What you need to know:
The culture of secret recordings is not new to politics. But Sonko’s near paranoid behaviour, of having his guard up perpetually, gives credence to two observations.
The first is that he is too attached to his street smart ways to allow himself to be caught flatfooted.
- The second is that Sonko is a man under siege, who needs to keep as much evidence on even his slightest communication with anyone may not have an upper hand against him.
Controversial and flamboyant to a fault Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko made it clear from the word go – making his political debut running for MP during a by-election for Makadara Constituency in 2010 – that he was out to break rules and barriers in Kenyan politics.
Appearing on a billboard on Jogoo Road, the political newcomer posed wearing a patched-up cap and not-so-discreet gold rings on each finger. His chosen moniker, “Sonko”, to mean boss or wealthy one in Sheng, was telling of the man’s view of himself, and how his supporters perceived him.
He was a “don” of sorts, especially in Nairobi’s Eastlands, where he ran a popular nightclub in Buru Buru and fleet of stylish, rowdy, loud-music-blasting Number 58 matatus which employed a good number of youths. With this not so modest on-the-ground infrastructure, Sonko wrestled the Makadara seat from the two dominant political parties.
For anyone who cared to pay attention, the writing was on the wall that if left unchecked, Sonko was on a mission to upstage the order of things. After Makadara, Sonko trained his eyes on the Nairobi Senate seat. In an overwhelming show of support, city residents gave Sonko the highest number of votes received by any Nairobi politician during the 2013 General Election.
As MP, Sonko perfected a well-oiled patronage machinery, where anyone who knocked on his door seeking help never left empty handed. This was followed by the setting up of the infamous Sonko Rescue Team, fashioned as a philanthropic venture designed to fill service delivery gaps in health care, firefighting, among other urgent needs of the city population. This, Sonko claimed, was funded from his own pocket and by donations from well-wishers.
By the time Sonko was declaring his candidature to be Nairobi Governor, there were jitters coming from all corners, the common refrain being that Nairobi was too important a national asset to be handed over to someone of Sonko’s background and mannerisms. Sonko was accused of embodying a culture of gangsterism.
What those castigating Sonko didn’t realise was that the horse had already bolted. Nairobi voters, like voters across the world, weren’t listening to Sonko’s neoliberal critics, mostly the educated and monied elite who considered him as an uncultured renegade who didn’t understand their ways. He had the money, but lacked requisite pedigree.
Sonko once again upstaged the status quo, winning the seat with an impressive margin.
It was at this point, as Sonko now likes to allege, that a powerful cabal of senior officials working at the Office of the President decided to curtail his rising political star.
Time and again, Sonko has claimed that these forces within government, who he now calls “the system”, are hell bent to frustrate him.
Interestingly, Sonko’s allusions are always followed by a quick caveat, which is that to his mind, the actions by his detractors within the state are not sanctioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta. How accurate Sonko is about him being targeted by agents of the state or about the President’s non-involvement in the affair remains a matter of conjecture.
What is not in denial is that Sonko’s unorthodox ways continue to earn him publicity and popularity. Having proven time and again that anyone who takes him for granted may only have themselves to blame, it may not be farfetched to imagine that someone or a group of people somewhere may be hatching a plot to cut Sonko to size – whatever that may entail – before he becomes a political threat beyond Nairobi, or to diminish his influence within the capital.
When Sonko’s latest public spat with Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris hit the headlines, he moved fast to rebut allegations that the duo didn’t enjoy a cordial working relationship. In his usual nodus operandi, Sonko unleashed audio recordings of his conversations with Passaris, insisting that they were in decent talking terms until 48 hours before the Madaraka Day fete, during which event they fell out.
“She is being used by the system,” Sonko alleged during a live TV interview, which was ended abruptly.
The culture of secret recordings is not new to politics. But Sonko’s near paranoid behaviour, of having his guard up perpetually, gives credence to two observations. The first is that he is too attached to his street smart ways to allow himself to be caught flatfooted.
The second is that Sonko is a man under siege, who needs to keep as much evidence on even his slightest communication with anyone, so that his enemies, real or perceived, may not have an upper hand against him.
However, the elephant in the room remains, is Sonko confirming that Kenya has a deep state which is coming after him, or is he being delusional?