Mike Mbuvi Sonko will be sworn in Monday as the second Governor of Nairobi, ending the tenure of his predecessor Dr Evans Kidero.
But as Sonko takes over County Hall, the weight of expectation from over 4 million Nairobi residents will sit squarely on his shoulders. The question is, will he be strong enough to bear the weight?
A year ago, a Sonko governorship sounded like a dry joke apparently for a minority in Nairobi.
But a look into his history tells a different story. Many rue underestimating the man who has been in politics for less than a decade but has managed, in that short span of time to create an identity that has endeared him to many.
In 2010, the chubby faced man with fingers that looked like suffering under unbearable weight of gold coated rings, threw his hat into the ring for Makadara race. He was up against some heavyweights. On one side, he had Dick Wathika. On the other he had boxing enthusiast and promoter Reuben Ndolo.
Nobody gave Sonko a chance yet he won. He has never looked back since. He seized the moment and slowly wormed his way through Nairobi politics, endearing himself to an aspirational demographic and attracting scowl from the political godfathers of the city, some of whom he was to destroy in the years that followed.
His public antics of challenging authority like destroying a city askari’s clamp with a hammer, random acts of philanthropy that always seemed to make it to the day’s news bulletins, gave him a national profile. He became people’s rubble rouser. Unafraid. But also, untested and uncultured to others.
Those who know him however say in private, Sonko is a lot more toned down. Less flash. Less talk. Less brag. Less bling. And more thought. More introspection. More method and almost timid and shy. In public, at least before he got the Jubilee ticket to vie for the governor’s position, he presented the opposite of this. His name was synonymous to chaos. Disorder. A hatred for law, order and everything in between.
He was the poster boy for what Nairobi should not become but was growing into. Hopefully it is the first Sonko, the introspective one, that will report to work.
The problems facing the city are enormous and it will take more than wall-punching or hand-gun brandishing to solve them. For the first time in years, the city is choking under a constant supply of garbage and burst sewers. Disorder reigns.
He is quick to acknowledge how far down the drain the city has gone. His campaign slogan summed it all up; “Let’s Fix Nairobi.” If he had a magic wand, he would show up to the office tomorrow with it and wave it once, maybe twice or thrice at most and Nairobi’s glory will be restored. Nairobians gave up on magic. They have learnt to trust hard work and distrust the elected.
Sonko will have to act all grown up in private and in public. His populist antics cannot run a city. On the campaign trail, he said he would slash the Sh300 parking fees by half. He said he would reduce licensing fees for all small traders while completely abolishing any fees for certain businesses. He however failed to state how he would plug the gap necessitated with these measures.
City Hall is chocked in debt. Some suppliers have not been paid since 2013. Many of them left chasing after county finance officials who shamelessly demand bribes for the exchange of a promise of a payment.
Yet, the self-confessed man of the people has voluntarily walked in with more debt. He promised jobs. He promised to absorb Nairobi youth into his administration without saying how he will do it. He promised to rid the city of garbage in a matter of weeks. He promised order in the transport industry. He promised to rid Nairobi of traffic jams.
This would be a good place to note that his predecessor promised all this and more, only for the kingdom to prove too hard a nut to crack.
Perhaps for the first time in his political life, Sonko will find that the handouts he periodically threw out people while peeping from the sunroof of one of his many SUVs will be insufficient for an already jittery population. Hundred-shilling notes will not improve his people’s healthcare. They will not improve education standards in county schools. They will not rid streets of the stench. Neither will they make the city green again.
Governor Kidero casts his vote
And most importantly, there will be no ‘Us versus them’ any more. By being convincingly elected governor of Nairobi, he has become one of them. Just over two years into his term as Senator, Sonko made several attempts to orchestrate no confidence motions against Kidero. He took him to court over various executive decisions that in Sonko’s view were made with total disregard to Nairobi’s wellbeing.
It was easy as an outsider to aim for the throne. Now he sits where the prince sat. His people are hungry and calling for him. He can either go out and address the peasants’ problems, or he can choose to take the path most travelled, point his nose in the sky and tell them to go eat cake instead.
Sonko’s governorship can only go two ways. After five years, Nairobians will either be gloating at the genius of electing an ‘outsider’ or be ridiculed for putting too much hope on the man on the outside lane with too much baggage around him to move Nairobi forward in any meaningful way.