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Let’s get out of Sonko personality cult model and build our Nairobi

Tuesday December 10 2019

Governor Mike Sonko at Milimani

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko at the Milimani Anti-Corruption Court on December 9, 2019, where he was charged with 19 graft-related offences over loss of Sh357 million of county money. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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As the dust settles on the Friday Mike Mbuvi Sonko arrest saga, it is timely and necessary for Nairobians to look at the way forward options for their city.

Nairobi has increased in population by 50 per cent in just 10 years to 4.5 million people. If you add metropolitan Nairobi, the figure gets to 6.5 million.


The city is not just the capital of Kenya and the heartbeat of the country. It is the regional hub and epicentre of eastern Africa and beyond.

Regional hub business is a large driver of our economy and so what happens — or does not happen — in Nairobi is critical to the country and region.

When one walks around Nairobi County offices, one does not get the feeling that this is a serious and working devolved government.


It is a labyrinth of offices and assorted spaces replete with dozens of desks and chairs. The best way to find out the number of people working in any one office is not to count the heads but the jackets and handbags on the chairs.

It all works but in a fashion and one gets the impression that despite the place being kept together by a dedicated few, it is only ambling along.


As to whether it is living up to or anywhere near its mandate, one only has to look around the city to see that it is work in progress but has a long way to go. It is equivalent to a fairly ancient vehicle chugging at 40kph where most are cruising at twice that speed.

That is the key to the Nairobi of the future. If we are not careful, it and the country will lose out.

First, there is the transition. Technically speaking, Sonko must step aside now that he has been charged. If he does not, the Ferdinand Waititu ruling given by Justice Ngugi is likely to be used to ensure he does.

Then the County Assembly Speaker is likely to be the acting governor since there is no deputy. Fresh elections are likely to be called early next year. There could be some resistance to this avenue but it would be in the best interest of Nairobi and the country.


Nairobi County needs a combination of actions if it is to leap over this large hurdle and any ensuing ones.

One that is being muted is that the government appoints Nairobi County Commission for a set period. Such commissions have a mixed history and are also vulnerable to political manipulation.

It would also fly in the face of the devolution principle.

What would be important and helpful at this juncture is for the national government to appoint a commission of inquiry into the way forward for Nairobi.

Its terms of reference would involve examining major challenges facing the county administration and how to overcome them.

One is almost certain to be its weak administrative capacity and how to build and augment that expeditiously since Nairobi is growing by around four per cent annually.


A related one would be an audit of its core functions and how they can be improved. The audit should be categorised into priorities.

The issue of building or maximising its revenue base has to be addressed.

For example, it is clear that the county could be collecting a lot more money without even raising its taxes and levies but by improving capacity and efficiency. Some estimate that money collected from existing taxes could be doubled.

Considering its importance, should the national government be contributing more?

Should the county be subjected to more devolution to improve services?


Such a commission of inquiry could give a welcome template to future Nairobi City County administrators.

In short, let us get out of the Sonko personality cult mode, put it behind us and work on the Nairobi County we want and deserve.

Let us get back to the institution and how to resurrect, repair and build it so that Nairobi County can move into a faster lane and its citizens receive the services they pay for.

Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]