Nairobi News


CITY GIRL: Give Sonko a break! We can’t judge people based on their mastery of English

Mike Sonko is a man of many talents and strengths, but English is not one of them.

As I watched the Nairobi gubernatorial debate, I cringed and felt sorry for Sonko as he struggled to match up to eloquent speakers like Miguna Miguna and the incumbent, Dr Evans Kidero.

I pitied Sonko, who put on a brave face, nonetheless, as he blabbered colloquialisms trying to keep up with Miguna’s impeccable mastery of the Queen’s language.

All efforts fell flat, much to the amusement of his rivals as Kenyans on social media pounced on the chance to mock him.

It was very clear that Sonko was out of place in that debate, chiefly because he was being forced to communicate in a language he is clearly not very proficient in.

Now, lets get this out of the way.

Good English is not the mark of intelligence. Neither should it be the scale upon which we choose a leader because we have a lot of incompetent leaders that speak very good English.


English may be the official language in this country and the language of instruction in institutions, but a mastery of English is neither a mark of cleverness, nor is it a scale upon which you can measure one’s acumen.

Good English does not come installed with a software for aptitude and intellect. There are a lot of fools who are very proficient in English, both spoken and written.

Let’s give Sonko a break. Yes, the guy cannot express himself in English. He probably is not a bookworm like some of us. You will most unlikely find Sonko’s nose buried in the Economist. He probably does not belong to any book club.

Yes, he has a degree in Business Administration and he graduated ‘in’ Mount Kenya University (as he said during the debate). Yes, he does not have those heavyweight degrees like law and pharmacy and he has no PhD or MBA.

Mike Sonko might not be very fluent in English but ignore him and his potential at your own peril. I have a feeling that the rivals who were laughing at him during the debate will not be so amused after August 8.

The same applies to Kiambu gubernatorial candidate Ferdinand Waititu who once made a mockery of himself on live television when he unsuccessfully attempted to pronounce the word “certificate”.

But, let us not harshly judge the likes of Sonko and Waititu on flimsy basis such as their inability to express their ideas in a language that is not even ours. It’s naïve to judge a man’s competence based on his proficiency in the colonial language.


I know that given a chance to speak in a language he is comfortable with, Sonko would do a stellar job in articulating his ideas. He said he did not attend Ivy League schools and is not from a rich family where English was the first language. He came from the ghettos and he rose from the ghettos into national politics and we need to respect that.

I, personally, have a lot of respect for people who are not very educated yet have become very successful. In a world that prizes education above everything else, it takes a courageous, audacious and extra-ordinary person to succeed without an education and I am not just talking about Mike Sonko. I am talking about oligarchs like the late Njenga Karume who had a problem even pronouncing the name of his Ministry of Special Programmes.

If you are giving the rest of the candidates a national platform to articulate their ideas in English, their language of proficiency, then it is only fair to give others like Sonko an equal platform to talk about their ideas be it in Sheng or Kiswahili. Sheng and Swahili are legitimate Kenyan languages and we must not pigeon-hole people in language boxes they cannot fit in.

Get a translator if you must. Even the Chinese, French, German and Russians will be speaking their varied languages at the ongoing G20 summit and the Americans and British will have to get translators or learn the damn language.

Meanwhile, now that the matter of Waititu’s degree certificate has been put to rest, let us now organise a gubernatorial debate  for Kiambu candidates which should be in English.