Johnson Sakaja clearly steamrolled Polycarp Igathe during their debate

Nairobi gubernatorial candidates Johnson Sakaja and Polycarp Igathe during their debate at CUEA on July 11, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The recent Igathe-Sakaja Nairobi gubernatorial debate speaks to the politics of patronage and entitlement.

Pitting a technocrat against a politician, it was a veritable steamrolling with Polycarp Igathe looking, for the most part, like a deer stuck in the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut.

Verbal blows were delivered with such panache that Igathe found himself laughing at his own expense.

Which was not unexpected. Up to four months ago, Igathe had shown no interest in the job. He had not engaged in any public spirited activities to warrant elevation to the city’s premier job. If anything, his six-month stint as deputy governor was by dint of hanging on the coattails of the populist impeached governor Mike Sonko.

Igathe’s rising, then, was nearly overnight. The backlash came just as fast. Assuming that he would run the city’s affairs with Sonko as a figurehead, he quickly discovered that he had barked up the wrong tree. Power did not come gratuitously as expected. Sonko would not hand over the reins. Igathe resigned in a fit of pique.

Yet this is the man that the Azimio la Umoja party would have Kenyans believe is fit for purpose; that a man who has hitherto displayed scant regard for city activities should be leapfrogged over others like Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi. The latter campaigned for four years before being denied the gubernatorial ticket at the last minute!

Senator Johnson Sakaja’s nomination has not been without challenges arising, strangely, from without the Kenya Kwanza party ranks. Aspersions have been cast on his academic credentials and his bona fides repeatedly queried in a sustained onslaught, including in sections of the mainstream media.

It is one thing to give a token nomination to a party candidate and an entirely different matter to have one who is clearly way over his head. The debate revealed as much. Igathe’s arguments were thin gruel, lacking in substance, big on personality attacks and reducing important national conversations into trivialities.

Sakaja’s points, on the other hand, came across as smart, considered and sometimes humorous. His solidarity with the city’s suffering must have won him plaudits from friend and foe.

Igathe and Sakaja are exemplars of national political traits where prime candidates are passed over in favour of less deserving ones. Or where those who run afoul of the ruling elite are subjected to machinations intended to dislodge them from pole position or worse still, knock them from the race altogether.

Both Azimio and Kenya Kwanza are guilty of these infractions. How many times have candidates from both parties complained of being unfairly denied party nominations? Who can recall the number of times that criminal charges or tax liabilities have been slapped on those who hold dissenting views?

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko best reflects these. He was a darling of the ruling Jubilee administration as long as it was politically expedient.

Having served his usefulness, he has since been charged with alleged criminal activity and impeached by members of the Nairobi County Assembly. The Supreme Court has pronounced itself on his impeachment in a ruling that may well spell the end of his political career.

National elections are in the next three weeks. It behoves the electorate to be circumspect about their choices at the ballot; to look beyond paper qualifications and to choose leaders who have demonstrated prescience and an understanding of the city’s problems.

Under former Governor Evans Kidero, Nairobi experienced the failures of a technocrat at its helm. It also endured the worst forms of a kakistocracy under Sonko. Citizens must now ask themselves whether they are ready to go down the rabbit hole yet again.

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst