When 14th century bishop William of Wykeham came up with the phrase “manners maketh man,” he probably had no idea that the words would outlive him. In a society stratified along class lines, manners or the absence thereof become markers of birth status, social standing and to an extent, political capability and aspiration.
Lewis Hamilton, the celebrated Formula One driver found this out much to his embarrassment. As invited lunch guest of the Queen of England, he was chided for speaking out of turn, a serious breach of etiquette in royal circles.
But it appears the phrase has universal application. It has transcended British society to find relevance here in Kenya. The shock resignation of Polycarp Igathe as Deputy Governor has brought to the fore the obsession with our British heritage.
This is evident in the varied reactions that Igathe has elicited. Mike Sonko and Polycarp Igathe were elected Governor and Deputy respectively of Nairobi, in last year’s election. Their election was billed as the panacea to all of Nairobi’s problem. It was the perfect combination, or so it was thought, of a commensurate politician and an urbane corporate titan. One, to navigate turbulent waters and smooth ruffled feathers in public relations exercises, the other, to get the work done through articulated policies. It was meant to be a harnessing of divergent strengths for the good of Nairobi County.
Mike Sonko burst into national limelight during a by-election in Makadara Constituency. Then, as a dark horse, he defeated experienced politicians like Reuben Ndolo and Dick Wathika. He went on to become the first Senator of Nairobi under the new constitutional dispensation.
Little is known
Although little is known about his background before his foray into politics, Sonko is wildly popular. He has a huge following among the youth and the economically marginalised. Sonko is a maverick.
He does not conform readily to societal norms. He is given to theatrical but highly effective displays of action. When he is not engaged in some gun-slinging altercation, he is busy punching gates and leading his constituents in demonstrations, prostrating himself on the tarmac.
Polycarp Igathe is the ultimate corporate honcho. He started his illustrious career as a Finance Officer in Australia. Thereafter, he worked for several blue-chip companies. He was last at Vivo Energy as Managing Director before his venture into politics. Igathe eschews the limelight. He has the benign demeanour of a priest rather than a corporate shark. He is affable and self-effacing.
But all these are assumptions. Dangerous assumptions. First off, Mike Sonko is nobody’s fool. He may have a flair for the dramatic but there is a method to all the “madness” on display. There is a constituency that is enamoured by his antics. These are they who have voted overwhelmingly for him.
To assume that Sonko would cede control of the city to others is naïve. He has not worked his way to the top only to play second fiddle. He displays a grasp of issues at both local and national level.
The second assumption is that Igathe is a benevolent technocrat. He is not. He is certainly not a paper-pusher content with an 8-5 job. One does not get to the top of the corporate ladder without stepping on toes (many toes for that matter). Despite the self-deprecating manner, he is as ambitious as any politician. For him, it is the top job or nothing.
Sonko’s boisterous antics may have gotten him top job in Nairobi but these are now incompatible with his tenure at City Hall. They are simply not gubernatorial mannerisms, at least, not those expected of the leader of Kenya’s gateway city.
To his credit, Sonko has toned down on the bling, jeans and t-shirts. He now has an impressive collection of Bally shoes and Hugo Boss suits, never mind that the labels are left on the cuffs to impress. But he will need more than a change of apparel to relieve the discomfiture he causes to the cultured.
And it would do him well to learn from history. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Jomo Kenyatta were all radical firebrands in their hey days. After ascension to national leadership, they all toned down their rhetoric to conform to their respective offices.
Learning from others
The likes of James Orengo, Kiraitu Murungi and Paul Muite are now diffident politicians pre-occupied with more acceptable forms of engagement. Failure to make the transition is an act of self-immolation. Donald Trump of the USA is a good example.
Igathe’s resignation is dated end of January. Clearly, this is intended to leave a window of negotiation. At stake is the control of the city. Sonko has been characteristically obdurate.
But if he does not budge, he will have to govern with little support from Jubilee top brass. Igathe has now played out his last card. To have purported to support his boss only to turn around at the last minute is beyond the pale. What remains now is an ill-mannered game of staring down each other. It remains to be seen who blinks first.