Thursday, November 09, 2017

Mr Sonko's colours

Sometimes it pays to re-state the obvious: Mike Sonko is a politician of rare talent. What he is not, and probably never will be is a statesman or political leader of great talent. I don't mean that he will not find future electoral success; given his remarkable political career since he won the Makadara by-election, Mr Sonko will probably continue to surprise and confound his detractors for the foreseeable future. The manner he has governed the Capital City, though, shows you the limits of one-note political talents, such as his for winning elections against all odds.

It only needs to rain for a few minutes for Mr Sonko's leadership deficit to be revealed. That the low hanging fruits of city leadership have so far escaped his grasp should worry his constituents, backers and fans. That he has attempted to cover this deficit by robustly and rambunctiously taking on political rivals as far afield as Migori shouldn't surprise us; where Donald Trump leads, Mr Sonko is likely to follow. Even his "partnership" with Polycarp Igathe, his supposed technocratic deputy with a firm grasp of business management techniques, will not hide the fact that in basic city leadership, the second Nairobi City county government has failed and continues to fail its residents.

Drains remain clogged more than a week after the rains started. Pavements in the unfashionable parts of the CBD are still held hostage by hundreds of "hawkers", while others are muddy tracks that force pedestrians onto the roads. Roads, for the most part, remain unmarked, making them high-risk environments at night when it is raining. Water and sanitation services by the Nairobi water company, wholly owned by the county government, are inadequate, to say the least: many residential areas must make do with rationed supplies and other do without. Public transport remains chaotic, at best, leading to lost man-hours occasioned by the traffic jams caused by matatu crews. And despite Mr Sonko's social media blitz on his war against garbage, a casual stroll through the unseen parts east of Moi Avenue quickly disabuses one of the scale of his success: Mfangano Lane, Ukwala Lane and dozens of similar alleys are spectacularly filthy.

Good leaders know how to organise their workforces to achieve specific goals. Great ones know how to inspire their stakeholders to aim for the seemingly unattainable. Mr Sonko is neither good no great. His City Hall remains disorganised: the never-ending combats between his inspectorate and "hawkers", that almost always leads to injuries, loss or destruction of private and public property reminds us that organisational discipline is not Mr Sonko's strong suite. The same excuses that millions of US citizens made to persuade themselves that Donald Trump would "grow into the job" are the same ones we made about Mr Sonko. The fact that he could be referred to as "Mr Sonko" should have been a clue that sometimes we should judge books by their garishly flamboyant colours.

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