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Kenya: Will Nairobi Governor Sonko find a way out of his impeachment?

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 4 December 2020 11:47

Nairobi's Governor Mike Sonko sits in a court room in Nairobi, Kenya. December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was impeached by the capital’s assembly on Thursday, barely a year after he manoeuvred his way out of a similar plot by signing away most of his powers to the executive.

In a majority vote on Thursday 3 December, 88 of the legislature’s 122 members voted to impeach the governor. The motion accused Sonko of multiple wrongdoings including abuse of office, gross misconduct, breaking the law, and refusing to approve a budget for the current year.

Lead-up to the vote

Ahead of Thursday’s impeachment vote, Sonko had been marshalling political support in the house. On 30 November, for example, he was briefly detained at a Nairobi home where he was meeting his allies from the county assembly.

He then took away some of his allies from the assembly to Kwale County, 500km south of the capital. While the exact number is unclear, varying from 20 to 70, the county assembly back in Nairobi carried on with the vote.

READ MORE Kenya: Nairobi’s Governor Sonko under pressure from legal past

With 58 members physically present in the assembly and 32 voting via Zoom, the impeachment motion passed the two-thirds majority threshold. But the vote tally implies that at least some of his allies may have voted to impeach him via Zoom even though they were spending time with him on the coast.  However when confronted with this, their immediate reaction was to claim their accounts had been hacked and used to vote.

Longtime coming

In February, Sonko survived a looming impeachment motion when he signed away some of his county government’s functions to the central government. The Kenyatta Administration then handed the job to a new body, the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), and appointed a senior military man to head it.

READ MORE The politics behind Mike Sonko’s pending impeachment

In the 10 months since then, Sonko has expressed buyer’s remorse over the transfer of functions, and tried to fight back on the NMS’s growing power in the capital. Interestingly, many of the new reasons cited by the assembly for his ouster emanate from the transfer and its aftermath.

  • The county assembly, for example, accused him of refusing to sign the latest county budget which would have given the NMS more than 70% of the capital city’s annual budget.
  • In October, the governor’s officials and NMS officials were engaged in a spat over control of thousands of the city’s frontline staff, among many other teething issues that have occupied both sides since the transfer deal was signed.

In July, Sonko seemed to imply impropriety on the executive’s part. In a Facebook post, he wrote that he had been plied with drink in State House before he signed over the capital’s functions to the central government. “By the time I was meeting the President for the signing I was just seeing zigzag,” he wrote at the time.

Tenacity may not be enough

A tenacious politician, Sonko’s fight for his job is unlikely to be easy. In December 2019, he was barred from accessing his office by an anti-corruption court, which left a leadership vacuum as he has been without a deputy since Polycarp Igathe resigned in January 2018.

We in Jubilee are embarrassed for electing an inefficient governor,

His fallout with the executive has also made him a softer target, more so in a year since he can no longer wield his popularity with the electorate at public rallies. The bipartisan effort to impeach him in the county assembly is also one of the results of the cooperation between President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga. While the assembly’s minority leader moved the motion, its most ardent supporters were from the country’s ruling party.

READ MORE Kenya: Referendum new sticking point in BBI constitutional amendment bill

“We in Jubilee [the ruling party] are embarrassed for electing an inefficient governor,” County Assembly Majority Leader Abdi Guyo said during the impeachment proceedings, “I apologise on behalf of all Jubilee members.”

Governor Sonko’s fate now lies in the Senate, where he served between 2013 and 2017, but he is also likely to seek judicial intervention to save his job. While the might of the state and the county assembly might convince Senators to remove him from the job, previous impeachment proceedings have ended up in the murky bind between court cases and senate votes.

Bottom line

If the efforts to impeach him succeed, Kenya’s capital will have to hold elections in early 2021 for his replacement.

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