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Report card: Sonko’s first year at City Hall




Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko. File Photo | NMG 

Depending on who you ask, Nairobians will view the end of Governor Mike Sonko’s first year in office as a mixture of highs and lows. For instance, many are still reeling from a city centre matatu ban earlier this month that most residents saw as a failure and disaster, but which some viewed positively owing to what they say was a more-decluttered central business district.

As the man in charge of running Kenya’s capital city, he scored hits and misses on some of the election pledges he made. Here is an assessment of how he fared on some of those promises as well as a look at the highest and lowest moments at City Hall in 2018.

City motorists in the capital are set to pay Sh200 for parking after the county assembly passed a Bill cut the fees from Sh300.

The reduction comes almost a year after Sonko’s election promise to slash the fees from Sh300 to Sh150 within his first 100 days in office.

In passing the regulations, county members noted despite that despite the earlier hike to Sh300, this did not translate to higher revenue collection from the parking department as expected.

Thus, Sonko partially fulfilled his pledge, though not as low as he had promised and not within the time period he had hoped.

In a rare and bold move, a multi-agency team comprising City Hall and national government officials have since July gone on to demolish buildings worth billions of shillings for encroaching on rivers and sitting on grabbed land.

Taj-Mall, Southend Mall along Lang’ata Road, Ukay Mall in Westlands and Grand Manor hotel in Gigiri are some of the city’s high-end buildings that went down this year.

This is a shift from the past where the several buildings remained untouched even as they stood on grabbed land or encroached on the capital’s rivers.

Taj Mall

Taj Mall in Nairobi goes down. Nairobi County has stepped up demolition of illegal buildings in the city. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The demolition teams, however, have come under criticism as many of the buildings targeted had obtained approvals from State agencies such as the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya (Nema), Water Resources Authority and the Nairobi City County.

Uhuru Highway

A section of Uhuru Highway that has been landscaped under the Nairobi County beautification project. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

The programme started with Mombasa highway and has so far gone into the populous Eastlands area. The exercise is set to continue to continue next year.

“No area will be left behind to give Nairobi the face of the international city that it deserves,” Larry Wambua, the County Executive for Environment, Water, Energy and Natural Resources told Business Daily.

Thousands of city youth will enjoy state of the art football pitches next year after the county government started a Sh1 billion project to rehabilitate five stadiums in May.

The five are Dandora, Ziwani Grounds in Starehe, Woodley in Kibra, Riruta in Kawangware and Kiumbuini offering soccer talents an opportunity to horn their skills and move closer to their dreams of playing in the elite European leagues.

The five have in the past groomed of the country’s best talents like current captain Victor Mugubi, Dennis Oliech, Jesse Were among others.

The future stars will no longer play on dusty and dilapidated pitches.

Scores of food businesses in the capital will pay reduced charges for food handlers certificate after the Nairobi County assembly cut fees by as much as Sh6,000.
Eateries, restaurants and milk shops will pay Sh1,000 for the certificate down from between Sh2,500 and Sh7,000.

It was arguably the most ill-advised attempts at decongesting the Nairobi CBD in recent memory.

Sonko’s try at easing traffic in East Africa’s busiest city, where it is estimated residents spend an average of 62.44 minutes stuck on city roads, went horribly south.

Nairobians walked for kilometres under scorching sun from the city’s periphery areas such as Ngara and Muthurwa to the city centre in order to get to their work-places.

Nairobians jostle for space on Ngara footbridge following start of the matatu central business district ban. PHOTO | JAMES KARIUKI | NMG

Nairobians jostle for space on Ngara footbridge following start of the matatu central business district ban on December 3, 2018. PHOTO | JAMES KARIUKI | NMG

The sick, those living with disability and elderly were not spared by the directive. A day of crisis saw Sonko call off the move as Nairobi nearly came to a standstill after facing one of its worst public transport crisis in decades.

In January, former Nairobi Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe walked away from his job saying he has failed to earn the trust of his boss Mike Sonko to enable him work at the county.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko (left) and Polycarp Igathe

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko (left) and ex-Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe. PHOTO | NMG

The surprise resignation, done via his Twitter handle, left Kenyans in shock. While Sonko is yet to name a replacement a year on, Igathe has since moved on to become Equity Bank Kenya managing director.

Sonko has a penchant for secretly recording his private phone conversations with with prominent people and leaking them to the public.

In the past, he once played out a conversation he had with President Uhuru Kenyatta in from of news cameras. This was later beamed to Kenyans in news bulletins.

This year, he employed the same tactic when he recorded a private chat with Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu.

In the minutes-long call, Mr Waititu could be heard negotiating for the release of his wife who had been arrested alongside others over an unapproved construction in the city centre.

“Release all the guys, Sonko. We have come from far and together we are headed far,” Mr Waititu was could be heard pleading with Sonko in Kiswahili.

Mike Sonko

Mike Sonko using his phone to give evidence while addressing the Nairobi County Assembly in 2015. File Photo| NMG

Its goes down as the first time a governor secretly recorded a counterpart in talks that raised more questions on the moral credibility of some of the county heads.

He also leaked text messages between him and his former Deputy Governor that painted Mr Igathe as subservient and a man eager to please his new boss.

Ward representatives impeached Beatrice Elachi, the first elected speaker at the Nairobi County Assembly accusing her of abuse of office and using public funds to pay for plastic surgery in September.

The ugly face of city politics reared its ugly head when MCAs stormed Beatrice Elachi’s office as she made a return to her office, days after her impeachment.

In a video footage, a female MCA is heard shouting alleging that Mrs. Elachi sprayed pepper on her face. The dethroned speaker had earlier sought refuge in her office wash-rooms to escape the ward representatives’ wrath.

Sonko made a surprise visit to Pumwani Maternity Hospital and discovered bodies of infants stashed in cartons.

The Governor then suspended the hospital’s senior staff and dissolved the board, accusing them of misconduct.

The next day, four senior county staff led by suspended Secretary Peter Kariuki addressed the media and owned up to the under-staffing and lack of basic facilities like coolers to preserve bodies. Governor Sonko then suspended them in what he described as insubordination.

Sonko then went on to lay out a plan to fix the facility’s problems – the construction of a 10-floor 450 bed hospital re-named to Sonko Pumwani Maternity Hospital.

Sackings, resignations and suspensions

Governor Sonko’s leadership style has been marked by freestyle sackings and suspension of county staff, some for clear reasons and others for admitting some of City Hall’s failures.

Polycarp Igathe resigned as the deputy governor in January citing lack of trust from Mr Sonko.

Country Secretary Peter Kariuki, former Health Executive Vesca Kangogo and other senior staff for admitting the county’s failures to equip Pumwani Maternity Hospital and low number of doctors, nurses and other workers.

Ms Kangogo had earlier been suspended for travelling to US contrary to a Sonko directive in June.

John Gakuo, the former Nairobi City Council town clerk who restored order at City Hall from its dubious distinction of chaos, graft and endless political wrangling died at Mbagathi Hospital in October.

The soft-spoken administrator’s health had been ailing since he was sentenced to three-years in jail on accusations of abuse of office in relation to the purchase of the Sh283.2 million Mavoko cemetery land in May.

At his death, the late Gakuo’s life had turned upside down from the man who changed the city’s face to an isolated man denied bail despite worsening health.

Nairobi residents are looking into the New Year with fresh (tempered) expectations and hope that Governor Sonko will solve some of the city issues.

The deputy governor’s post, a free working environment for county executives and senior staff, poor roads and upgrading of county hospitals are top on Sonko’s to-do list.

Arguably, the greatest wish that the Governor can grant Nairobians going forward is a realistic and effective public transport system that takes into account not just motor vehicles, but also non-motorised transportation.