Governor Mike Sonko appears popular in Nairobi but his antics hide a critical management crisis in one of Africa’s most important cities.
Many stories have been told about Sonko’s chaotic administration at City Hall but it is only now that Nairobi residents – and all Kenyans – can have a clear picture of the mess.
Former county Education executive Janet Ouko painted the picture in an exclusive interview with the Star yesterday. She resigned on Tuesday after working in Sonko’s cabinet for a year and two months.
Having been in the civil society, Janet has spent the last seven years fighting for children’s right to education. It was among the qualities that made her qualify as the Education executive in November 2017.
Ouko is a former national coordinator of Elimu Yetu Coalition, a civil society organisation championing the right to education.
As part of the induction, all the 10 CECs were taken through certain systems and policies.
However, a few months down the line, it started to emerge that those systems were non-existent.
“You come from a professional background, where there are systems, policies procedures and generally accepted ways of working,” Ouko said.
“At City Hall there doesn’t exist any respect for systems or policies.”
The implementation of city projects is guided by the County Integrated Development Plan and annual work plans approved by the assembly.
But none of that is important. Sonko is the sole authority on everything, says the former executive.
“When you are doing day-to-day operations, it is not really expected that you would again go back to the governor to reconfirm that this is what you are supposed to do. Apparently, that is what is happening. You are supposed to cross-check everything,” Ouko said.
That would be a small problem if Sonko were always available. But he isn’t. One has to keep looking for him, calling him or sending messages on WhatsApp.
Work stops if he has not approved it. And this is his favourite reason for firing staff.
“You have seen some colleagues dismissed because of not working - and ‘not working’ is not even described. But he cannot admit he is the one delaying the processes,” Ouko said.
She said she was uncomfortable discussing Sonko’s management style, or rather lack of it, as this might be seen as washing her former boss’s dirty linen in public. “But somebody has to put a stop to this. Really, you cannot operate a county like that,” Ouko said.
four cabinet meetings
She said Sonko does not recognise office hours and a worker’s private life.
“He will call you at 2am. If you don’t pick the call... the following morning he doesn’t pick your call because you did not pick his,” Ouko said.
Sonko rarely holds cabinet meetings and when he does, they are informal.
“In that one year and two months, I have not attended more than four cabinet meetings. He can dare me. He can produce the minutes of those meetings,” Ouko said.
Sonko does not also seek professional advice. He has a particular dislike for educated people.
You have no room to say anything. According to Ouko, he is some sort of monster.
She recalled him often dismissing everyone, “I’m the governor. What can you tell me with your degrees? Go contest for governor. Put up posters. Then you will form your own government.”
County executives have no freedom to spend money allocated to their dockets by the assembly, yet that is their mandate. Sonko must approve use of funds.
“The most irritating part is everyone is a suspect. Everybody is a thief. There is only one person who is not a thief and that is himself,” Ouko said.
The city boss never tables any evidence of the many allegations he throws around.
While attending functions around the city, he is always seen surrounded by well-built youths.
Ouko said some of those youths are bloggers he uses to taint reputations on social media.
The former Education CEC said she and her colleagues were subjected to background checks on integrity before they took office but that is of little interest to Sonko.
Everyone is scared of him at City Hall, she said. “He will call you to tell you, I will fire you. I will get you jailed. Tomorrow detectives are coming for you. Do you sit there and wait for a mere mortal to bring your life down?” she asked.
Ouko said Sonko praised her as his best executive yet when she decided to leave, he followed her with a non-existent scandal at the Education docket.
She said she would take the bull by its horns. “I want to face the governor and tell him. This has to come to an end. You have broken the lives of so many people,” Ouko told him.
She said she was speaking on behalf of many people whose lives have been blighted by Sonko but they remain silent.
“Not so many people are strong and bold enough to quit as I have done. I’d rather die standing than kneeling,” Ouko said.
The former CEC said Sonko has failed Nairobi residents and he should be faced without fear.
“I want to tell governor Sonko not everyone is a coward. We are going to demand that you give services according to the policies that exist. It is not a favour.”