I suspect by the time we are done with the Jubilee Party’s second term in 2022, Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko, a Jubilee member, will be the most ridiculed of all the 47 governors. Nine months into his melodramatic governorship, he is already the butt of dry jokes and ribaldry from exasperated Nairobians.
“A man out of his depths,” to quote the title of a splash story on him, recently done by a city magazine, Sonko nowadays seems not to know whether he is going or coming. Just about to finish a year at City Hall, his melodrama has substantially reduced, his directionless populism no longer a matter of concern to Nairobians. Sonko has been left at his wit’s end, groping for practical ideas to rejuvenate his governorship.
Some days ago, through his Twitter handle, he invited city dwellers for a public clean-up exercise to help collect garbage and possibly beautify the city. The instant responses from some Nairobians was nothing short of handing him a contempt card. Others decided it was pointless to be angry at him, so they chose to deride and poke fun at his “great idea”, with one city dweller reminding him that the clean-up day, Saturday, was a bad idea. Why? It was his Sabbath Day, he was a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) adherent. Could he try Sunday perhaps? Others asked him whether that was going to be the routine, of asking city residents to chip in with their labour – what happens to the scores of Nairobi County workers, employed to do precisely that job.
BUYING INTO A RACKET
Sonko assumed the governor’s office with pomp and pageantry, promising Nairobians “heaven on earth”, first by delivering them from the bad leadership of the first city governor, Evans Kidero, a man Sonko described as lacking the knowledge of finding his way into the hearts and minds of the city people, leave alone knowing his way around the proper paths of the city itself. During his pompous campaigns, he built a vista of a leader who was ready to engage a working relationship with city voters, telling them here is a governor aspirant who is intent on accountability and transparency and who will operate an open-door policy, 24/7.
A majority of the average Nairobi voters bought into this racket and were duped by Sonko’s mercurial political gimmicks, spiced with philanthropic roadshows and sideshows and “rescue missions”, which included adopting a sickly baby. Sonko even run a rescue team charade, which operated mainly in the slums, apparently providing water and transporting corpses to rural homes, mostly in the western region. Today, nobody speaks of the rescue team – it has ostensibly disappeared from view: It was, I highly suspect, a campaign tool to woe Nairobians to his political machinations. And he succeeded.
But it was a short-lived success – going by what Nairobians today think of their governor. One of the groups that sang Sonko’s song like nursery rhyme lullabies on Tuesday afternoon was the boda boda riders. Found in every corner and street of the city, the riders have become a powerful political tool for any politician – to manipulate and persuade them to vote for him or her. With his political charms and wiles, Sonko courted them assiduously. He told them things they had never been told before by a politician, leave alone a powerful politician, who, for all intents and purposes, looked poised to capture the most influential political position in the city: the governor’s seat.
When I talked recently to city centre boda boda riders, they said Sonko had literally promised them a direct pass into the heart of the city conurbation itself. “He told us we would even be allowed to park outside the busy City Hall once he took the reins of power,” said a Moi Avenue-based boda boda rider. “I tell you we were exalted, we were excited, we would be picking up clients just outside the seat of power itself, who would dare touch us? We knew we’d be the back of the governor, we knew he’d be a people’s governor, who understood their hustles, he was going to be our governor.”
Siku hizi hataki kutuona, anatufukuza kama dogi (Nowadays, he (the governor) doesn’t want to see us, he has directed we be chased away like stray dogs), the boda boda rider lamented to me. Alongside the city centre street vendors, boda boda riders were the first batch of “illegal” businesspeople to be harassed by the City Inspectorate askaris. They were arrested, their bikes confiscated and they themselves were handsomely penalised by City Hall courts for ferrying passengers within the city without valid authorisation.
“We tried seeking an audience with Sonko, but a fortress had been built around him,” said the rider. “We had been properly duped. As it is today, we just operate ninja (hide and seek) style, with the city askaris, who have since discovered a new revenue stream, but what do we do, a man must do what a man must do: eke out a living any which way.” The dream of ferrying county passengers just outside City Hall precincts was just that: a dream.
Just like their counterparts, boda boda riders, street vendors have all but lost faith in the governor: Like the boda boda riders, they have been left at the mercy of the predatory city askaris. “The askaris need us because that’s how they make a surplus income, we need them because it’s only they who can assure us of vending in the streets without looking askance,” said a street vendor. The symbiotic relationship with askaris that street vendors and hawkers have honed and perfected over a long period in the CBD is what the boda boda riders are now having to learn fast.
As the governor stays marooned at Mua Hills in Machakos County, Nairobians have no one but themselves to blame for being the easiest prey to the wiliest politician in the market place.
Mr Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti