Mike Sonko, The Rise & Fall Of A Kenyan Populist

Mike Sonko, The Rise & Fall Of A Kenyan Populist

Mike Sonko is a classical example of falling from grace to grass. Things started going south for him when he got elected as the second governor of Nairobi. Political pundits hold the opinion that his meteoric rise has been almost second to none.

Now his career, much more like Baba Yao’s – the former Kiambu governor, hangs in the balance.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko is facing the Senate on an impeachment motion by MCAs.

His colleagues at the county assembly of Nairobi want him out of office.

Ruthless Way

Of the 122, 88 voted physically or indirectly to send the flamboyant governor packing to Mua Hills.

Its where he himself had previously gone, leaving the city without a governor.

Gross breach of the Constitution, abuse of office, and offences under national law are the charges against him.

It is interesting to acknowledge that in the 2017 General Election, Sonko was a beneficiary of the chaotic 2017 elections.

He got close to a million votes.

Who Is Mike Mbuvi Sonko?

Gideon Mike Mbuvi was born in 1975 in Kwale,the son of Mzee Kivanguli.

Mbuvi Gideon Kioko Wam Mike Sonko commonly known as Mike Sonko or simply Sonko (Sheng for “rich person” or “boss”).

He’s a man who could show you different shades of himself but none could be the real Mike Mbuvi.

He made a political debut as an unknown city businessman who defeated former member of Parliament Reuben Ndolo and Dick Wathika to Makadara in 2010.

Mr Sonko made a career out of daunting odds.

He refused to play old-fashioned politics and opted for populism.

The maverick politician managed, in just nine years to create a cross-ethnic support base that other politicians envied.

In reality, he showed just how successful he was in the 2017 general election.

The Hustler Narrative

Interestingly, in looking for votes, Mike Mbuvi Sonko used the hustler narrative.

He rode on becoming a ‘makanga’/matatu owner in Buruburu estate within the constituency.

Mike Mbuvi Sonko introduced a new era of politicians who have unorthodox dressing styles and jewelry.

Just like popular Trap Hip Hop artists, he could be seen with many many outrageous looking jewelry including grillz.

You name it, rope chains, gold watches, rings, pendants, even gold teeth!A symbol of arrival and respect that popped up around the necks of some of his followers. 

He was suspended from parliament on many occasions because of his hype.

More ‘Juice’

He fully exploited the vulnerability of the urban poor. Mike Mbuvi Sonko targeted those in the slums to make himself a rather populist politician.

Leading demonstrations ostensibly to fight for the downtrodden, over and above giving cash donations, foodstuff, funeral and wedding vehicles for free.

At some point, he was even seen punching metal doors in town to demonstrate his prowess in fighting for ‘Wanjiku’!

As a result, Sonko only served for two years as Makadara MP. The populist got elected as the first Senator for Nairobi in the 2013 General Election.

Sonko Rescue Team

During his tenure, he created an outfit known as the Sonko Rescue Team.

It thrived on providing services similar to those of the county government for free.

They included garbage collection, borehole services, hearse and funeral services, ambulances amongst others.

The icing on the cake was all of his vehicles painted in gold, complete with chase cars.

This public display of ‘capacity’ endeared him even more to the masses in informal settlements. Mostly in Kibra, Korogocho, and Mukuru slums.

Then Things Began To Go Wrong

It started with the governor’s reluctance to recognize Mr Peter Kariuki. State House was pushing him to become the county secretary.

Five months passed before the proposed county secretary was approved. Sonko was reluctant citing ongoing ‘consultations’.

Mike Mbuvi Sonko thought Mr Kariuki’s appointment was part of a larger scheme of ‘State House agents’ to continue to monitor his administration.

By the time Mr. Kariuki took office, Mr. Polycarp Igathe had resigned.

Mr. Igathe’s decision to leave and Sonko’s reluctance to accommodate Mr. Kariuki effectively set him on a collision course with the Jubilee Party machinery.

Lone Ranger

The governor decided to run the county as a lone ranger after Mr Igathe’s resignation.

Mr. Polycarp Igathe is a seasoned banker and technocrat.

Nairobians expected Igathe to help him run the city. Unfortunately, he had left because he could not take away all the insults and humiliations he had suffered.

Sonko fired or suspended executives who disagreed with him or who he thought were not working.

Ms Beatrice Elachi, was the first one to get a taste of the post-Igathe county leadership.

She was impeached in April 2018, the County Assembly Speaker.

From Bad To Worse

The county went without a properly formed office for several days after Elachi’s ouster.

This prompted the Senate to subpoena Governor Sonko to explain why he was running Nairobi as a one-man show.

Even then, Mr. Mike Mbuvi Sonko vowed to stick with his style. He had no regrets for his leadership style. Sinking deep into ruthlessness.

His excuse was that the corporate way was tried and failed by Evans Kidero (former governor).

From then henceforth, the city was left in a deep mess.

Ultimately,Mike Mbuvi Sonko was arrested in Voi as he escaped from imminent arrest by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

Sonko Millitia

Sonko had allegedly formed a militia out of supposed casual workers.

Its alleged that he used them as goons to harass anybody who stood in his way.

A good example is the chairman of the Nairobi Community Business Association.

He was threatened and attacked during a press statement at a CBD state hotel in Nairobi. This incident remains pervasive in the minds of many Kenyans.

A inquiry was also conducted by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

It targeted a militia called the Sonko Defence Force that caused havoc during the Labour Day celebrations.

The King was now caged. A furious war against the EACC was launched.

He complained that its because of his stance against corruption, that the EACC was attempting to oust him from office.

Mike Mbuvi Sonko proceeded to court seeking a court injunction to avoid investigations against him.

Nairobi Metropolitan Service

It is alleged that Sonko was forced to sign a deed of transfer of functions under Article 189 of the Constitution.

The Nairobi Metropolitan Service took over key functions as a middle-ground for his remaining in office.

He has, however, refused to transfer staff and budget to the Major General Mohamed Badi-led NMS.

This is despite him signing the agreement at a public function attended by non-other than the President at State House.

In 10 years, Sonko managed to ‘sonkonize’ Kenyan politics.

He rose from obscurity as a 35-year-old first-term MP to occupy the most powerful gubernatorial position in Kenya.

Now he exits at the young age of 45.

The Story Of Simon Makonde

This sounds like the mythical story of Simon Makonde.

Makonde was born on Monday, got married, had children, got ill, died and was buried on Saturday.

Sonko was rather streetwise but not book-smart.

He didn’t know how to manage the formal structures of government.

He is leaving the scene in the same manner and drama that he came in with.

This is a great lesson that no matter how momentous, transient populism doesn’t often last.

Moderate, measured and well calculating politicians tend to have longer staying power hence greater impact too!!!

Go well Mike Mbuvi Sonko, Nairobi loved you, but the MCAs loved you all the more!!

Just Like Judas Iscariot

Sonko’s strategy was to ensure more than a third of Nairobi MCAs missed the motion.

It would have effectively denied the impeachment the two-thirds majority needed for it to pass.

On his part, Sonko claimed that 70 MCAs had recorded statements claiming that they were impersonated by rogue Assembly officials.

Elachi Reacts

Elachi stated that the governor had attracted God’s wrath after he wronged a number of individuals during his tenure.

He asked the Jubilee Party leadership to tell President Uhuru Kenyatta that once Elachi was let go, things would be okay in Nairobi. He did not care what my kids would eat. But I gave up for the sake of Nairobi.To the governor, turn back to God and ask for forgiveness. There are things that you do and probably those around you do not tell. You should remember that there are many people who have shed tears because of you maybe that’s why all this is happening.



Elachi lamented that Kenyans were not keen to hold their leaders to account when it came to misappropriation and embezzlement of funds.

Sometimes governors are taken to court for being corrupt but they are bailed out by Kenyans who also file other cases as well. It is important to question the sources of wealth for some of the governors


She alleged that leaders of integrity faced a lot of backlash from their colleagues who were corrupt.