They are everywhere.
You have definitely seen them in your estate collecting garbage, unclogging sewers, clearing accident scenes, putting out fires, in a public rally setting up the stage, arriving in choppers to airlift victims of a disaster or most recently, consoling parents at Moi Girls High School Nairobi after a fire incident.
Despite always being in the limelight very little is known about the Sonko Rescue Team (SRT) operations, an initiative by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko. Numerous questions have been raised as to whether the SRT roles are overlapping or taking over the responsibilities bestowed upon the county workers and who bankrolls their operations.
While some of the county workers welcomed the idea of getting ‘assistance’ from the NGO owned by the governor, others expressed disapproval as the SRT could render them ‘jobless’. On a number of occasions, the SRT, county workers and contracted private companies have clashed over overlapping of functions.
Conflict of interest
“There is an obvious conflict of interest, the owner of SRT is also the governor of Nairobi, where they conduct most of their operations which are similar to our job description. Where does he draw the line?” asked a county worker.
According to SRT manager Joab Ogolla, the youths are only complementing the clean-up efforts and should not pose a threat to the job security of county workers.
“Let the county workers not feel threatened, we are basically giving them enforcement as they are few and overwhelmed by the job,” said Ogolla.
Even as the Sonko team continues to elicit mixed reactions from county workers and city residents alike, everyone was in anticipation of the next move by the workers union. Contrary to expectations, the Kenya County Government Workers union (KCGWU) endorsed the Sonko Rescue Team and commended them for their efforts.
KCGWU chairman Boniface Waweru was not perturbed by the duplication of roles meant to be handled by the over 13,000 county government workers, saying the union was there to give a helping hand in service delivery.
Waweru termed the team as a much needed lifeline for the youth since it is aimed at addressing youth unemployment.
“The rescue team is aiding in some of the duties county workers are supposed to carry out such as collection of garbage, clearance of drainage, provision of water and responding to disasters among other things and we are more than happy to work with them,” said Waweru.
The chair also allayed fears that county workers would be rendered jobless and even urged Sonko to permanently employ the youth to be part of the county workforce.
He was confident that the move would not eat into the pockets of the workers and cautioned that if such a measure was to be taken, the governor should first make sure there is money to pay them.
“As a union, we will recruit them and work hand in hand in transforming the city if they are permanently employed, but for now a long lasting solution needs to be arrived at,” added Waweru.
Sonko Rescue Team functions include; breakdown and towing services, ambulances, security patrol services, wedding limousines provision, fire response services, hearse services and clean water tankers which they render for free. In a quest for clarity, the Metropolitan spoke to John, a member of the SRT, who shared with us in confidence.
“I am a student and was recruited in 2014. We work from 8am until noon, except when there is an emergency in our area,” he says.
John says initially, they would be paid Sh24,000 per month until this year when the salary was reduced to Sh15,000 per month. This is, however, paid in two instalments. He blames the salary reduction on decreased funding due to financing of governor campaigns that ate into Sonko’s resources.
“Since we work half-day, we cannot complain. The chairperson of the group is charged with ensuring all the members are paid,” he added.
John, however, added that a group in Buruburu who worked with the team last year had not been paid for more than four months.
“The Buruburu office which was housed in Sonko’s restaurant was razed down on Monday night. Workers attached there, mostly from Embakasi constituencies had complained over salary delays,” he narrated.
The fire incident at Sonko’s Casurina club in Buruburu left two people dead and property of an unknown value destroyed.
The cause of the fire, which broke out when the workers were closing the premises, is yet to be established.
Sonko Rescue Team comprises more than 1,000 youths, some students while others are drop-outs mostly from informal settlements. In each region, which is usually composed of three or more constituencies, there are leaders who are permanent employees of the NGO, led by a chairperson.
The chairperson is responsible for recruiting youths and summoning them in case of an emergency. This is usually done through a social media, WhatsApp group. Any member can alert the rest when and where there is a crisis.
How they communicate
“We get alerted on disasters on the social media page. The chairperson then gives us the details of the incident, the role we should play and how shall get to the scene,” he said.
John is, however, reluctant to tell us about the recruitment process, but hints to us that our ‘inside connections’ will definitely matter.
“Do you know any of the chairmen?” he asks me when I try to find out how I can join the group.
A moment of discomfort and uncertainty hit our smooth conversation as he stared blankly at me without uttering a word for shaking my head to his question.
“Usually they only ask for your national ID card and a secondary school certificate if you have completed school. I could introduce you to a fair chairman when you are ready,” he volunteers.
According to SRT website, the project is financed by governor Sonko and sustained by the proceeds from the seven PSV buses he donated to the project.