LIKE RIVER LIKE CITY

Maybe it’s time for Sonko to leave

City's future as murky as the waters of Nairobi River.

In Summary
  • Older residents can recall a time when city fathers were respectable folk and services rendered with clockwork precision. The Nairobi River then was clean and had drinkable water.
  • Today, Nairobi is run, not by a culture that promotes good order, but by edicts that reflect the temperament of the man at the helm.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

It is said that the state of a city can always be discerned from the quality of river waters that transverse it; the cleaner the water, the better the government. Kenya’s capital Nairobi is an exemplar of this truism. The vicissitudes of the city’s fortunes have certainly been reflected in the condition of the river that bears the same name.

Older residents can recall a time when city fathers were respectable folk and services rendered with clockwork precision. The Nairobi River then was clean and had drinkable water. The decay of both city and river started with the dissolution of the then City Council and the imposition of political appointees through the infamous City Commission. There was to be temporary respite after the multiparty elections of 1992, with the election of Mayor Steve ‘Magic’ Mwangi. The city flourished, and so did the river.

During John Michuki’s tenure as Environment minister, a regeneration of the Nairobi River was attempted. It was a resounding success. Nairobi’s fortunes, and indeed those of the entire country, changed for better. In fact, Kenya was declared the most optimistic nation in the world!

Today, the Nairobi River is a pale shadow of its former self.  Effluent is discharged into it from the numerous factories that line its banks in the city’s industrial area. As it courses through the city, the bridges that span it hide hordes of glue-sniffing thugs who mug pedestrians with alarming frequency.

Sonko’s performance negates the perverse notion that a leading county can be successfully governed by a man without advanced academic or professional achievements. Many of his pronouncements are a constant source of angst to city residents.

Similarly, the County Government of Nairobi is in a deplorable state. The county functions without a substantive deputy governor. County executives are routinely hired and fired on the whims of the governor. Members of county assembly habitually engage in fisticuffs or bitter altercations at the expense of service delivery.

Mike Sonko is Nairobi’s governor. He is at once controversial and divisive. Controversial in the sense that he does not carry himself with the comportment of past holders of the helm of Kenya’s premier city. He is loud, flashy and given to outbursts of insults against his perceived detractors. Divisive in the sense that one is either for him or against him. MCAs are split down the middle, with a faction vociferously calling for his exit.

This column has in the past stated that Sonko serves as governor only at the indulgence of the powers that be. These powers had banked on the combination of Sonko and former Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe to restore the city to its former glory. Whereas Sonko was wildly popular with the masses, Igathe had the intellectual acuity to navigate through the complexities of running a capital city.

It was a profound misjudgment. Sonko, having donned on the accoutrements of power, would not cede the running of the city to a more experienced technocrat. Igathe resigned out of frustration.

Today, Nairobi is run, not by a culture that promotes good order, but by edicts that reflect the temperament of the man at the helm. It is also subsumed by a culture of corruption. Which is tragic considering that Nairobi is not a provincial town where populist antics may appeal to residents without impact on the national scene.

It is Kenya’s capital and the conduct of its leaders has a direct bearing on the country’s economy. Certainly, no investors want to commit to a city that appears to be ruled by lawless caprice. Nairobi’s reduced place in the region is an inevitability brought on by poor leadership.

Sonko’s performance negates the perverse notion that a leading county can be successfully governed by a man without advanced academic or professional achievements. Many of his pronouncements are a constant source of angst to city residents.

Recent newspaper headlines have been replete with allegations against Sonko. Word on the street has it that he may have crossed one line too many and offended the sensibilities of the powers that be. Perhaps it is time for him to move on or be forced out by the numerous investigations running against him.

Whatever the case, the future of his continued stay at City Hall is as murky as the waters of Nairobi River.