By Kenya Confidential Political Desk Editor, Nairobi – February 4, 2021
The former Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko should have seen sledge hammer or the hangman’s noose aimed at his head the day the Senate officially kicked off impeachment proceedings against him and concluded them in record speed.
To frustrate the County impeachment Sonko had transported a large number who voted electronically to beach hotels in Mombasa and entertained them with twilight girls from Tanzania and beach boys at a handsome pocket money.
The charges levelled against him included gross violation of the Constitution, abuse of office, and crimes under the national law. It’s instructive to note that Sonko was voted into office in a rather popular manner, garnering close to a million votes in the 2017 General Election.
But how did he end up here in the first place?
Gideon Mike Kioko Mbuvi, whose political name “Sonko” means ‘rich’ in Sheng, is a man of many shades. Born in 1975 in Kwale to Mzee Kivanguli, Sonko rose to fame when he won the Makadara parliamentary seat in a by-election on the Martha Karua Narc Kenya ticket, after a successful petition by former MP Reuben Ndolo, against then-incumbent Dickson Wathika – a former Nairobi Mayor.
It’s noteworthy that Sonko ran on the background of being a ‘makanga’/matatu owner in Buru Buru estate within the constituency. The new sensation in town arrived wearing ‘blings’, and other unorthodox dressing styles. In fact, he had to be chased out of Parliament several times for this.
The people of Medellin adored Pablo Escobar. With the money he made from drugs, he gave them alms, built churches and a hospital. They christened him Robin Hood – a saviour. So loyal were they,the elected him to Congress (parliament) in 1982 and when he was being hunted down they hid him amongst themselves. Robin Hood is a legendary heroic outlaw originally depicted in English folklore.
The systems in Colombia were riven, citizenry desolated. Pablo discovered and fool-proofed the art of reverse trafficking and tokenism as a stair path to the people’s souls and to a vantage position in representation. The people of Medellin did not conceive that they were tax paying citizens who deserved a working public system as a right and not favors from a criminal – neither did many in Nairobi slums until Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) started digging bole holes for free water 24 hours a day.
The rise and pander of token carousel leaders is a result of bad governance. Leaders rushing to slums that have been razed to the ground, sometimes by their own agents, with milk and unga and cameras, when we should have planned sustainable dwellings. The culture of tokenism or populist machineries needs to abort and replaced with election of sober minds.
Khamisi Kabumba, or better known as Gideon Mbuvi, son of Kioko Kivangulya, invaded Eastlands started residing in Prudential estate directly opposite Buru Buru Police Station around 2002. The matatu culture had caught on. He would drink in pubs at Buru shopping Centre where revellers noticed his braggadocio and never-ending cash conveyer belts. He would pay the whole pub’s bill. His proxy to Buru police made him a buddy of notorious OCS called Matoke who he totally compromised.
Sonko earned himself many followers in a certain pub, whose name will remain anonymous, but that’s next to a veve kiosk. The pub would be closed so no one else enters after 10.00 pm. Buru pubs especially the front area was a hub for matatu makangas and drivers. In a drunken stupor they challenged him to buy a matatu to compete a certain matatu sacco boss who owned the most matatus.
He started off by buying 4 matatus, placed them in route 58 that was operated by touts from Umo(Umoja), Oyole (Kayole), Jeri (Jericho), Ksouth (Kariobangi South), D (Pandora), Marish (Maringo)so his fame as an employer first hit those areas.
Aside from the matatus, Mike was big on handouts. You would be at Mesora eating street meat balls and find a group of youths lining up being handed 500 shillings notes. Soon the Mungiki menace hit Nairobi Matatu routes, started demanding taxes not only from Kayole/Dandora routes but extended to route 58 in Buru.
The handouts developed into a sort of recruitment fee to deal with Mungiki groups harassing his matatus. Mike soon formed his own cartel called concord, who would perch inside his mats disguised as clients and would pounce on Mungiki ruthlessly. They resisted Mungiki successfully. Sonko was as amorous as they come and admits having contacted HIV-AIDS in his escapades.
Mungiki nuisance vacated the 58 route and this sprung him to fame in the 58 route estates of Eastlands. He bought more matatus and at some point had upto 25 mats plying the Buru route each coming fresher than the last – very simple way of laundering drugs cash. The older ones being refurbished at Masha’s Catskill Buru Phase 1. Masha died from a single bullet near harambee estate through his car window.
The matatu culture, the handouts and the employment he provided endeared him to the youth and his name started finding place in households all over Eastlands. That was around the same time the sheng for Mdosi metamorphed to Sonko and so he was christened Mike Sonko.
From a Matatu don to MP to Senator to Governor
Due to our begging cultures, soon mothers joined in and Mike started funding chamas, widows, and small women groups. The idea that Mike could become an MP was birthed in that same pub when a makanga called Castro told him… “round hii hatutaki Ndolo.. alishindwa kudeal na Mungiki tunakupeleka parliament”. His ambition rocketed from securing a matatu route to a quest for parliamentary representation.
“A lot of us that spent our early 20s in Buru Buru have seen and have been with Mike as he rose from a Matatu don to MP to Senator to Governor, have gone from excitement, to speculation to fear as he rose by the dint of sheer cunning understanding of beggar behavior, PR stunts, handouts, euphoria,feel good apparatus and the williness of a street operator – not the analytical intel of an academic,” recalls a lady familiar with Sonko’s meteoric political career.
She adds, “His mental landscape is a jungle of half-learned lessons, gutt convictions desperately lacking in structure and discipline, totally out of his depths and not humble to admit. When it comes to leadership his boredom threshold is high. If someone offers a nice easy solution he will seize it and like many people with limited education will not know when to let go.”
In this life, you need to understand that times change and so should you. Even our bodies take cue and change. When he made MP many youths were excited for him. They expected him to realize where he had come from, sober up, clean up and do what needs to be done. They have seen people who started dirty but cleaned up their act and delivered.
Understand your potential, your summit, your limitations and when to stop.
Sonko as a governor had no patience to listen to any of his cabinet members or chief officers for more than one minute because he could not understand anything technical or scientific. He would have woken up to be in the office as early as six, take a dose of brandy and mix some more with apple juice so his officers would think he was taking innocent apple juice from a can on his desk. More often than not he would be high on narcotics if he had a crisis meeting.
The old adage says the higher you go, the harder you fall. Sonko’s summit for many was the MP status – just maintain Makadara, serve the people and earn the little you can to sustain himself. That is what is called horizontal hibernation in the corporate world. Ever seen the staff who decline promotions?.There is light you don’t need, but Sonko stared directly and blinded himself. He could not differentiate the landscape between matatu touts downhill world and astute politicians hilly escarpment.
In this life you need to learn to listen.
Illiterate people are insecure, overly suspicious, they think everyone is coming to get them. An illiterate person in power is hard to reason with. You will talk to Mike, he will either record you or take your advise with a pinch of salt or forget anything you said when the door closes.
Vet your company, the truth which is hard to accept is that different seasons of your life will demand that your company metamorphose.
The lady adds, “The advice Sonko could not take was simple, Team Concord was ok to fight off Mungiki but not to record you as you rap and smoke a joint in office. Loyalty is good, and keeping old friends is even better. Nobody knows that more than me. But you need to understand that once you step into an office that demands certain disciplines, you need to acquire experts to assist you manage. Keep old friends but get the right guys beside you for the job balance. In this life you need to have one or two people you respect who will give you their true and earnest opinion without glossing things over or tell you what you want to hear.”
Sonko‘s has publicly claimed he was smoking Cannabis Sativa (Bhang) in Parliament toilets with former Kiambu Governor Ferdinad Waititu, who was also impeached out of office, clearly telling Kenyans they are foolish when it comes to voting for leaders. They vote for people on the basis of popularity stunts not development agenda, ability and integrity.
Her advice, “The sycophants who are crying over Mike and the rag tag Sonko Rescue Team, all that praising of the King Midas when he was naked amounts to this. Repair yourselves to your daily problems, times are about to get tough. Baseless threats of shutting down Nairobi, which Nairobi?Most of you are Nobodys we grew up with in eastlands, we know you. You only care for your stomachs and not Mike.” Read one example of how the County Government was looted under Sonko’s nose.
- The puzzle of City Hall’s huge black hole and one man pocketing millions – https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/amp/nairobi/article/2001397313/the-puzze-of-city-halls-huge-black-hole-and-one-man-pocketing-millions #
Mike has no constituency to run back to, beggars are only loyal to aid. Sonko’s dismissal from the County leadership was long overdue and he actually never deserved it in the fist place. Those saying our people are being targeted are honestly wrong. In the novel Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe tells about a little Bird called Nza which took too much wine that it forgot itself and challenged Chi, its personal god, to a fight. Chi just grabbed the little bird and threw it to the ground, there and then breaking its back.
Sonko was never qualified to be Governor of Nairobi City County, but “the system” smoothed the way out for him to get elected into that office. Some argue that he was popularly elected, but please hold your dog. Popularity is not qualification for public office as envisaged in the Constitution and in our elections laws.
With his litany of criminal cases and a dubious past that includes slipping off a maximum security prison – some say he even died but resurrected – the DCI was never going to give him a certificate of good conduct, which is mandatory for one to run for Governor in this country. It is claimed that the President placed a call to Kiambu Road, and his file in the crime registry suddenly became clean.
In the three or so years that he was Governor, UK played the role of his political protector, a number of times warding off MCAs when they tried to impeach the Governor. In more ways than one, President Kenyatta was Mike Sonko’s Chi, his personal god.
Then the man who died but somehow resurrected to become Governor, became fabulously wealthy and powerful. Money and power are more potent than palm wine, Sonko was not satisfied to ride roughshod over other city politicians and businessmen, he challenged UK to a fight over the NMS. Now see what has happened? His Chi has thrown him to the ground and broken his back!
He fully exploited the vulnerability of the urban poor, especially those in the slums to make himself a rather populist politician. He led demonstrations ostensibly to fight for the downtrodden, over and above giving cash donations, foodstuff, funeral hearses and wedding vehicles for free.
At some point, he was even seen punching metal gates in town to demonstrate his prowess in fighting for ‘Wanjiku’! As a result, Sonko only served for two years as Makadara MP before being elected as the first Senator for Nairobi in the 2013 General Election.
Sonko Rescue Team can’t rescue Sonko
During his tenure, he created an outfit known as the Sonko Rescue Team that thrived on providing services similar to those of the county government for free. They included garbage collection, borehole services, hearse and funeral services, ambulances amongst others, with all of his vehicles painted in gold, complete with chase cars – but under the cover of ambulances, hearses and fire engines was a multi-million contraband drugs market.
This public display of ‘capacity’ endeared him even more to the masses in informal settlements of Kibra, Korogocho, and Mukuru slums. Come the 2017 General Election, he was voted overwhelmingly to become the second governor of Nairobi, the biggest commercial hub in East and Central Africa.
A jailbird who had broken from the Shimo La Tewa prison – which he brags about publicly – was accused of amongst others, drug trafficking, corruption and embezzlement of public funds to the tune of Ksh357 million, incompetence and intoxication while in office.
He parted company with his deputy Polycarp Igathe hardly a year after they were elected. He had a serious battle with then Nairobi speaker Beatrice Elachi to the extent that the latter was impeached under his patronage.
Igathe, a seasoned banker and technocrat, and who was supposed to help him ran government couldn’t take all the insults and humiliation he underwent. He resigned in a huff. Many pleaded with Sonko to patch up but he ignored all.
From then henceforth, the city was left in a deep mess, until Sonko was arrested in Voi as he escaped from imminent arrest by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. Sonko had formed a militia out of supposed casual workers, which he used as goons to harass anybody who stood in his way.
An incident whereby the Nairobi Community Business Association’s chairman was accosted and assaulted during a press statement at Hotel Boulevard in Nairobi on the state of the CBD ruins, remains edged in the mind of many Kenyans.
Sonko claims he was forced to sign a deed of transfer of functions under Article 189 of the Constitution, to the Nairobi Metropolitan Service as a middle-ground for his remaining in office. He however, refused to transfer staff and budget to the Major General Mohamed Badi-led NMS, despite his signing the agreement at a public function attended by non-other than the President at State House.
In 10 years, Sonko managed to ‘sonkonize’ Kenyan politics, rising from obscurity as a 35-year-old first-term MP to occupy the most powerful gubernatorial position in Kenya, and he exits at the young age of 45. This sounds like the mythical story of Simon Makonde, who was born on Monday, got married, had children, got ill, died and was buried on Saturday.
Sonko was 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.
This is a great lesson that no matter how momentous, transient populism doesn’t often last and that moderate, measured and well calculating politicians tend to have longer staying power hence greater impact too!!! May be, just may be Deputy President William Ruto could borrow a page from the Sonko book of buffoonery.
The acrobatic governor is now facing terrorism-related charges and has been detained in Kamiti Maximum Prison where he has been begging to be taken. One phrase sums ups his predicament – pride comes before a fall.
Go well Mike Mbuvi Kioko Sonko, Nairobi loved you, but Prison loves you more!! Fellow mkamba Kalonzo Musyoka is weeping for you but his tears will dry up.
Kenya politicians, particularly the young generation should heed a Kiswahili adage that says; Asiye funzwa na Mamake hufunzwa na Ulimwengu, I add, na asiye funzwa na Ulimwengu hufunzwa na Sheria.