Voters can’t elect the Sonkos of this world and hope to develop

What you need to know:

  • The man from Mombasa, where he had lived at best a shady existence, was now chief executive of Kenya’s nerve centre.
    No sooner had Sonko been sworn as Nairobi’s governor than it became clear that he could not run a simple cabinet meeting.

  • Everything literally fell apart amid allegations of corruption, drunken parties in the office, chronic absenteeism, fisticuffs among officials and gridlock with the county assembly

Winston Churchill, the British wordsmith, coined two pithy warnings about democracy. Both apply to the good voters of Nairobi and their duly elected Governor Mike Sonko.
The first is that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others”. The second is that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.
In Governor Sonko, Nairobi people proved democracy can at times be garbage. In other words, the much-touted “voice of the people” isn’t always, after all, the “voice of God”. The democratic majority can be stupid, sinister or short-sighted. Even worse, the majority can turn genocidal, as the Third Reich did under Adolf Hitler.
Sonko burst on the political scene as an obscene hip-hop caricature with gaudy blings and other paraphernalia associated with “gangsta” rap. He was a comical figure, or a tragi-comedic one. There’s a clip of him leading a bunch of hoodlums as they kick and tear down an official gate. Nothing was done to teach him a lesson against vandalism. Lo and behold, the make-believe “thug” was in 2010 elected MP for Makadara. Some pundits called him a “man of the people”. Some even hailed him as the model politician who arises from, and jibes with, the grassroots, the real street. He instinctively “connected” with the hoi polloi through huge cash outlays. With an eye on higher office, Sonko perfected the art of the “handouts”. He understood the desperation of the masses because he was one of them. He knew the value of handouts in Kenya. He would choose the most gut-wrenching cases, especially those that had got lavish media coverage, to showcase his “generosity”. With TV cameras trailing him, Sonko would show up to pay a hospital bill for a woe-begotten soul. He would rescue the wretched fellow from the “evil” hospital that would detain a person for failure to settle a bill. He set up the Sonko Rescue Team, a stunt brigade of fire trucks, ambulances and hearses to help the poor for free.
Sonko parleyed this razzmatazz and his many gizmos to be elected in 2013 as Nairobi senator and then in 2017 as governor. For the Senate, he got 808,705 votes. In the 2017 gubernatorial election, Sonko polled 811,995 against incumbent Evans Kidero’s 653,185.
Kenya’s capital, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of Kenya’s GDP, had just elected a man with no known competence or professional background. Nairobi, one of the world’s most famous cities. Let that sink in.
The man from Mombasa, where he had lived at best a shady existence, was now chief executive of Kenya’s nerve centre.
No sooner had Sonko been sworn as Nairobi’s governor than it became clear that he could not run a simple cabinet meeting. Everything literally fell apart amid allegations of corruption, drunken parties in the office, chronic absenteeism, fisticuffs among officials and gridlock with the county assembly. He effectively forced Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe to quit and refused to replace him.
Sonko was then indicted for corruption and barred from office. Garbage and stench piled up in Nairobi as virtually all services came to a stop. Nairobi died as a city. That’s why a couple of weeks ago, Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta took over the city. With Sonko’s acquiescence, the national government took over Nairobi County’s most important functions.
There are troubling signs since the takeover of Nairobi by the State. There are efforts to rehabilitate Sonko, stop ward representatives from impeaching him and drop corruption charges against him. This will be a gargantuan mistake by Kenyatta, the State and the Judiciary. My advice to Kenyatta and ODM’s Raila Odinga, who is now a key player in the State after the “handshake”, is to let Sonko carry his own cross. Let the law take its full, unfettered course. Neither should dare touch him with a 10-foot pole. Doing so would make a mockery of the war on corruption. It would bring to disrepute the Building Bridges Initiative and galvanise hypocrites opposed to it.
Sonko was an error in Kenya’s politics. To be sure, he isn’t the first, and won’t be the last. But his error-filled Nairobi era can be corrected. How a self-admitted thief, fraudster and liar – one who reportedly escaped Shimo La Tewa Prison without completing his sentence – became MP, senator and governor of Kenya’s most important county – demands national reflection.
The man is functionally illiterate. Methinks his University of Nairobi degree should be investigated. We cannot as a country continue to elect the Sonkos of this world to senior positions and hope to develop. This is the surest way to remain benighted.

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