Francis Atwoli: An important voice of a trade unionist

COTU secretery General Francis Atwoli 

To a stranger, EBS, MBS Francis Atwoli’s style can be scary as he swings on his swivel chair at the comfort of his office, amid bangs on the table, punctuated with shrieks of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “Shenzi!”.

Francis Atwoli, first born; was born in 6 June 1949. He is a vocal Kenyan Trade Unionist who is currently serving as the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU).

EBS, MBS Francis Atwoli, the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU).FRANCIS

He has served in that capacity, since he was first elected in 2001. Mr. Atwoli is married to three wives, Jenifer Khainza, Roselinder Simiyu and Mary Kilobi.

Unconfirmed talk claims he has about seventeen children.

In his role as a representative of the Kenyan workers, Atwoli has expressed criticism of politicians on issues such as their refusal to pay taxes on their allowances, and dabbling in corruption.


He has also been critical of non-governmental bodies and global institutions including the World Bank, interfering with labour disputes.

He openly supported police officers when they advocated for the creation of a police officers’ union.

Though many knows him as just the COTU Secretary General, Atwoli has won heart of many over the time, locally and internationally due to his voice of a trade unionist in a national discourse and firm decision makings when it comes to matter of workers’ he represents.

Out of his hard work and determination, Francis Atwoli has raised over different roles and ranks across the country including but not limited: 2001 to date, Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions Kenya.

1994 to date: General Secretary of the Kenya Plantation & Agricultural Workers Union, 1986 to 1994 hold the post of Director of the Central Organization of Trade Unions, Kenya.

And in 1971 to 1986 he was the Branch Secretary, Union of Posts and Telecommunication Employees as well as in 1967 to 1986, Senior Technician at Kenya Posts & Telecommunication Corporation.

In addition to his responsibilities at COTU, Francis Atwoli has the following additional elective responsibilities: The President of the Pan African Labour movement, the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, OATUU from 2014, a position he still maintains up to now.

Other positions that he currently holds are: Elected Member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization, (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland from 2008, Elected Board Member of Training Centre of the International Labour Organization in Turin, Italy from 2011, Member, Board of Trustees at the National Social Security Fund (Kenya) (NSSF) from 2001;

Council Member of National Industrial Training Authority of Kenya (NITA) from 2001, Elected every year as Independent Non-Executive Director of the embattled National Bank of Kenya from 2003, Member of National Labour Board of Kenya from 2004, Elected Deputy President of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) based in Accra Ghana from 2005:

Elected President of Trade Union Federation of Eastern Africa (TUFEA) based in Khartoum, Sudan from 2005, Elected Executive Board Member and now serving Vice President of International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, based in Brussels, Belgium from 2005 and Elected Chairman of East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC) based in Arusha, Tanzania from 2005.

Other elective posts he held in the past consists of: Member of National Aids Control Council of Kenya (NACC) between 2001 and 2010, Elected Vice President of the former ICFTU-AFRO in Nairobi, Kenya from 2001 to 2007 and finally, Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) from 2003 to 2009.

He has also won several awards in pack of his work delivery legacy. He is a recipient of both the Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) and the Moran of the Burning Spear, (MBS) awards in recognition of his role in Championing for Social Justice. .

As well, Masinde Muliro of University of Science and Technology awarded Atwoli with an honorary Doctorate of humane letter D. Litt.

Despite his wide celebrated success as a unionist, he has also received both praise and criticism in equal measures especially when he began openly to take wings politically.

Some see him as a foul-mouthed liability while others look at him as a straight-shooting realist. Nevertheless, both judgement will depend highly on which side of his opinion you agree or disagree with.

the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU), during a media briefing

Just as an African elder in the traditional setting who he is supposed to be the leader and bulwarks of the society, dispensing wisdom in measured tones and reticent dignity, Man Atwoli is already administering his elderly role in the society.

The trade unionist has lately in months made headlines by counselling political leaders, installing some as Mulembe kingpins and anoints the selected few for future State positions while at the same time predicting political doom for others.

He is also known of using punch in his messaging. For example, one time he said at a rally in Lamu County, “Wewe ni kijana mdogo, na lazima uheshimu wazee kama mimi, Maina Kamanda na Raila Odinga. Kama tungetangulia kukutana na mama yako hapa barabarani labda sisi ndio tungekuwa baba yako (You are fairly young and must therefore respect nominated MP Maina Kamanda, Opposition leader Raila Odinga and myself. If anyone among us had encountered your mother first, perhaps one of us would be your father),” at the time he was referring to DP Rutto.

Atwoli is well known to be DP Rutto’s highest critic despite him being in record saying that his, was never personal.

Though his critics call him “the fortune-teller” He has, over the years, demonstrated a rare knack of breaking and mending relations, including bonding well with one-time sworn enemies, with much ease. Only those close to him, can tell better how he manages to do so.

In relation to his mend and sored relationship; of late, Atwoli is well known to be DP Rutto’s highest critic despite him being in record saying that his, was never personal.

He is in records seven years ago on October 15, 2013, when he paid Mr. Rutto a surprise visit at The Hague in a show of solidarity with the DP, who was facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Describing the ICC as a political court of disrepute that should not be allowed to try a sitting president (Uhuru Kenyatta) and his deputy. Surprisingly, Mr Atwoli gifted Ruto a Bible and a rosary.

A master of building bridges, Mr. Atwoli has reached out to Mulembe leaders for a couple of times to mend blockades which will enabled them to speak in one voice, gain more power by putting all their votes in one basket as well ensuring they win a presidential seat during coming general election.

Indeed, not every person will love or hate you…some politician from western Kenya who are well known to have differ with him, have been rubbed the wrong way.

These include former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, whom he supposedly “cursed” and was eventually sacked.

, EBS, MBS Francis Atwoli, the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU).

Once upon a time also, he begged the Almighty to give first term MPs the wisdom to stop being misused by senior politicians “who offer them handouts so they can sing their praise songs”. An important voice of a trade unionist in a national dialogue.

The ordained defender of the people, as a young man, wanted to become a Catholic priest but was not successful because as the firstborn, tradition at the time demanded that he must marry and have children.

Failure, he would have been cursed not to bring bad omen to their family. A risk, Mr. Atwoli was not ready to dare.

Elves Delz
Author: Elves Delz


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