20th September 2010. On this bright Monday morning, residents from Makadara constituency had taken up their rightful places in the long teething queues waiting to vote. This had followed a successful petition by Reuben Ndolo, challenging the incumbent, Dick Wathika’s win over gross irregularities in the 2007 polls. The ruling, delivered by Justice Kalpana Rawal on 30 April 2010, was going to shift Makadara politics forever. Unbeknownst to him, Reuben Ndolo, through that petition, had just turned the wheels of fate to shine on a hitherto little known matatu owner who would go on to change the course of populist politics in Nairobi. When the electoral results were announced, both Wathika and Ndolo had been trounced by Mbuvi Gidion Kioko Mike – or as we know him today, Mike Sonko!
Sonko went on to display a rare ability to work up masses, and connect with Kenyans from the informal sector in a manner never witnessed before. Everywhere he went, he carried with him an enormous size of controversy. One day he would be seen boxing off metal guards and lying on the roads with his supporters, the next day he would litigating for losses on behalf of the Sinai fire victims. His constituents found him extremely generous and reliable; a stark departure from their former legislators. And being the maverick he was, he never once disappointed their expectations. Everything Sonko did or said, resonated with the public – both young and old. Even when he was at one time chased away from Parliament for dressing like a Hiphop artist, many Kenyans, especially from Makadara stood with him.
He went on to vie for the Nairobi Senatorial position under the new constitutional dispensation in the 2013 polls, and won with an overwhelming majority of 808,705 votes against his closest competitor. In fact, he was arguably the third most voted person in that entire election, coming third after Uhuru and Raila respectively.
His star was moving from bright to blinding!
In 2017, he threw his weight into the Nairobi gubernatorial seat, determined to unseat incumbent Governor Evans Kidero. And just like 2013, he convincingly won with 871,794 votes, once again placing him in the ranks of the top 10 candidates with the highest votes nationwide.
Flash-forward to May 2018 and Sonko is facing his biggest political test since his meteoritic rise less than a decade ago. Statehouse is unofficially taking over City Hall, through secondment of key staff such as the County Secretary, Peter Kariuki and the unveiling of the Nairobi Regeneration team among other veiled strategies. The writing is officially on the wall for all Nairobians to see – Incompetency is reigning at City Hall. Sonko’s biggest strength has now become his foremost waterloo.
But what happened?
In his political treatise “The Prince“, Niccolo Machiavelli gives rulers a key ingredient to efficiently govern: “There is nothing as self-defeating as generosity … a prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated; and generosity leads you to both. It is wiser to have a reputation as a miser, which brings disdain without hatred, than by seeking a reputation for generosity to incur a name for rapacity which begets both disdain and hatred.”
According to Niccolo, every ruler desires to be regarded as compassionate, but he cautions them against too much generosity since men in their usual element of discontent, always want more and more. While their fortune only allows them the little desires they can afford, their appetite is insatiable. And in Mike Sonko, Nairobi County had found a never-ending pouch. Through his brainchild, Sonko Rescue Team, he provided free public utilities that were a responsibility of the county government headed by his then nemesis, Kidero. And being a good Machiavellian student, he always ensured that his acts of generosity never went unnoticed. He documented each and every public interest donation or support he gave, and released a documentary of this in the last days to the polls.
In the end, Nairobians while admitting that Mike Sonko didn’t have the head to govern the City, were adamant that no other candidate’s heart could match his. And just like that, they rewarded him with the gubernatorial position.
Unfortunately, for the last eight months, Sonko now finds himself in very unfamiliar grounds. Despite running huge social welfare budgets, he still maintains his Sonko Rescue Team to compete with himself. Nairobi residents now expect him to address the drainage problems, provide clean water, build infrastructure and make the city safer and habitable, not as a form of philanthropy, but as an obligation. And for a man who won a gubernatorial seat with the number of votes he did, it’s easy to see where the angry Nairobians on his neck are coming from. They had very high hopes in him. And as they say, when you are up, the only way is down.
Every politician seeks to have a brand. And for Sonko, his has been a philanthropic Man of the people. To achieve this image, he used his personal resources to run outfits such as the Sonko Rescue Team. And while we could say that he succeeded in the past, he must now curve out a new strategy to keep his political acumen alive because lifting Kenyans out of poverty through job creation, achieving affordable housing for the poor and middle class, building infrastructure, providing clean water in Nairobi County will require a more strategic and sustainable approach as opposed to knee-jerk philanthropy and publicity stunts. It requires much more than the Governor and his team are currently doing.
Or could this be the end of the road for Sonko as we have always known him? Someone give Nairobians a sign.