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Unwanted COTU Boss Francis Atwoli Fights For His Life

Apart from seeking re-elections in 2026, Atwoli’s existence in the helm of the trade union that he has held for decades is now being threatened from all political fronts before his term expires.

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For Francis Atwoli who prides himself as indomitable fighter lion, the events of the past few weeks has left him exposed as a domestic cat.

The Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General has been reduced to a blogger fighting for his life on the internet.

Apart from seeking re-elections in 2026, Atwoli’s existence in the helm of the trade union that he has held for decades is now being threatened from all political fronts before his term expires.

For two and a half decades, Mr. Atwoli has been at the forefront of COTU leadership; he assumed the position in 2001. His current term, which began after winning re-election on April 9, 2021, will end in April 2026, marking a total of five five-year terms served. In total, he will have served for a record 25 years!

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Credible sources have disclosed the existence of a well-designed scheme to ensure Mr Atwoli does not secure re-election in the union’s forthcoming elections in 2026.

Raila’s hand

Migori Senator Eddy Oketch has tabled a bill in the senate to introduce term limits for union officials. Oketch is an ODM legislator affiliated with Raila Odinga. Analysts view this as a well calculated move aimed at disarming Atwoli who doesn’t appear to be in good books with the former prime minister currently.

The Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2024 seek to set term limits for union officials and to end the current arrangement where officials can hold office for as many terms as possible provided they are duly elected and re-elected.

“The principal object of the bill is to provide for the term of office of officials of a trade union, employers’ organisation or federation and requirements for registering a trade union,” the bill states.

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Expectedly, Mr. Atwoli has lashed out at the proposal claiming it goes against the principles of free and independent trade unions as advocated for by the International Labour Organisation.

Raila and Atwoli’s relationship is in tatters Kenya Insights has learned. During a recent interview with Citizen TV, Atwoli himself hinted the uneasiness with the former PM when he disclosed that they last spoke in January going to show how distanced they’ve become.

The two who were often seen in not just political but social events together, can no longer be sighted.

Sources believe Atwoli was among the traitors that former president Uhuru Kenyatta recently mentioned for quickly abandoning Azimio to bed with the government.

Ruto’s hand

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However, it’s not just Raila that Atwoli is worried about, President William Ruto also appears to have sidelined the self declared Luhya kingmaker.

In yet another calculated move aimed at dehorning Atwoli, the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA) boss Fazul Mahamed who’s a Ruto’s man, last week directed private security firms to stop remitting guards’ union fees to the umbrella workers’ body.

Mahamed said that the trade union has not lived up to its mandate to protect its members and has persistently disregarded, declined and neglected to advocate for their rights.

“For years, private security companies have consistently deducted trade union fees from private security guards and subsequently remitted the said contributions to the Central Organization of Trade Unions, COTU – Kenya. As outlined in COTU’s constitutive document, part of the organization’s core mandate is to represent the voices of workers and actively fight for their social and economic welfare,” Mahamed stated.

“Notably, private security officers constitute a large percentage of COTU’s membership and despite their low salaries have faithfully contributed trade union fees to COTU for decades. Regrettably, notwithstanding their significant financial contributions, COTU has not lived up to its mandate and has persistently disregarded, declined, and/or neglected to advocate for their rights, advocate for compliance with minimum wage and promote their general welfare.”

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Mohamed said the action was taken after security guards complained about fund utilisation and their welfare not being addressed by the trade union.

With the SG getting hit from two familiar camps, one can’t help but notice a battered general who’s suddenly unwanted by people he once regarded as allies.

Many will recall that Mr. Atwoli supported Azimio’s Raila Odinga in the last general elections; he consistently criticized current president William Ruto. However, after William Ruto was declared the winner in the elections, Mr Atwoli promptly switched sides and aligned himself with the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Nevertheless, President Ruto’s close associates have since downplayed his defection, considering it a manoeuvre to safeguard his position and maintain his political relevance in the country.

Sources also say that Mr Atwoli has privately disclosed to his inner circle the likelihood of him not pursuing re-election in 2026.

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According to some political analysts, President Ruto has since realized that having Mr Atwoli on his side does not bring any substantial benefits. Before the last general elections, Mr Atwoli pledged to flee the country if William Ruto emerged as the victor in the presidential poll. Rev. Joel Kandie, who currently holds the position of COTU national chairman, is widely believed to be the frontrunner to succeed Atwoli.

Unwanted by many

It’s not just the two who appear to distance themselves from Atwoli, a section of country’s leadership also seem to be as exhausted with Atwoli’s fight to keep his hold on power mostly terming it selfish.

“Francis Atwoli has served time and must now leave the Labour Relations arena. Courts are abolishing life sentences for capital offenses, opining that 30 years is more than a life sentence. Why should one individual serve in a public office for more than 30 years.” Former Law Society of Kenya (LSK) Nelson Havi said.

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Former Kiambu governor William Kabogo alludes that Atwoli is not indispensable and that he should give way for new leadership, “ this should not be in debate, all public servants should have term limits. No one is indisposable. Fresh is always good.” He said.

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“Francis Atwoli has walked on the backs of Kenyan workers for decades for selfish gain. Most of those he represents are underpaid. COTU is as useless as a used tissue paper. Atwoli only negotiates for his stomach. That’s why he survives by kissing every successive regime’s ass.” Musa Salah posted on X.

EXTRA

New information reported by Sunday Nation reveal a plot to further tame Atwoli, there are attempts plan a counter rally for Ruto to clash with the COTU boss.

The newspaper reports of attempts to reach out to the leadership of the Trade Unions Congress of Kenya (Tuc-Ke) – led by Nyatike MP Tom Odege (chairman) and Dr Charles Mukhwaya (secretary-general) – to plan a parallel Labour Day event at Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in a bid to rival the Uhuru Gardens event organised by Mr Atwoli. Organizers of Tuc-Ke are to invite Ruto whose attendance would send the clearest signal of dissatisfactions with Atwoli.

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