suspension of the planning department officials is meant to pave the way for investigations into the Precious Talents Academy tragedy where a classroom collapsed, killing eight pupils. We are working around the clock to fight cartels, especially in the lands department," the governor said.

ELACHI SAGA

Apart from the county Executive, the City Hall boss has extended his tussles to the county assembly, which is also embroiled in unending wrangles since the chaotic return of Speaker Beatrice Elachi last month.

The county boss backs Ms Elachi, after falling out with his friend and Majority Leader Abdi Hassan Guyo.

During the fracas that marked the falling-out, Mr Sonko's involvement was evident as members of the group that stormed the assembly warned Mr Guyo to respect the governor or face "dire consequences".

In a leaked audio clip, Mr Sonko tells East African Legislative Assembly MP Simon Mbugua that his problems with Mr Guyo stemmed from a business deal gone sour.

"If we differ in business now, he becomes the subject," Mr Sonko tells Mr Mbugua by phone.

However, the cracks in the friendship began appearing when Mr Guyo criticised the governor over his frequent dismissal and suspension of county employees.

INSECURE

The Matopeni Ward Representative called the actions baseless, adding that they were being done before investigations were carried out "and only serve to mess people's careers".

What followed was the removal of Mr Guyo from the Assembly Services Board as well as several attempts to oust him from the majority leader's position.

Any county official whose star appears to rise has been brought down in what observers say is a typical Sonko not willing to play second fiddle to anybody.

Mr Mark Bichachi, a political analyst, says the governor is just afraid of seeing his powers being exercised by those around him.

"We are dealing with a governor who is scared of anyone who might render him irrelevant. He is basically insecure. Anyone who does not toe his line is kicked out. The county secretary is a powerful position," Mr Bichachi said.

City Hall operates at the whims of Mr Sonko with his continued reluctance to appoint a deputy.

Some say the governor is comfortable operating that way because he fears being barred from office should a crisis occur, as happened in Kiambu and Samburu.

EACC SUMMONS

Governor Ferdinand Waititu of Kiambu and his Samburu counterpart Moses Lenolkulal face corruption and embezzlement charges.

Mr Sonko is being investigated by the EACC for financial malpractices.

The law says if a vacancy occurs in the office of the governor and that of deputy governor, or if the deputy is unable to act, the Speaker of the county assembly acts as governor.

Should Mr Sonko be barred from accessing his office, Ms Elachi would be governor in acting capacity.

He appeared at the EACC offices on Tuesday after being summoned for reportedly lying when he sought clearance to contest for Nairobi governor. Police officers clashed with his followers.

The commission wants him to set the record straight over his past activities and court cases.

Mr Sonko risks a five-year prison term, a Sh5 million fine or both if found guilty. He accuses the commission of witch-hunt and intimidating him.

CORRUPTION

The EACC wants to know how some amounts ended up in Mr Sonko's accounts from as early as 2017.

In September, he recorded statements in regard to questionable multimillion-shilling garbage collection and disposal tenders awarded to 13 companies by City Hall.

All said and done, the flamboyant politician's quick political rise continues to baffle many.

He made his debut into the city politics during the Makadara by-election in 2010, beating veterans Dick Wathika and Reuben Ndolo.

He then became senator in 2013 before a 2017 landslide victory against Governor Evans Kidero.

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