Kenya: Nairobi Governor Sonko arrested on multiple charges

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi

Posted on Friday, 6 December 2019 14:36, updated on Monday, 9 December 2019 09:11
Nairobi's Governor Mike Sonko is escorted by police officers after his arrest, at the Wilson airport in Nairobi, Kenya December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was arrested on Friday, just hours after Kenya’s top prosecutor said he would be arraigned in court for economic crimes.

Sonko, who has been governor of the capital city since 2017, was detained by police at a roadblock in Voi, 329kms south of Nairobi.

At a press conference on Friday morning, Kenya’s top prosecutor Noordin Hajj said the governor and other officials will be prosecuted for “crimes of conflict of interest arising from having received money from the county of Nairobi while serving as governor, unlawful acquisition of public property, money laundering and other economic crimes.”

  • Hajj also said Governor Sonko had shown “general disregard of the laws.”

Why it matters:

Kenya’s capital city currently has no deputy governor, which means Sonko’s prosecution will leave a power vacuum.

Two of his peers, also being prosecuted for similar crimes, can not access their offices, and Sonko is also likely to be barred.

Sonko’s former deputy, Polycarp Igathe, resigned on January 12, 2018 citing differences with his boss.

  • Igathe resumed his corporate career, serving as MD of Equity Bank Kenya before moving back to Vivo Energy as Executive VP in charge of sales in Africa.

Meanwhile, Sonko has delayed appointing a deputy governor, although he has repeatedly said he would choose a female politician.

By law, Nairobi’s acting governor is likely to be County Assembly Speaker Beatrice Elachi, who was only reinstated in October after being impeached 13 months before.

  • A by-election is likely in this scenario, as Speaker Elachi can only fill the gap for sixty days.

Chased by his past

The walls have been closing in on Governor Sonko, a volatile politician known for flaunting his wealth and sharing private recordings of calls and conversations.

The country’s prosecutors want to charge him and several others over the loss of public money totaling Shs. 357m.

But the governor, who was first elected as a city legislator in 2010, is unlikely to go down easy.

In the decade since, he has served as the city’s senator, before winning the governorship under a ruling party ticket.

Although his popularity has waned since his election in 2017, Sonko still has a fervent support base and has shown his ability to marshal support in times of need.

  • In November, his supporters clashed with the police and journalists outside the anti-corruption agency’s HQ, where Sonko was being interrogated over corruption.
  • Sonko has also been accused of running a one-man show, as he has delayed appointing a deputy governor and maintained a revolving door of executives.

Sonko’s arrest comes as many of Nairobi’s 4.4m people grapple with gaps in service delivery, bad roads, increased parking fees, and flooding in the capital.

  • On Friday, a six-story building in a suburb on the southern edge of the city collapsed, trapping an unknown number of people inside.

The arrest also comes just a week after a panel appointed by President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga recommended that the city be run by the central government.

  • Supporters of this framework will undoubtedly point out the complexities of running the country’s most important city, and the fact that both its governors since 2013 are in court facing charges of economic crimes. Sonko’s predecessor, Evans Kidero, is also facing corruption charges from his time in office.

It is unlikely though, that this would happen within the next two months, meaning that Nairobi could elect a new governor in 2020.

But it is still too early to rule out Sonko’s acquittal, or a manoeuvre to stay in office.

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