The campaign period has now exposed the personalities, motivations and vanities that are driving the candidates running for Governor of Nairobi City County in next week’s August 8th, 2017 general elections. What we have missed, and which is perhaps more important, is a proper exposition of the true problem bedevilling Kenya’s metropolis.
Some people may argue that the problem is obvious; that it is nothing new and has been overly discussed. That Nairobi is a century old urban fabric that ought to be competing with successful metropolises in the globe yet it remains eclipsed in images of urban squalor, inefficiency and non-competitiveness. That what Nairobi needs now are effective solutions.
Well, we differ. It seems as though Nairobians are underestimating the magnitude of the problem and are in fact focused on the symptoms rather than the disease itself.
We are of the opinion that the problem with Nairobi, and indeed many of Kenya’s big towns, is more about the cumbersome urban governance framework within which managers of the city have to operate in rather than the filth, traffic congestion, insecurity, unemployment and the long list of troubles.
The problem with Nairobi is not a lack of ideas, neither is it lack of resources nor inadequacies in the policy or legislative framework like some of the aspirants have appeared to believe.
In fact, the malaise is that Nairobi City is shackled by an evil trilogy of fierce sectarian political competition driven by ethnic biases, unabated corruption and theft of public resources, and a dynamic social fabric that is increasingly aware but not willing to participate in the governance or management of affairs in Nairobi.
What then is necessary to cure this malady? Essentially, the person who will succeed in transforming the city and helping it leverage its enormous potential will be the one capable of mustering a lethal antidote combining political acumen, policy making capability and a crucial connection with the social fabric of the city. These mirror recommendations of the Copenhagen Agenda for Sustainable Cities.
Foremost, they will need political acumen to muddle through the murky waters of sectarian politics that will keep sending in an acutely divided County Assembly of greedy and ethnically motivated MCAs and to negotiate and relate with the national government which thus far has not demonstrated willingness to cooperate.
Secondly, they will need policy making proficiency; to design and push through policy, legislation and projects capable of walking the tight ropes, balancing fiscal sustainability with overly whipped up public expectations on the merits of the devolved system of government.
Lastly, they will need a crucial connection with residents of Nairobi; to keep their ears on the ground, not only to listen to the immediate needs and challenges of residents, business people and visitors but also to engage and incentivise them to actively participate in governance and ownership of the County Government’s policies and projects.
Nonetheless, in the race for Governor of Nairobi City County, the electorate is presented with a populist, a panderer, and a pied piper all up against a pragmatist.
Whoever you give Nairobi to, be it Sonko or Miguna Miguna or Peter Kenneth, they will fail. Why? They all seem not to appreciate the intricacies of leading and managing the city. At least not in their proclaimed sets of election promises, neither in their demeanour nor in their pronouncements about their understanding of the job.
Let’s judge the four candidates on the basis of the three ingredients of effective urban governance and management that a successful Governor of Nairobi would need.
To begin with, Senator Mike Sonko, who appears to be a significant contender going by the outcomes of several opinion polls, exudes substantive political support from a significant proportion of Nairobi residents. He may also argue that he has the support of the national government going by his recent exploits on the campaign trail. That is bearing the fact that he appeared not to be the favourite candidate for his party Jubilee that toyed a lot with the prospects of supporting Peter Kenneth. He ticks this box, however, there is no evidence to show his ability to compromise and work with politicians from the opposing divide which will be crucial.
Concerning policy making ability, Senator Sonko has shown a dim appreciation of the role of Governor, the legislative framework for county governments and critical urban governance and policy issues. In this ingredient, Mike Sonko performs dismally and perhaps offsets the merits he accrues from his political capital.
Lastly, regarding connection with the public, Sonko has demonstrated a unique resonance with the low-income segments of the population in Nairobi. It has however been argued in some quarters that this is unsustainable since it has allegedly been amassed through voter bribery facilitated by overt patronage, handouts and exploits of his ‘philanthropic’ activities through the Sonko Rescue Team. Beyond this, he has equally not demonstrated a resonance with the upper low income and middle-class segments of the population that appear more educated about the circumstances of the city and what is demanded of a successful Governor.
The second candidate, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, remains in the race for Nairobi Governorship, albeit with an acutely slim support base having lost the backing of the Jubilee Party after his controversial loss in the Jubilee Party gubernatorial nominations. He scores low on political acumen considering he ran for President in 2013 and garnered a very small proportion of the vote nationally and most importantly in Nairobi.
On policy making capability, Peter Kenneth scores highly in his comprehension and articulation of the crucial policy matters that the Governor of Nairobi must deal with to turn things around. He combines this with experience as a law maker and successful stewardship of the Gatanga CDF for the years he was MP.
The third candidate, Miguna Miguna, has his strengths and weaknesses. He evidently lacks political acumen and capital to pull through to the first position and would struggle with compromise and negotiation even if he became Governor. He, however, has demonstrated the vim and verve that some argue is necessary for fighting corruption and has articulated progressive policy proposals that with the right mix could benefit the city. His greatest weakness perhaps is the failure to connect with the population in general.
Governor Evans Kidero, the fourth candidate, is perhaps the only one amongst the four that has come close to the mix of policy proficiency, political acumen and connection with the people. He has demonstrated a sense of cool headedness and appreciation of the intricacies of managing a third world growing city. His campaign promises and political pronouncements have been measured and calculated. Maybe because of having been confronted with the humility of accepting the trade-offs of urban politics.
He continues to command a substantive political following drawn from across most of the segments of the population in Nairobi. This is despite a challenging four-year term that some analysts would argue to be sufficient to pull him down. At a time when MCAs sabotaged many governors and blocked their agenda, Governor Kidero survived an impeachment onslaught and contained the vicious cabals of cartels that have been known to puppet most of the MCAs and hold governors, hostage.
He has substantive policy making capability from his corporate management career that he can combine with his political capital to translate his policy proposals in a second term into transformative initiatives.
Moving forward, Nairobi will need in the next decade and beyond, leaders who understand the cumbersome urban governance environment they operate in and able to muster the right mix of politics, policy and people power.
Ultimately, Nairobians have four candidates to choose from: a populist lacking a grasp of the issues and with weak policy making credentials, a highly educated panderer without the DNA for urban politics, a pied piper with dim political acumen lacking connection with Nairobians, and a pragmatist who has experienced the intricacies of devolved and urban government and learnt his lessons.
Nairobi you are better off with the pragmatic Kidero.