Outspoken Cotu boss Francis Atwoli thinks Kenyan men should marry three wives to reduce the population of unmarried women.
The Trade Unionist was speaking to SDE over the weekend. He also spoke about Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba, his choice for the next Chief Justice among other topics.
Is it true you once ran for political office and lost?
Why haven’t you run for political office again?
I took over leadership of Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union, then Cotu and the East Africa Trade Union Confederation. At the global level, I am number two.
Workers entrusted me to lead them nationally, continently and globally, so, I have grown above the position of MP, senator or governor. The only seat I can go for now if I were to venture into politics is the presidency. But I am not interested due to the respect I have earned and continue to enjoy worldwide.
You don’t have ‘enemies’ in government or the opposition. Is that a good thing?
There are people who are forced to put up with me because they can’t take me anywhere. But a majority are my friends.
Why is it so difficult for Luhyas to unite?
Luhya has been a factor in Kenya politics since independence. During independence, we had two political parties, Kanu and Kadu. Luhyas predominantly voted for Kadu apart from a few founders who were for Kanu like retired politician JB Otiende from Vihiga.
Since Kanu merged with Kadu in the early 60s, Luhyas have been voting as a bloc for Kanu. At one time, every constituency in Western Kenya was in government. Where there was no assistant minister, there was a Cabinet minister.
So for young politicians to say Luhya unity is impossible and that the community cannot come together is a big lie.
Skeptics say you will fail…
You cannot attempt something once. The other time I tried with only political leaders I didn’t involve ordinary Luhyas, MPs, senators, governors and elders who are opinion leaders. This time, I am involving everyone and we are succeeding. Luhyas are already listening to me.
Do you see a Luhya becoming president in your lifetime?
Politicians like Masinde Muliro, Elijah Mwangale and Moses Mudamba Mudavadi (Musalia’s father) were capable of being president. Currently, we have presidential material in men like Musalia Mudavadi, (Cyrus) Jirongo and (Moses) Wetang’ula. None of them is a joker. If our people come together, it is achievable.
What was the tiff between you and your deputy at Cotu, the late Hon George Muchai?
There are some politicians who did not like me and wanted to put a wedge between me and my deputy with whom I had worked for almost two years. My Cotu colleagues and I supported Muchai to go to Parliament to articulate the interests of working men and women of this country. If he was my enemy, I wouldn’t have sponsored him to go to Parliament.
Unfortunately, he was murdered by thugs and I am still enraged by innuendos from my enemies that I had something to do with it. I hail from a community where a father and grandfather cannot do evil against a fellow human being because that curse can finish your family.
In any case, I had no reason to hurt Muchai because I had the support of my colleagues in the trade union movement in this country and beyond. My late deputy was not a threat. Let him rest in peace.
Have you ever led a successful strike in your life as a trade unionist?
Yes. During the coalition government, when we were awarded 14 percent on the first day of the intended strike, there was no work in Nairobi. Presidents Moi and Kibaki were keen on labour issues and would not let workers go on strike. They were quick to respond to workers’ demands.
President Uhuru is doing the same. This year, he waived taxes on overtime and other allowances from trade union members, including terminal benefits and promised to increase the minimum wage during next year’s Labour Day.
So, there’s no need for threats now or to call on workers to go on strike after the government has shown commitment to workers of Kenya.
Is it possible for a man of average means to be a successful polygamist today?
I am encouraging my sons to marry more than three wives so that we can reduce the population of unmarried women. It’s a taboo in our community to bury our daughters where they were born, they must be married somewhere.
There have been suggestions that Raila should step aside for another leader for Cord to win in 2017. Your view?
That is a personal decision for Raila. But personally, I don’t believe in a person stepping down for me.
Who is your choice for Chief Justice?
When I was listening to them, there are three guys who impressed me – Alnashir Vishram, Nzamba Kitonga and Smokin Wanjala. Any of them can make a good CJ.
How would you compare the Kibaki presidency to Uhuru’s?
Kibaki was a developer, but Uhuru does not have ‘no’ in his vocabulary. He is good to everybody. Brokers and cartels are exploiting that weakness in him to steal from his government. I have advised Uhuru more than 15 times to be assertive and crack the whip. To me, it is as if he will never change.
Your advice to Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba?
He still has a chance. He is a young person. He can falter because he has time to amend his ways of doing politics. What he need to do is to join our crusade to bring our people (the Luhya) together. To me, he is still a formidable politician and time is on his side.