The rise and rise of Servant Sonko in politics of the city - Daily Nation

The rise and rise of Servant Sonko in politics of the city

Saturday March 16 2013

Nairobi County Senator-elect Gidion Mbuvi (alias Mike Sonko) at the public terraces during the 48th Madaraka (Independence) Day celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on June 1, 2011. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL

Nairobi County Senator-elect Gidion Mbuvi (alias Mike Sonko) at the public terraces during the 48th Madaraka (Independence) Day celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on June 1, 2011. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL NATION

By BILLY MUIRURI [email protected]

He isn’t your ordinary politician. Unlike many Nairobi politicians who rise from City Hall to Parliament, Gidion Mbuvi Kioko walked a different path.

And now he is the Nairobi Senator-elect.

In less than three years, the man who is popularly known as Sonko has been the object of admiration and envy of more experienced politicians, some of whom were already in city politics when he was barely out of his teens.

The Nairobi Senator-elect is the man to be with in the new city political space, if recent developments are anything to go by.

He made his debut in active city politics during the Makadara by-election in 2010. From the “among other candidates seeking the seat” (according to media analyses then), Mr Mbuvi pulled a fast one on the major protagonists – former MPs Reuben Ndolo (ODM) and Dick Wathika (PNU). Mr Ndolo had petitioned the election of Mr Wathika in the 2007 elections.

Sonko pulled a surprise in an anticipated two-horse race at the time. As the third horse, he carried the day, polling 19,913 votes to Mr Ndolo’s 17,652. Mr Wathika trailed with 11,000 votes.

But it is the meteoric rise in influence of the former Makadara MP that is the talk of the city’s inner political circles. Now every politician in Nairobi wants to be in Sonko’s good books.

Apparently, after TNA presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta was declared President-elect, Sonko is one of the very few politicians with access to him.
For example, on Friday at a Nairobi hotel, Sonko hosted all city TNA MPs-elect and, from their fawning all over him, a keen political eye would know who is the newest power broker in town.

From a matatu operator running “a fleet of eight manyanga mini-buses” -- quite a number by Eastlands standards -- Sonko’s popularity has surged exactly two-and-a-half years after he rode his way to Parliament.

On March 4, Sonko was endorsed by a whopping 808,705 voters to be Nairobi’s first Senator, entering Kenya’s political records as the most popularly elected candidate outside the presidential race.

With this score, he got more votes than six presidential candidates combined and defeated his closest challenger, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, by 282,883 votes.

He lost in only two polling stations to his major rival; St John’s Kaloleni and Makongeni.

Still, this performance means Nairobians love him more than they do either Mr Kenyatta or Cord presidential candidate Raila Odinga. In the city, Mr Odinga garnered 691,156 votes against Mr Kenyatta’s 659,490 votes.

The man, Sunday Nation has learnt, has perfected the art of philanthropy at the low-income levels, touching the lives of the downtrodden with a spark that no politician has ever done in Nairobi.

“It is the simple things I do that take me closer to the people. It is a gap I have come to fill. My people have tasted power. I have taken it to them,” says the politician alluding to his philanthropic activities.

The man with the Midas touch has an uncanny appetite for direct impact on the lives of the people lucky enough to access him.

For example, when students were taking the KCPE exam, he bought each a fully equipped geometrical set. And that’s not all. Parents have also come to bank on Sonko’s lunch for their candidate children for the entire four days they write examinations.

“It becomes difficult not to mention this man’s name in your home if you have a candidate. He simply wades into your household through personalised gestures,” says Priscilla Nyambura, a Makongeni resident and a mother of three.

Since he became MP, Sonko has hosted a lavish Christmas party every year for the needy where several goats and bulls are slaughtered.

“Because I can afford a holiday, I always have a designated place to host the poor and the old for a party. Then I take my next flight for Christmas,” he said.

But Sonko’s earlier venture into politics was launched by his eight matatus that plied Eastlands routes.

A search shows they had names like Ferrari, Brown Sugar, Lakers, Rough Cuts and Convict that resonated with urban youths, and he employed 50 of them.

If he had not become MP, Sonko believes he would have by now become the national chairman of the Matatu Owners Association.

When the Michuki Rules on public transport came into effect in 2003, Sonko sued the government on behalf of matatu owners who were being prevented from accessing the city centre.

According to the MP, commuters and school children experienced difficult mornings when they would wake up at 5 am to catch a matatu only to be dropped at Muthurwa market.

“It pained me. We paid the same licences and insurance yet some vehicles were allowed to proceed to town. I rejected that,” he said. And after he won the case, he was named the chairman of the Eastlands Matatu Owners Association, a position he still holds.

And did you know that motorists within Makadara constituency are exempted from paying parking fees in the constituency? A court order in a case filed by the MP is still in force.

And furthermore, no slum dweller in Nairobi can be evicted from his or her abode until a case filed by the Senator-elect is heard and determined.

The case arose from the Sinai fire tragedy in 2011 when more than 100 residents perished after petrol leaking from a pipeline burst into flames. According to government documents, it was not true that the residents had built on the pipeline, sparking a court restraint to evict them.

“I have about six pending public interest cases touching on Makadara. In the Sinai case, we are asking for a Sh6 billion compensation for the victims for negligence by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC),” Sonko said, pointing to court documents he carries in his trademark briefcase.

It is not easy to interview Sonko. First, it is difficult to reach him by phone as he is always talking to someone; if you’re lucky, you might get through to one of his aides.

But when you do make contact, there is a second obstacle. He is constantly distracted by people who either seek to shake his hand or who just show up to have a look at him.

Mr George, a security aide, says: “Boss (Sonko) does not ignore anyone looking for him. One only needs some patience. He is in demand; people want to talk to him, and on many occasions just to see him.”

The man whose favourite meal is ugali and sukuma wiki loves his Tusker Malt that goes with a bottle of Sprite. “I like unwinding after a hectic day, and when I feel stressed up, I take a packet of cigarettes and puff off the stress. I smoke SM,” Sonko candidly revealed.

And does he have a role model in Kenyan politics? I look up to Uhuru Kenyatta. The man is loved. Everywhere he goes, people fall over him. I envy him,” he said.

Sonko says although he personally met the President-elect just a few years ago, he supported him in 2002 but shifted gears in 2007 when he cast his lot with ODM candidate Raila Odinga.

And who annoys him the most in local politics? Sonko says he has a problem with Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, his main rival in the Senate race).

“I am a Christian and I do not like anyone misusing the name of God. Imagine she announced her bid for governorship in her church. That really pissed me off.”

So does he have any higher ambitions? “Oh yes,” he said amid prolonged laughter.

“In 15 years’ time, I want to be president. I will support Mr Kenyatta for two terms, then Mr Wiilam Ruto (Deputy President-elect) for one term. Then I will offer myself for one term. Then the rest can take over. That’s my game plan.”