Atwoli's comrade Juma Boy who defied the deep-state

COTU Secretary General Denis James Akumu, seated, during a press conference. With him is Juma Boy, right, and Cotu's Deputy Sec. Gen, Duncan Mugo, 1973. [File, Standard]

Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss Francis Atwoli was both unwavering and voluble in his support for Azimio leader Raila Odinga in the run-up to last year’s general election.

It follows that he had no time for then-Deputy President William Ruto whose bid to succeed his boss was opposed from State House, the country's seat of power. 

“Raila Amollo Odinga... start preparing yourself, start getting used…. Eh eh, to that his voice, because that is the voice you will be listening to every morning and every evening on your radio and television, zoea hio sauti, zoea hio sauti,” he swore, months to the poll.

Atwoli was reading from a familiar script in Cotu’s checkered history, except that it was inversely to the position one of his predecessors took in the mid-70s. Before him was Joseph Mugalla, and before that Justus Mulei. Before Mulei, there was Juma Boy, a former MP for Kwale Central.

In the heat of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's succession, Boy came under intense pressure to endorse the “change the constitution” group whose "deep-state" brief was to stop Vice President Daniel arap Moi from taking power.

Foreign intelligence reported that no less than the old man himself nudged Boy to announce Cotu’s support for the amendment. The old man had just succeeded in overrunning Cotu in a move couched as a reconciliation of the union's rival factions.

He had deployed his executive powers and appointed his tribemate James Karebe as Boy’s deputy after Karebe was walloped in an on-the-spot poll administered by Kenyatta. Karebe was very much needed at the centre of Cotu politics.

Paired with a powerful understudy who boasted deep state support, Boy came under increasing pressure to lend a voice to the anti-Moi campaign but he would have none of it.

When Boy refused to budge, he was told he was of no use to the government. The message to him was crystal clear. Afraid, especially given the source of the pressure, Boy offered to quit altogether.

But Moi’s group saw an opportunity, steeling his nerves and encouraging him to begin getting used to the Nyayo voice. Boy dug in and as it came to pass, Kenyatta passed away.

The brand new Nyayo juggernaut that took over facilitated Boy to assume full control of Cotu.

Henceforth, he was the only cock that crowed at Solidarity House until 1983 when he died of a heart attack.

The Standard
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