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Kenya News Makers: Francis Atwoli

With his position and voluble character, Atwoli is a very influential figure in Kenyan politics.

Francis Atwoli is a forthright Kenyan trade unionist, who is currently serving as the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU).

With his position and voluble character, Atwoli is a very influential figure in Kenyan politics. He is a self-declared supporter of KANU, Kenya’s oldest and independence political party which was later stewarded by former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi until election loss in 2002.

According to his autobiography (Force, Fame and Fury) launched in 2019, Atwoli was born in 1947 in Kakamega County, western Kenya, to a humble family.

He had a modest childhood and education before entering the labor force as an employee of the then East African Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (EAP&TC) at a young age of nineteen.

He joined the trade union movement in 1967 and quickly won hearts of fellow workers through his aggressive character. This propelled him to the pinnacle of the umbrella organisation, COTU, and the regional and international labor movement.

Commenting on his biography, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said this of Atwoli:

“Many historians may well hesitate to attempt to write about the life of Francis Atwoli. The mass of material is so immense, the field he has traversed so vast, the verdicts of his friends and foes, so voluminous …”

In his role as a representative of 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 labor disputes.

Atwoli is a renowned supporter of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a political scheme reached by President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga that seeks to eliminate the ‘winner takes all’ politics.

As a known political kingpin from Western Kenya, his support to the BBI stings those opposed to this initiative especially politicians attached to Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto.