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State House has a problem with Nairobi's political boss

A second term for Governor Sakaja looks unlikely after the Deputy President has made it clear he is not his man

Nairobi governor Johnson Sakaja is under growing pressure after Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua hinted that State House was ready to intervene in the governance of the city. The precedent was set when the Nairobi Metropolitan Services office was used by former President Uhuru Kenyatta to take over health, transport, public works and utilities after Sakaja's predecessor, Mike Sonko, became embroiled in impeachment and criminal cases (AC Vol 61 No 10, A clumsy coup).

It is hardly a vote of confidence in the 39-year-old Sakaja.

Winning on Ruto's United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket in August 2022, Sakaja bucked the trend in Nairobi, which backed Raila Odinga in the presidential contest and Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in the capital's parliamentary seats (AC Vol 63 No 17, Ruto takes his revenge).

His victory in 2022 was widely viewed as evidence of genuine personal popularity.

However, neither of Sakaja's two predecessors as governor – Evans Kidero and Sonko – managed to secure a second term. Long-standing problems with crime in downtown Nairobi have been compounded by complaints about the quality of roads, burst sewers and uncollected rubbish, made worse by several weeks of heavy rains that have caused flooding in parts of Nairobi.

A group of UDA lawmakers in the national and county assemblies are now bringing corruption accusations against Sakaja.

Sakaja blames his difficulties on UDA internal politics.

The UDA did not exist three years ago, but Ruto's dominance is such that the UDA's internal elections, which started in a handful of counties including Nairobi last week, are seen as vital tests of whether governors and other senior politicians will get second terms. The UDA county elections will take place between now and late August.

Sakaja's hopes of a second term may rest on whether he can defeat James Gakuya, MP for Nairobi's Embakasi North constituency, for the UDA chair in the city. Gakuya is believed to have the support of Gachagua.

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