Nairobi Senator Mike Mbuvi Sonko is riding on populist pledges to shore up his bid for the Nairobi governor’s seat.
Thursday, the Jubilee Party nominees promised to do away with trade licences for small-scale traders and reduce land rates if Nairobians elect him the city governor.
Since he beat former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth at the Jubilee Party nomination, Sonko has been on a mission to shed the boisterous tag of a rabble-rouser and project a more corporate image, complete with formal dressing.
To counter criticism that his ruffian style undermines his bid for the top job in the capital city, the maverick politician this week picked a chief executive, Vivo Energy boss Polycarp Igathe, to be his running mate, in an apparent effort to placate the elite, who would want assurance that his administration would be run by a manager.
But keen to ensure that he is still in touch with his grassroots fan base that is not impressed with elitism and which has propelled him this far, Sonko Thursday outlined what he would do in his first 100 days in office - should he be elected - that would resonate with ordinary mwananchi.
He promised that he would abolish the requirement for mama mbogas, hawkers, and other small traders to acquire business permits.
He further said he would reduce land rates and eliminate any fee paid by the traders who operate from shades owned by City Hall.
“In my first 100 days in office, I will abolish permits for mama mboga and hawkers and also reduce land rates,” the senator said as he promised Governor Evans Kidero a mother off all duels.
Dr Kidero was handed a direct ticket by ODM because he had no rivals. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have made it clear the ruling coalition considers the Nairobi governor’s seat a prized target, with Mr Ruto attending Sonko’s unveiling of Mr Igathe on Wednesday.
Thursday, Opposition chief Raila Odinga termed Ruto’s endorsement of Sonko inconsequential. “Jogoo wa shamba haliwiki mjini. We will make sure that Jubilee does not win in Nairobi. County governments have not done much because a lot of money has been retained at the national level,” said Raila.
And Kidero laughed off his rival’s plans. “The issue of (Nairobi) governorship has really disturbed and bothered the Jubilee team but they have tried many projects that have failed. This is the last project and I know they will still fail,” he said.
Kidero added: “To circumvent Sonko’s weakness they had to pick Igathe, who has an illustrious career. I am sure Nairobians will give us another chance to finish our projects.”
But Sonko said if elected, City Hall would construct modern shades for small-scale traders and would not charge them a penny to use, unlike the current system where they are required to pay what is referred to us ‘goodwill’ that he termed steep.
Sonko has put together a team of technocratics and advisers who include lawyers, businessmen, and academics to compile his blue print, which he says will be launched soon.
“My manifesto is being worked on and we will outline the methods and the road map to transform Nairobi,” he said.
The senator has also vowed to repossess land meant for hawkers markets in areas such as Eastleigh and find investors to construct modern markets to address the hawkers’ plight and also train city county askaris afresh to stop the culture of harassing traders.
Sonko has undergone an image transformation. He has dropped his trademark ‘rugged’ look dress code as he seeks, not only to appeal to the lower classes but also to the middle and the upper classes, who perceive him as not corporate enough.
But things have changed. You are unlikely to see the Sonko who once went to see off the President at JKIA while wearing torn-rugged jeans or punch walls in a fit of fury or lie on the tarmac.
Sonko has a brand-new demeanour and is a man who chooses his words carefully unlike in the past when he could dismiss his critics and tell them off without minding his language.
Thursday, The Standard caught up with Sonko dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and striped tie in Karen, where he was holed up in a strategy meeting with Jubilee aspirants to devise strategies to wrest the city from Kidero.
“I have been holding meetings with both the winners and losers of the nominations for both parliamentary and civic seats and this is part of the meetings,” he said.
In the past, Sonko has caused an uproar after he appeared to suggest that he would convert the historical Uhuru Park into a parking lot to ease traffic congestion in the city centre, but the flamboyant senator now says he was misunderstood.
“I only suggested that we shall devise alternate routes that may see some of the matatus turn at Uhuru Park and avoid entering the CBD. We have to design new routes to facilitate free flow of transport in the city and its environs.”
Some of the senator’s critics also fear that hawkers will have a field day in the city centre and other shopping hubs such as Eastleigh, but he thinks otherwise.
“We have a proposal on how to address the issue of hawkers verses shop owners. We use the Bangkok, Thailand model where we close specific streets and allow hawkers to sell their wares. This will be done on specific times say from 6pm to midnight and weekends. This will be done in consultation with the other traders and road users.”
Sonko further says that he will drill boreholes in all estates and start an ambitious slum upgrading programme in which his administration will construct low-cost houses.