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Mike Sonko’s secret tapes and the mystery of the deep state

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ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE

By ISAAC OTIDI AMUKE
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Controversial and flamboyant to a fault Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko made it clear from the word go – making his political debut running for MP during a by-election for Makadara Constituency in 2010 – that he was out to break rules and barriers in Kenyan politics.

Appearing on a billboard on Jogoo Road, the political newcomer posed wearing a patched-up cap and not-so-discreet gold rings on each finger. His chosen moniker, “Sonko”, to mean boss or wealthy one in Sheng, was telling of the man’s view of himself, and how his supporters perceived him.

He was a “don” of sorts, especially in Nairobi’s Eastlands, where he ran a popular nightclub in Buru Buru and fleet of stylish, rowdy, loud-music-blasting Number 58 matatus which employed a good number of youths. With this not so modest on-the-ground infrastructure, Sonko wrestled the Makadara seat from the two dominant political parties.

For anyone who cared to pay attention, the writing was on the wall that if left unchecked, Sonko was on a mission to upstage the order of things. After Makadara, Sonko trained his eyes on the Nairobi Senate seat. In an overwhelming show of support, city residents gave Sonko the highest number of votes received by any Nairobi politician during the 2013 General Election.

As MP, Sonko perfected a well-oiled patronage machinery, where anyone who knocked on his door seeking help never left empty handed. This was followed by the setting up of the infamous Sonko Rescue Team, fashioned as a philanthropic venture designed to fill service delivery gaps in health care, firefighting, among other urgent needs of the city population. This, Sonko claimed, was funded from his own pocket and by donations from well-wishers.

By the time Sonko was declaring his candidature to be Nairobi Governor, there were jitters coming from all corners, the common refrain being that Nairobi was too important a national asset to be handed over to someone of Sonko’s background and mannerisms. Sonko was accused of embodying a culture of gangsterism.

What those castigating Sonko didn’t realise was that the horse had already bolted. Nairobi voters, like voters across the world, weren’t listening to Sonko’s neoliberal critics, mostly the educated and monied elite who considered him as an uncultured renegade who didn’t understand their ways. He had the money, but lacked requisite pedigree.

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Sonko once again upstaged the status quo, winning the seat with an impressive margin.

It was at this point, as Sonko now likes to allege, that a powerful cabal of senior officials working at the Office of the President decided to curtail his rising political star.

Time and again, Sonko has claimed that these forces within government, who he now calls “the system”, are hell bent to frustrate him.

Interestingly, Sonko’s allusions are always followed by a quick caveat, which is that to his mind, the actions by his detractors within the state are not sanctioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta. How accurate Sonko is about him being targeted by agents of the state or about the President’s non-involvement in the affair remains a matter of conjecture.

What is not in denial is that Sonko’s unorthodox ways continue to earn him publicity and popularity. Having proven time and again that anyone who takes him for granted may only have themselves to blame, it may not be farfetched to imagine that someone or a group of people somewhere may be hatching a plot to cut Sonko to size – whatever that may entail – before he becomes a political threat beyond Nairobi, or to diminish his influence within the capital.

When Sonko’s latest public spat with Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris hit the headlines, he moved fast to rebut allegations that the duo didn’t enjoy a cordial working relationship. In his usual nodus operandi, Sonko unleashed audio recordings of his conversations with Passaris, insisting that they were in decent talking terms until 48 hours before the Madaraka Day fete, during which event they fell out.

“She is being used by the system,” Sonko alleged during a live TV interview, which was ended abruptly.

The culture of secret recordings is not new to politics. But Sonko’s near paranoid behaviour, of having his guard up perpetually, gives credence to two observations. The first is that he is too attached to his street smart ways to allow himself to be caught flatfooted.

The second is that Sonko is a man under siege, who needs to keep as much evidence on even his slightest communication with anyone, so that his enemies, real or perceived, may not have an upper hand against him.

However, the elephant in the room remains, is Sonko confirming that Kenya has a deep state which is coming after him, or is he being delusional?

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Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus

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By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.

There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.

A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.

Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:

“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.

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From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.

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By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.

Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.

“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.

Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.

Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.

“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”

On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.

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Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation

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By EDITORIAL

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Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.

President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.

Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.

But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.

The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.

Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.

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Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.

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Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

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By EDITORIAL

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When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.

Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?

In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.

POOR STATE

At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.

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But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.

Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.

REPEAT CLASSES

Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.

The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.

The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.

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