On Wednesday at State House Nairobi, Governor Mike Sonko sat staring blankly into the middle distance after he had signed off some functions of his county to the national government.
The storm brewing inside Sonko’s head was evident on his face. One moment he was signing and exchanging documents with Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa with a smile playing at his lips. The next moment, he was brooding and anxious.
Sonko’s tenure at City Hall has been chaotic and tenuous at best. Yet, for an office that he pulled all the stops to occupy, he now cannot step in it without prior authority and under escort of police officers.
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The governor is convinced that by contesting and becoming Governor of Nairobi, he bit off more than he could chew. His tone in the days since he agreed to let the State run some of his roles betrays a man who has conceded to his own ineptitude.
“I support (the State taking over functions) because I think Nairobi is an international city. We want Nairobi to be the real Green City in the Sun... I have rescued the people of Nairobi because through the national government we will get all the services we need,” Sonko said in a television interview.
The new sheriff in town, Major General Mohamed Abdalla Badi, has come to constrict him out of whatever little breathing space was left for him. There is no respite for the son of Kivanguli.
Relatively unknown until he was tapped to lead the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) - the special purpose vehicle President Uhuru Kenyatta created to run the county, Badi is expected to cure the City’s numerous challenges.
He steps into the role after service in the military where he rose to a rank of a Major General. He previously served as the Base Commander Moi Air Base from July 2014 until May last year when he was promoted to a Major General and appointed to the National Defence College.
The mustachioed former Air Force pilot is now in control of a city which has been crying out for proper care.
Garbage litter the streets. Hawkers have taken over pedestrian walkways. Matatus continue with their impunity unabated. And long cast out of the CBD, boda bodas riders are back to reclaim their favoured spots at busy intersections.
On Friday, a day after he took office, Badi hit the ground running. National Youth Service (NYS) lorries and excavators were rolling into Shauri Moyo and Majengo in Kamukunji Constituency to clear rotting garbage.
Part of the reason for the national government stepping in to take control of the city could be motivated by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) which is proposing that Nairobi ceases to be a county and be accorded special status through which the State will carry out some functions.
In the changes, Enosh Momanyi, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Physical Planning, will serve as the Deputy Director General of NMS.
In announcing the changes, the President Kenyatta acknowledged that the city has become a cesspit of disease and infection. Uncollected garbage is suffocating it, there is water rationing and perennial traffic congestion, he said.
“The consequence is that the public have been deprived of essential services,” President Kenyatta said.
The biggest role of the NMS will be to end corruption at City Hall.
“There are cartels running the city water supply, garbage collection, parking, issuance of permits,” President Kenyatta said.
The State playing a role in running of City Hall has always been on the cards. It is an idea that Senator Johnston Sakaja is behind. But Sakaja said it was a decision of last resort for the county to cede some of its functions.
“Given the challenges that the county was facing, this was a stop-gap measure to ensure that Nairobians continue getting services. It was tough but it was the only way,” he said yesterday.
The responsibilities of NMS have put into question the position of the governor in running the affairs of Nairobi.
For instance, the NMS will be charged with ridding the county of garbage and taking action against the discharge of effluent into rivers, roles which fall under the Environment docket which Sonko had retained. Major General Badi will also ensure that the days of erratic water supply remain in the past.
Moreover, NMS will also lead a crackdown on illegal dumpsites, and seek to recover contested county land set aside for disposal of waste.
East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) MP Simon Mbugua sees it differently: The governor is not being starved of the roles he remained with, but the NMS is handling the ancillary roles.
“When they went for second signing of the deed is when they perfected it because initially, they had not specified the services which would be handed over. That is done now and the ancillary services must also be handled by the national government,” he said.
Sakaja said City Hall and Governor Sonko still had their part to do to ensure the arrangement worked.
“We go wrong by making it about how the governor has no powers now. Devolution is not about a governor but the people who need services. City Hall is still running trade in the county and they still have to ensure that funds are available to run its functions,” he said.
Sakaja and Mbugua’s view diverge on the topic of the future of the county.
Special status unit
“In the future, as per the views that residents of Nairobi gave to the BBI, I do not see Nairobi having a governor,” Mbugua said.
Sakaja says the residents still have the right to be represented by a governor but proposed the city be accorded a special status.
“In terms of delivery of service to the people of Nairobi, that will be a good step? because there will be funding and shared responsibilities between the county and State,” he said.
State House’s hand in City Hall extend further than the transfer of power.
On Thursday, the State ordered that former Nairobi Finance CEC Pauline Kahiga be removes as a signatory to the county account.
On Wednesday at State House, Allan Igambi, who is the current CEC for Finance was on cue to sign over to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) the duties of revenue collection in the city.
NMS will work with the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (NaMATA) to implement the Nairobi Urban Mobility Plan.
Some of the priority areas identified by Uhuru include the construction of walkways along Muindi Mbingu and Wabera streets and Kenyatta Avenue.
The Head of State also wants the body to keep matatus away from the CBD streets by constructing matatu termini at Desai Road and Park Road.