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Nairobi’s situation quite dicey, but not hopeless

By Alexander Chagema | December 12th 2019 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

There was hardly a ripple in Israel when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with several counts of corruption last month.

In fact, Mr Netanyahu slighted the charges as an attempt at a coup through ‘a tainted process’. He did not point accusing fingers at cartels or individuals out to sabotage his stab at a fifth term in office, just the process.

In the US, President Donald Trump is fighting his own war against the Democrats angling to impeach him. But rather than lash out at imaginary enemies, Trump’s reaction is summed up in his words: “I think it’s a bad thing for our country. Impeachment wasn’t supposed to be used that way.” No histrionics, and that bespeaks political maturity that we must aspire to.

In Kenya, populism that feeds off rabble-rousing has propelled a number of leaders into high offices from where their deportments raise more questions than answers.

In the past, we witnessed instances in which leaders would take the law into their hands, mobilise citizens and cause destruction to private property when disputes that required court arbitration arose. The most notable of such leaders are governors Ferdinand Waititu and Mike Sonko. Many were times they brought down perimeter walls on property they averred was grabbed.

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By a twist of fate, the two governors have fallen afoul of a system and laws for which they had little regard and now face corruption charges. Last Friday’s arrest of Sonko in Voi was melodramatic, but that shouldn’t surprise us because Sonko thrives on drama.

Law enforcers

Anticipating backlash from Sonko’s supporters, the government made elaborate plans to seal off the Integrity Centre where the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission offices are situated, and court precincts where he was taken to be charged, with a heavy contingent of law enforcers. As a matter of fact, a section of the city was closed to the public and traffic was diverted in a city renowned for traffic snarl-ups.

Just how popular or powerful is Sonko that he should rattle the government into a state of high alert in anticipation of a reprisal? It is not a secret that Sonko, at some point, formed a private security team - muscled guys in tight-fitting black T-shirts - who accompanied him everywhere he went. Flamboyant Sonko proudly paraded his heavily armed bodyguards until the State warned him to desist.

Would the existence of that group, and the possibility it could have protected Sonko against arrest, explain the heavy presence of police officers who went to arrest him?

Was that why the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji went on television to warn Sonko not to try any monkey business moments before his arrest? Effortlessly, such occurrences play into the narrative of State capture; incidences where a few individuals act with impunity without fear of consequences.

However, two things stand out. First, Kenyans are moving away from the obnoxious “our community is being targeted” mantra, if the indifference that greeted Waititu’s temporary removal from office and Sonko’s arrest attest to anything.

Political composition

Second, hitherto excitable and mostly unemployed youth are coming to terms with the hard reality of political deceit in which they are mere pawns in a game they hardly understand.

Circumstances created by bad politics have them in such a tight fix, they are experiencing moments of lucidity. The fear of riots over Sonko’s arrest seem to have been misplaced.

It is a pointer to the gravity of the case against Sonko that governors met after his arrest but did not deign to defend him overtly. The arrest caused consternation within the Council of Governors, so much that it was reported governors desire audience with President Uhuru Kenyatta over the fate of Nairobi. Legally though, there is little the president can do now.

Technically, Sonko is still the governor of Nairobi, notwithstanding the charges of corruption. But with the court having barred him from accessing his office and not having a deputy to ensure seamless continuity, the situation is dicey. The law only anticipated a situation in which the governor and his deputy could cease to be in office at the same time, either through death or impeachment.

In such a scenario, the County Assembly Speaker would take over the governor’s office for 60 days. Sonko's temporary suspension, even without a deputy, does not fit that scenario, but the options for an acting capacity stop at the Assembly Speaker.

For now, it seems, there is no crisis. However, if Speaker Beatrice Elachi takes over today but at the expiry of 60 days Sonko’s case is yet to be concluded, there would be a crisis. No law empowers the president to appoint a temporary governor or deputy. Can he therefore unilaterally dissolve Nairobi County before Sonko’s case is concluded?

Mr Chagema is a correspondent for The [email protected]

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