Some Kenyans are angered that a small street in Kileleshwa was named after COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli.
It was previously named Dik Dk Road. Atwoli had a few defenders though but they were overpowered. However, a lot of comments bordered on ignorance. Ignorance of Atwoli’s responsibilities as Cotu SG, the objectives of Cotu itself and his achievements as a person and a defender of workers’ rights.
First, Cotu is a conglomerate of workers’ unions across various sectors and most times does not have to agitate directly for workers’ rights because it is a preserve of respective labour unions. Cotu plays a godfather and patronage role. Atwoli was not always the Cotu boss. He worked his way up the ranks and ending up as the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union Secretary General before being elected Cotu boss through the endorsement of most affiliate unions in 2001.
Cotu under Atwoli played a huge role in delivering the 2010 Constitution, which provided for a specialised Employment and Labour Relations Court. No one can deny that the court, at the level of a High Court, has played a great role in protecting workers.
In the past, Cotu was riddled with factions both tribal and regional. To head such an institution for over 20 years with little strife should be celebrated. Atwoli has been re-elected to the position severally unopposed including the most recent polls, where he had indicated his readiness to step down, but affiliate unions still trusted him.
One of the key roles of a leader and particularly of a body like Cotu, is to put down structures that entrench its relevance and usefulness. It is also important that it is led by a person vocal enough to demand the attention of those in power or even influence the governments that get into power. This is where Atwoli has made most of his enemies.
His affiliation to the Jubilee government, his controversial political stance particularly against Deputy President William Ruto and attempt to dictate political leaders in his Western backyard have made him more of a politician than a defender of workers’ rights. This, he has defended by saying it remains within his mandate to fight for labour friendly regimes.
In a country where a man eating githeri on election day ended up with national honours, Atwoli should be the least of Kenyans’ reasons to be angry. Atwoli is the current president of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity. He is a member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation in Geneva Switzerland. He is a member of the Training Centre of International Labour Organisation. He is Vice President of International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, based in Brussels, Belgium. He is also chairman of East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC) based in Arusha, Tanzania among many other bodies where he has served or continues to serve.
He has already been honoured nationally as an Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) and Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS). Why wouldn’t such a man be honoured? His honour does not take away nor reduce chances of honouring other Kenyans.
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