The image of former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu desperately running after the president’s motorcade, akin to a hanger-on, illustrates how times have changed for the once-powerful politician.
However, nothing best captures a fall from grace-to-grass-tale than the public drenching of tears by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, a political firebrand who once declared himself the “most feared person in Nairobi” and the third in command after President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
The two politicians share similarities in their rise to the top echelons of the country’s political realm and their rapid fall.
Needless to say, they are the conjoined twins of Kenyan politics. Popular with their sobriquets ‘Baba Yao’ and ‘Sonko’, Nairobi gave them the platform to launch their political journeys and it is in the capital that the final nail in their political coffin was drilled.
Once darlings of the system, they are now fighting for what is left of their floundering political careers with the trappings of power they used to enjoy now all gone.
For a man who, in 2016, said he was the “acting President of Kenya”, Mr Sonko’s tragic fall has been like that of a wrecking ball.
“President Kenyatta is in Togo, DP Ruto in France. I am number three in command, politically, influence-wise and socially. I am now the acting President of the Republic of Kenya,” the eccentric politician told mourners in Machakos in October 2016, during the burial of former Kathiani MP Wavinya Ndeti’s husband.
President Kenyatta would downplay the remark. But that was then. The loose tongue has now put the former City Hall boss in trouble and it seems there is no way out this time around.
The former governor is now paying the price for taking the battle to the President’s doorstep and, unwisely, mistaking him for his equal.
From claiming that Jubilee Party had planned violence in the run-up to 2017 General Election, leaking a recording of the President’s sister to alleging that the Head of State “taught me how to smoke ‘a big cigarette’”, Mr Sonko had crossed the Rubicon.
“Huyo mlevi alinifunza kuvuta bangi na sigara na akaniambia macho ikikua red unavaa goggles,” Mr Sonko said.
Once a flamboyant politician, he is now cooling his heels in hospital awaiting arraignment. He has been shuttling from one court to the other on charges of assault, forcible entry into private property and terrorism.
For Mr Waititu, trouble began in June 2019 after he was arraigned over a Sh588 million graft charge, which also involved his wife, Susan Wangari. The sloppy train continued with Kiambu MCAs gifting him an unlikely Christmas present by removing him from office just a week to the festivities.
The Senate upheld the impeachment, sending him home a little over two years into his tenure as the second governor of Kiambu County. A total of 63 out of 92 MCAs voted in favour of the motion. Only one MCA stood with him, while the rest absconded the vote.
His estranged deputy, Dr James Nyoro, would have the last laugh, taking over the reins as the third governor of the President’s home county.
Unlike Mr Sonko, Mr Waititu accepted his fate and only resurfaced in February during the President’s events.
Political analyst, Javas Bigambo, summed up the tribulations faced by the two leaders as self-inflicted. The two mistook political friendship for political interests as well as letting their assumed popularity and the direct line to State House seem like they were equals with the powers-that-be.
“They exposed their soft underbelly to the unknown, thinking that they were riding on the back of a tiger who could only attack someone else. They were not prepared for what hit them,” offered Mr Bigambo.
“It serves as a lesson to other political wheeler-dealers that having support of the masses or perceived popularity cannot keep one at the political high table but it is the understanding of changing political interests.”
The two leaders could soon share the ignominious title of being the only former governors barred from running for political office in the 2022 General Election. While in power, their county administrations were beset with wrangles and graft allegations.
In Nairobi, MCAs began the impeachment process following Mr Sonko’s arrest and arraignment in December 2019 over a Sh357 million graft charge. Led by Minority Whip Peter Imwatok, ward reps went all out for the governor’s head.
He would only be saved at the last minute through the intervention of President Kenyatta and the courts, which stopped the impeachment drive. But it was just for a while as 10 months later, MCAs sent him home.
“We have to send the governor back to Mua Hills. I apologise on behalf of the Jubilee Party for having elected an inefficient governor,” Majority Leader Abdi Guyo told his colleagues.
“We are tired of him as we need development and not theatrics,” added Majority Whip Paul Kados.
Not even the courts, or frantic calls to President Kenyatta and ODM Party Leader Raila Odinga could save the governor, with 88 out of 122 MCAs voting for his removal from office.
Only two voted against the motion tabled by Minority Leader Michael Ogada, despite the governor’s camp having claimed to have 57 ward reps “under lock and key” in Mr Sonko’s private residence in Kwale County.
Waititu joined politics in 2002 as Njiru Ward councillor, and would go on to serve as deputy mayor of the then-Nairobi City Council before becoming a Member of Parliament for Embakasi between 2008 and 2013.
He would also serve as an assistant minister in the Ministry of Water during President Mwai Kibaki’s administration but would get suspended over claims of incitement and hate speech in 2012.
The vocal politician would re-emerge in 2013 in the Nairobi gubernatorial race, losing to ODM’s Evans Kidero.
However, he would get a political lifeline in 2015 after clinching the Kabete seat following the death of the area MP George Muchai. That would propel him to the Kiambu executive office a couple of years later.
For Mr Sonko, a by-election in Makadara in 2010 would thrust him into city politics. He would go on to win the senatorial seat in 2013 before claiming the big prize in 2017.