Mike Sonko's ruling puts top county leaders on edge

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Since the start of devolution almost a decade ago, no less than 10 governors have been impeached by their county assemblies.

Out of those, only two - former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko and Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu) have seen their impeachments upheld by both the Senate and the courts.

The threat of impeachment has always loomed large for governors, judging by the number of attempts that have been made and those that have floundered at the assemblies. 

However, the judgement of the Supreme Court Friday affirming the impeachment of Sonko has set a benchmark for the integrity of public officers but could also have unwittingly handed Members of the County Assembly a blank check.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is early this week expected to decide the fate of Sonko yet.

“I have not read the ruling but either Monday or Tuesday we will have made a decision on it,” said the commission chairman, Wafula Chebukati, yesterday.

The provisions of Article 75(3) of the Constitution bar a person impeached from a public office from holding any other state office. For governors and county officials who harbour political ambitions, the effects of impeachment became clear yesterday after the seven-judge bench dashed the hopes of Sonko over running or being appointed for a public office.

Sonko was impeached in Nairobi in December 2020 and has set sights on Mombasa governor seat. After a sustained battle in court, the electoral agency was compelled to accept his candidature earlier this week.

But that seems impossible now in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

“Chapter Six of the Constitution was not enacted in vain or for cosmetic reasons. The authority assigned to a State officer is a public trust to be exercised in a manner that demonstrates respect for the people; brings honour to the nation and dignity to the office, and promotes public confidence in the integrity of the office. It vests in the State officer the responsibility to serve the people, rather than the power to rule them,” the Supreme Court said.

It is the boldest step yet to implementation of Chapter Six on Leadership and Integrity which bars individuals who have been removed from office for contravening the law from holding any public office. The Supreme Court made it final - impeachment is the end of elective politics and public service.

The court’s decision has brought a new awakening to the power the county Assemblies have to make or break political careers and introduced a new dynamic to the relationship between the county executive and assembly. Yet the implication is not only to governors who hold aspirations for other offices but for deputy governors, Assembly Speakers and County Executives

Karungo wa Thangwa, a former Kiambu Executive for Youth who was removed from office via impeachment had to fight for his inclusion in the Senate race. Chitavi Mkala, former CEO of Malindi Water and Sewerage Company Ltd, who had aspirations for Mombasa governor was overlooked by IEBC for the same reason that he was impeached.

Observers say the Supreme Court decision will likely embolden the Members of the County Assemblies.