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How Sonko, Igathe fall-out is likely to shape the Uhuru succession debate

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It was difficult to see Mike Sonko’s and Polycarp Igathe’s abusive relationship at City Hall ending so soon.

Granted, media reports had thrown up enough hints of an unfolding falling-out sparked by perceived micromanagement by State House – to which Governor Sonko reacted in a rather strange way.

Circulating embarrassing personal WhatsApp conversations with your partner on social media and trying to pass them off as love letters; who does that!

But as late as last Friday morning, Mr Igathe was on NTV articulating the duo’s grand plans for Nairobi County in an interview heavily punctuated with adoring references to Mr Sonko as “my boss”.

Whatever it is that the governor did or said – or didn’t – afterwards to make his deputy quit only hours later must have been quite heartbreaking.

Students of leadership and management will no doubt look at the break-up at City Hall from all angles, including personal chemistry and social class differences, to try to explain it.

The matchmakers of the Sonko-Igathe Jubilee ticket in the August 8, 2017 elections never concealed the fact that they saw Mr Igathe’s corporate management skills compensating for Mr Sonko’s deficiencies.

Mr Igathe’s resignation after only five months in office, citing failure to earn the trust of his boss, suggests that the matchmakers were too naïve to imagine that a populist politician elected governor with close to one million votes was going to just sit there and watch a surrogate CEO-type deputy run the show.

Did anyone expect the governor, an aggressive personality who, as Makadara MP, punched walls and performed somersaults in street protests against public land grab, to take attempts to dismantle the Sonko Rescue Team charity on which he has anchored his grassroots political mobilisation kindly? Did anyone expect the governor to hit back with an open palm in the same week his hands were freed from an election petition?


Suffice it to say whoever thought Nairobi’s “Iron Mike” would pull punches in these circumstances is the only stranger in Jerusalem.

By getting Mr Igathe out of City Hall, Mr Sonko has also delivered a surprise knock-out blow on surrogate politics that is likely to send its merchants at the national level back to the drawing board.

The emerging debate in the Mt Kenya region around the Uhuru Kenyatta succession, for instance, has featured suggestions of some strong running mate for William Ruto, the Deputy President, in 2022, who will somehow control him and ensure the community retains power by proxy.

The debate has echoes of the factional scheming for Jomo Kenyatta succession in the late 1970s, during which the group backing Daniel arap Moi saw him as a passing cloud. We all know how that one went for 24 years.

But if anyone still entertains the notion of a surrogate presidency in 2022, he or she just needs to have a chat with Mr Igathe.