HEADLINERS' PROFILE

Mike Sonko: End of flamboyance and bravado?

His tenure as senator was controversial with verbal and in some instance physical confrontation with Governor Evans Kidero.

In Summary

• The flamboyant matatu businessman shot into limelight in 2007 when he won a court battle in a case that restricted Eastlands matatus from entering the city centre.

• Sonko would later rise to national politics when he was elected Makadara MP on September 20, 2010 in a by-election

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

Ten years after Gideon Kioko Mbuvi, aka Mike Sonko, quit the wild matatu sector for the rough Nairobi politics, he appears on his way out—and not so graciously.

The flamboyant matatu businessman shot into the limelight in 2007 when he won a lawsuit challenging a ban on Eastlands matatus from entering the city centre. He was chairman of Eastlands Matatu Association.

Sonko rose to national politics when he was elected Makadara MP on September 20, 2010, in a by-election following a successful petition by Reuben Ndolo. He was aged 35.

 

Beating political heavyweights Ndolo and Dick Wathika on the Narc Kenya ticket, Sonko plunged into the murky Nairobi politics and fashioned himself as a defender of the poor.

Born on February 27, 1975, in Mombasa, Sonko seems to always court controversy. He was once chased away from Parliament chambers for wearing studs and shades against the House's dress code. He has also admitted to being a thief and escaping from jail, and even smoking bang in the precincts of Parliament.

In 1995, he was arrested and charged with assault. He was released on bond, which was later revoked in 1997, leading him to be locked up at Shimo la Tewa Prison.

Regardless, 808,705 voters elected Sonko the first Nairobi Senator in the 2013 general election on the TNA ticket, two years after he was elected MP.

His tenure as senator was equally controversial with verbal and in some instance physical confrontation with Governor Evans Kidero. Sonko accused Kidero of mismanagement and corruption at City Hall.

These are the same allegations he is facing before the Senate alongside gross violation of the Constitution and abuse of office.

In 2014, he led a demonstration at The Hague to protest what he called harassment of President Uhuru Kenyatta by the ICC.

 

In the 2017 general election, Sonko was voted overwhelmingly to become the second governor of Nairobi, promising to undo all the ills Kidero had done.

When he was sworn-in in August 2017 he said, “Nairobi will never be the same again from today. I shall work round the clock to guarantee efficient and timely services for all our residents.”

That was never to be. When confronted with his poor track record, he blamed “City Hall cartels”. Sonko resorted to recording phone calls and releasing them online among other sideshows.

When Nairobi nearly came to a standstill — and with Sonko asking Uhuru for help — four key functions were transferred to the national government. Health, transport, public works and planning were taken over by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services.

This has been the centre of his woes, especially on matters budget.

“Sonko was rather streetwise but not book-smart. He didn’t know how to manage the formal structures of government, and he is leaving the scene in the same manner and drama that he came in with,” says Jubilee nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura.

He notes that Sonko’s woes are a lesson that no matter how momentous, transient populism doesn’t often last and that moderate, measured and well-calculating politicians tend to stay longer and have greater impact.

Janet Ouko, who was Nairobi’s Education executive, said Sonko’s leadership style, controlling nature and lack of respect for county staff made her quit her job.

Sonko’s deputy Polycarp Igathe resigned barely six months after assuming office, citing failure to earn the trust of his boss.

These two are among tens of county executives and officials who he has either pushed out, suspended or fired.

Sonko survived the first impeachment attempt, but he seems to be on his way out as well.