COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli has been a man whose reign at the helm of the once powerful trade union has been clouded with controversy. Atwoli has so far served as the organization’s Secretary General for 22 years.
Atwoli is currently serving his fifth term as the union Secretary General after being re-elected unopposed in April 2021. He has served as the union’s secretary general since 2001 when he took over from the late Joseph Joy Mugalla.
Since his ascension to power, the flamboyant outspoken trade unionist has been actively involved in politics. His pronouncement of policies of political parties and open backing of politicians has over time left the trade union with widening cracks.
Atwoli’s tenure is nothing close to the leadership of revered trade unionists like the late Tom Mboya.
Atwoli is a man who never shies away from showcasing his opulence amid complaints and suffering from the workers he leads. He is often spotted in the company of rich politicians or on vacation with his young journalist wife Mary Kilobi in an expensive hotel in the Europe. What COTU is under his reign is a complete shell of what the worker’s union was under the legendary COTU leaders.
His critics have always faulted him for dwelling on political matters instead of the welfare of Kenyan workers. He is often accused of spending more time politicking instead of fighting for better working terms for workers.
Though some question why he keeps getting re-elected, Atwoli insists that it is because he is good at his work.
“First, COTU has always called for unity within the country and in the continent. That’s why I serve as the president of Cotu. Second, you have never been a member of any trade union. I survive elections. I win elections because I serve Kenyan workers in unions,” Atwoli said on April 8, 2023.