Nairobi former Governor, previously Senator Mike Sonko in happier times. (REUTERS/Noor Khamis)
A city bureaucrat is set to become Nairobi’s third governor, after the capital city’s legislature manoeuvred through her appointment as deputy governor on Friday. Former Governor Mike Sonko was relieved of his position a month ago. The succession drama looks to be coming to a close, but Nairobi-dwellers are unlikely to be happy with the process.
In what has been called a ‘constitutional coup’, 41-year-old Anne Kananu Mwenda was sworn in as Nairobi’s third deputy governor on Friday afternoon. Kananu was until Friday the Chief Officer, Disaster Management, in Nairobi County. Her ascension to the vacant seat now means that she will take over from Governor Mike Sonko, who was impeached a month ago.
Kananu was nominated by former Governor Sonko in January 2020, but her vetting and appointment had been delayed by a court case, as well as Sonko’s run ins with the law and the ruling party Jubilee over multiple issues.
Her rushed appointment, which is bound to raise more legal issues as she ascends to the governor’s office, was a last-minute play by the ruling party and its allies to avoid a by-election in mid-February. The entire process took just six hours, beginning with the dismissal of two petitions against Kananu’s ascension at 8 am EAT, her fast-paced vetting by the city legislature an hour later, and ending with her swearing in at 2pm.
In one of the cases, Kananu had accused Sonko of ‘ill motive’, saying that he had sponsored the original petition to block her vetting and appointment shortly after nominating her for the vacant deputy governor position.
Kenya’s capital has been without a chief executive since Mike Sonko was impeached in mid-December, cutting short his first term in office. While there were multiple charges raised against him in the impeachment proceedings, the main issue at play in late 2020 was his refusal to sign the city’s budget, which gave the Nairobi Metropolitan Services, an executive body appointed by President Kenyatta, effective control of the city budget.
Signing the budget warrants was the first thing his temporary successor, Speaker Benson Mutura, did once he took over in December.
At both her vetting and the swearing-in ceremony, Deputy Governor Kananu promised to work with the NMS and offered to extend its mandate past February 2022, when it is set to expire.
Kananu’s ascension to the vacant deputy governor seat also means that the capital city will not hold a by-election in mid-February to replace Mike Sonko, who said he would take a 10 year sabbatical from elective politics after his impeachment. Several city politicians had already expressed interest in the seat, including Ferdinand Waititu, who was impeached from a similar position in the neighboring Kiambu county. A city preacher, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, had already been handed a ticket for the race by the United Democratic Alliance, a refurbished political party associated with Deputy President William Ruto and his allies.
“The Jubilee administration is hell-bent on controlling Nairobi County to promote the economic interests of the plutocrats in power,” Kongamano la Mageuzi, a civil society grouping, said in a statement. In late December, the ruling party’s secretary general Raphael Tuju had said that there were at least two aspirants for its ticket to the gubernatorial race.
The Thirdway Alliance, a political party that had nominated political exile Miguna Miguna as its candidate, said in a statement that Kananu’s appointment was part of “blatant state-sponsored attacks on constitutionalism and a coup against the will of the people to elect leaders of their choice.” Its chairman, Miruru Waweru, said that the party would challenge the appointment in court.
Kananu’s swearing in is the latest in a series of intrigues surrounding the Sonko succession and the ensuing power vacuum in the city. One play after the impeachment was to bring back Sonko’s original deputy, Polycarp Igathe, who resigned in January 2018 and rejoined the corporate sector.
The plan was shelved and Kananu’s year-long incomplete appointment chosen instead. On 8th January, a local daily reported that President Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga had agreed on a power-sharing plan where Kananu would succeed Sonko and then appoint an ODM politician as her deputy.
Bottom Line: The Nairobi by-election would have been the most visible of recent and planned by-elections in the country to have become proxy contests between Deputy President William Ruto on the one hand, and President Kenyatta and Odinga on the other. The latter’s decision to push through a different route to appointing Sonko’s successor is unlikely to go down well with the electorate, especially because it will mean the capital’s chief executive and deputy are unelected.
This article was published by The Africa Report.