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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Sonko faces tough choices for violating public expectations

The arrest, trial and bail-out of the Nairobi Governor dominated public opinion this week. The drama of the week got me thinking, are there honourable choices leaders can make when facing a career catastrophe?

Arrested, heading in the opposite direction from an arrest warrant, the Governor of Nairobi has now been charged with economic crimes, money laundering, abuse of office and unlawful acquisition of public property. He may also be charged with assaulting the arresting officers, if the public complaint by the Police Service is followed through.

Videos of the Governor resisting arrest and his supporters violently protesting “No Sonko, no peace” left many Kenyans shocked. Then there was the transfer from Kamiti Maximum Prison to Kenyatta National Hospital on medical and humanitarian grounds. The Governor’s ailing condition miraculously improved for him to first attend the bail hearing and then go straight home when bail was granted. In what some have described as a massive and irreconcilable conflict of interest, Senators Kilonzo and Murkomen played truant from their constituents and the Senate to join his legal defense team in court and on live television.

Chief Magistrate Ogoti’s ruling bars the Governor from accessing County offices and effectively removes him from running Nairobi affairs until he proves his innocence. However, the message didn’t seem to have been received. It is said that a day later, the Governor suffered the additional indignity of being denied official access to the Jamhuri Day anniversary celebrations.

The Governor is caught in a psychological web of his own making. He has refused to appoint a Deputy Governor for nearly two years and twisted awkwardly between flight or fight in a court of law and the court of public opinion. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary have now taken these important decisions away from him.

Stripped of state power and privilege, he faces criminal proceedings. He also faces the political dilemma whether to now resign or have that decision also taken away from him in impeachment proceedings by the Nairobi County Assembly. Irreparable reputation and future political oblivion looms.

The Governor is not the only one to face the fire for violating leadership integrity standards. In the last two years, over fifteen world leaders have fallen to charges of corruption or abuse of office. Fast on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment last month, US President Trump inched closer to impeachment this week.

Earlier this year, Lebanon’s Saad Hariri and Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika were forced out of office. Czech Premier Andrej Babis and South Korean President Moon face thousands calling for their resignation. It is too early to see what will happen in their cases. Will they hang on until they are jailed like Peru’s Alberto Fujimori or flee like Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko and die in exile?

Others have made different choices. Caught in a sex scandal, British MP John Profumo accepted his indiscretion, repented in public and devoted the rest of his life to charity work. After a brutal impeachment, former US President Richard Nixon exited front stage and recreated himself as an influential back-room player. Former British politician Jeremy Thorpe chose to disappear from the public eye and concentrate on his private life. Then there was Washington DC Mayor Marion Barry. Despite being with drugs, he went on the offensive with a series of public denials. Found guilty, he served a jail-term and then successfully ran again for office. A second career is always an option. Disgraced New York Governor Eliot Spitzer pivoted from public office, became a media analyst and hit the airwaves.

Whatever choices disgraced leaders make, they would probably all agree that stepping down or aside is better than being removed. Quick resignations have less chance of permanent career and reputational damage as UK Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington found. Faced with the wrath of the British public after Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands, he chose to take full responsibility and resign as a consequence.

It remains to be seen which option the Nairobi Governor will choose to purge the disgrace of violating our expectation that he would bring honor to the nation, dignity to the office and public confidence in the integrity of office of a Governor. Resignation, as an acceptance of having erred or as a matter of honor, is good for leaders and democracies. The option requires a level of humility and courage on the part of the leader. It also requires a political context and an electorate that demands it.

First published Saturday Standard, December 14, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


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