- Top figures in Jubilee decided that to offer a credible challenge to Dr Kidero, their candidate Sonko must be transformed to present a more Kenneth-like persona - one who would not scare-off the Nairobi middle and upper classes and the business elite.
The re-entry of Mr Peter Kenneth into the Nairobi gubernatorial race, just days after the Jubilee Party unveiled corporate executive Polycarp Igathe as the running mate for party candidate Mike Sonko, dramatically shifts the political equation in the battle for the capital city.
It was expected to be a fierce two horse race between the mercurial Mr Sonko and incumbent Governor Evans Kidero of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), but the focus now shifts to Mr Kenneth’s entry into the fray.
Still smarting from the humiliation suffered at the hands of Mr Sonko in Jubilee nominations, despite prior signals that he had been endorsed by President Kenyatta, Mr Kenneth’s comeback as an independent candidate turns it into an intriguing three way contest that will reverberate way beyond the city.
There is also a fourth candidate in lawyer Miguna Miguna, also an independent, who will bring a sharp intellect into the campaigns but is still an unknown quantity.
Of interest is that in drafting Mr Igathe from the corporate boardroom to join the Sonko ticket, Jubilee power barons were looking for a deputy governor who represents what they lost out in rejecting Mr Kenneth.
The two fierce rivals for the Jubilee nomination represented diametrically opposite sides of the party, the wild, colourful and rough-hewn ghetto fighter in Mr Sonko, up against the urbane and polished corporate executive in Mr Kenneth, who had just come out of sabbatical since his disappointing run for president in 2013.
Once Sonko secured his runaway victory, top figures in Jubilee decided that to offer a credible challenge to Dr Kidero, their candidate must be transformed to present a more Kenneth-like persona, one who would not scare-off the Nairobi middle and upper classes and the business elite.
Step one was to bring in Nairobi PR consultant Cynthia Nyamai to help him craft a new image, ditching the dyed Mohawk hairstyles, ripped jeans, gaudy gold chains, and foul language and penchant for scuffles; to be replaced by sober business suits and calm public behaviour.
Step two was to rope in Vivo Energy boss Igathe, to represent the management expertise in the pair to run Nairobi.
It was a task Jubilee took seriously. Out of Kenya’s 47 counties, it was only Nairobi selected to highlight the choice of a running mate for the governor.
The party was keen to re-assure Nairobi’s jittery business class and social and economic elite that the unpredictable Mr Sonko would be kept on a tight leash with a trusted managerial type shadowing him.
When Mr Igathe announced to his staff at Vivo Energy that he will be switching careers to vie for political office, it was notable that he did not attribute his selection directly to Mr Sonko.
Instead, he wrote in a memo to staff, the offer to join the ticket as Deputy Governor had come from the “Jubilee leadership”.
It was also of significance that his official unveiling on Wednesday was not just a Sonko affair, but a carefully choreographed presentation presided over by Deputy President William Ruto at the Jubilee Party headquarters in Nairobi.
“You will appreciate my choice of running-mate reflects the corporate governance image that the residents of Nairobi would like to serve them,” Mr Sonko said in a brief address that reflected his clear bid to craft a new image.
But if there were lingering doubts that Mr Sonko can change his ways, bringing in the suave corporate executive was designed to calm the fears of those alarmed by the prospect of a Sonko in the governor’s mansion with only hazy plans on what needs to be done to restore the faded glory of capital city.
Mr Igathe’s own speech at the press conference came with a large dose of irony.
He said the capital city “can no longer be left in the hands of people who have no clue”.
That conclusion clinches it perfectly, for the fear in Jubilee’s upper echelons and Nairobi’s elite was that populist Mr Sonko, clueless in the finer arts of management, was on the verge of being elected governor.