LEADERSHIP FAILS

Tale of 2 populists: Democracy is a gamble

In Summary
  • Their fall is an attempt to mitigate democratic slips.
  • Their behaviour on exit reminds voters to be critical in assessing character of leaders

Leadership clowns, whether from Kenya or the United States, have multiple paths of getting into and exiting public office. Democracy gives them the leeway to manipulate the masses.

They arrive through propaganda, lofty promises, and deception. Such leaders don’t leave office silently either. They fall kicking like a buffalo, even when they know the forces against them are insurmountable. They play victim to attract the sympathy of the gullible public.

Two exits in different parts of the world would have been entertaining, were it not for the tragedy of their arrival. There is also the destruction in their wake. The ignominy of their exit, and attempts to cast themselves as victims of insidious forces, is familiar.

The exit of Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko is good riddance, like the fall of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. Sonko wears a T-shirt embossed with Trump’s image when he is sulking. He did the day he ranted against President Uhuru Kenyatta after evictions to provide room for the expressway.

Sonko shares ‘Trumpian’ hubris. Both love spewing dirt. On the eve of the 2017 general election, Sonko dumped excreta on Jacaranda ground to deny ODM leader Raila Odinga a venue for a public rally.

Trump and Sonko love playing the victim to attract public sympathy for their imagined prosecution. Trump is blaming ‘radical left Democrats’ for his woes. The president who came to Washington to drain the swamp, is drowning in his sloth. He is blaming the swamp for his electoral rejection on November 3.

Sonko arrived at City Hall to destroy cartels. Once in, he blamed the same cartels for frustrating him. He claimed they wanted him out because he was fighting corruption. But the reality doesn’t back the claim.

The Nairobi county assembly found Sonko liable for abuse of office, violation of the Constitution, gross misconduct, and other crimes under national law. The Senate affirmed the reasons for Sonko’s impeachment.

The people can, however, be excused for being blind to reason. But vetting agencies must take responsibility for sleeping on the job. How did a self-confessed jail-breaker pass the integrity test three times over?

Nairobi has had to contend with a mini-Trump, who first came in as Makadara MP through a by-election in 2010. The Trumplicate was senator of the city county for five years, and governor for three cantankerous years. It was a reign defined by hubris and personal insecurity. Sonko didn’t want anybody strong around him, not even a deputy governor. He did not want a deputy to make himself indispensable. He misread the deep state.

The reigns of Trump in the US and Sonko in Nairobi have exposed the frailty of democracy. The fall of Sonko and Trumpism are attempts to mitigate democratic slips. Their behaviour on exit, too, reminds voters to be critical in assessing character and abilities of leaders.

Trump, a cultic white supremacist, has no character for national leadership of a multiracial society. He has defaced US democracy, which he has demonised for his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

Sonko’s integrity was dubious on arrival. His exit confirms he wasn’t cut for the responsibilities gullible voters imposed on him. So many read Sonko wrong for so long. The gullible masses promoted a man who had neither character nor aptitude for public office.

The people can, however, be excused for being blind to reason. But vetting agencies must take responsibility for sleeping on the job. How did a self-confessed jail-breaker pass the integrity test three times over?

Sonko arrived as a darling of urban masses – the gatekeeper of hustlers. He got about 800,000 votes during the 2017 election, scoring higher than two top presidential candidates, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta.

Sonko dished out money, and little favours, to people who voted for him three times over a decade, without probing his suitability for public office. The masses loved the latter-day Robin Hood. They fell for the trap, even as the middle class stayed out only to whine after the damage was done. They always give the Sonkos of the underworld a licence to misbehave.

It does not matter how the man made money, for as long as he gave tokens to the vulnerable. It did not matter how public money was spent, so long as he shared proceeds of impunity with hustlers. Democracy dies in the hands of the vulnerable.

Millions of shillings more than what Sonko saved for the taxpayer for three years by refusing to nominate a deputy, shall be wasted on a by-election. But Sonko’s inaction wasn’t a cost-cutting measure. It was a selfish display of impunity.