The mention of Eastlands immediately conjures up images of a sprawling and dusty place crawling with criminals and uncouth idlers chewing miraa, smoking weed or speaking heavy sheng while listening to hardcore reggae at the ‘base.’
Eastlando, as it’s famously called, is rarely associated with anything positive, besides being the breeding ground for artists, footballers and other ‘hunger sports’ like boxing.
With its fair share of problems, Eastlands has also produced intellectuals, but who can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi and political communications expert Barrack Muluka are ‘Eastlands damu.’
Besides sports, the other area Eastlands has positively excelled in is producing politicians, who have tenaciously controlled the politics and power at City Hall since independence in 1963.
The ouster this year of Speaker Beatrice Elachi is an example of how Eastlands ‘mafia’ can be ruthless when it comes to protecting power and interests. Bernard Mutura, a former Makadara MP in Eastlands, is now the Speaker, having been installed after Sonko and Guyo engineered the downfall of Elachi.
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Is it by design or default that Eastlandos find themselves at the centre of the political chessboard?
“I might not have a precise answer as to this state of affair on dominance at City Hall but I think we are tied by one common bond of poverty that makes us crave for power to alleviate our sufferings,” says Paul Kadosi Kiguathi, the longest-serving politician at City Hall where he has been for the last 23 years.
Currently, Kadosi, the MCA for Mihang’o Ward, is the majority whip in the County Assembly. Kadosi says the high population is another factor that makes them hold sway, a position echoed by Esther Waringa, a governance expert.
“Eastlands is a rich voting block and has the ability to influence and control power at City Hall. With the advantage of numbers, councillors from Eastlands were able to galvanise support and elect the mayor to guard the parlour,” argues Waringa on why Eastlands mafia is powerful at City Hall.
Apart from Sonko, Mutura, Guyo and Kadosi, other influential leaders at City Hall from Eastlands are Deputy Speaker Geoffrey Majiwa, Minority Leader Michael Ogada and Deputy Majority Leader Peter Wanyoike.
When mayors were replaced by governors by the 2010 Constitution, the city’s first county chief under the new dispensation was Dr Evans Kidero, who also grew up in Eastlands. He wielded power at City Hall as governor between 2013 and 2017 before losing the seat to Sonko, who is not sitting pretty because the general, whom he has nicknamed Saddam Hussein, is keeping him on a short leash.
“Huyu Saddam Hussein aheshimu wananchi wa Nairobi,” an angry Sonko said in August while regretting why he ceded power following the signing of the transfer of deed agreement.
The thirst for power at City Hall by leaders from Eastlands began soon after independence when Charles Rubia became the first black Mayor serving from 1963 to 1967. Isaac Lugonzo took over between 1967 to 1970.
Margaret Kenyatta, a non-Eastlando, served between 1970 and 1976. Her father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, had sway in her election as those who opposed her faced political headwinds. She remains the first and last African woman Mayor of Nairobi.
Following her exit, the mayorship rotated between councillors from Eastlands: Andrew Ngumba was Mayor between 1977 and 1980, Nathan Kahara (1980-1983), Steve ‘Magic’ Mwangi (1993-1994) and Dick Waweru from 1994 to 1996. Others were John King’ori (1996-1998), Samuel Mbugua (1998-1999) and John Ndirangu (1999-2001).
Dick Waweru returned to the helm at City Hall serving between 2001 and 2002 before handing over the mayor’s chain to Joe Aketch (2003-2004). It then moved to the late Dickson Wathika (2004-2008) and Geoffrey Majiwa (2008-2010). George Aladwa was the last Mayor of Nairobi, serving for two years leading to 2012.
Back in the 90s, the return of the council mayor Steve Mwangi saw a perpetuation of graft, leading Nairobi to lose its tag ‘City in the Sun’ due to littering of garbage as councillors engaged in incessant power games and land grabbing.
The highlight of the greedy was around 2001 when the mayor’s chain worth Sh150 million was stolen from the safe at City Hall. The chain was a mark and symbol of authority for the city. It was never recovered.
According to Waringa, politics and corruptions are joined at the hip. That politicians engage in corruption to fund campaigns and retain power while cartels thrive in lawless to steal with some of the proceeds going into pockets of politicians.
“When you politicise governance, you create room for corruption and that has been the situation at City Hall before Maj-Gen Badi stepped in to steady the ship. Thumbs up for the work he has done already; we are beginning to see change and stability. I wish we can totally do away with elected leadership,” says the governance expert.