In Summary
  • Describing the ICC as a political court of disrepute that should not be allowed to try a sitting president (Uhuru Kenyatta) and his deputy, Mr Atwoli gifted Ruto a Bible and a rosary.
  • Recently in Lamu, he implored the Almighty to give first term MPs the wisdom to stop being misused by senior politicians.
  • His controversial personal life has also sometimes hit the headlines, including claims of abandoning one wife and marrying a young TV news anchor.

African elders in the traditional setting are supposed to be the leaders and bulwarks of society, dispensing wisdom in measured tones and reticent dignity.

Enter Francis Atwoli, the abrasive trade unionist who has in recent weeks made headlines with his unrelenting broadsides against Deputy President William Ruto.

The 69-year-old long-serving secretary-general of the Central Union of Trade Organisations (Cotu) is nominally an elder, but his demeanour and words belie his social status.

Like a zealot possessed, he has been thundering fervently, be it from podiums at public rallies or the comfort of his office as he swings on his swivel chair amid bangs on the table punctuated with shrieks of “yes!” and “shenzi!”.

To a stranger, Atwoli's theatrics can be scary. He lectures, howls, cajoles, violently gesticulates and often breaks into loud fits of sudden and mirthless laughter.

PEACEMAKER

This is how he offers counsel to political leaders, installs some as tribal kingpins and anoints the selected few for future State positions while at the same time predicting political doom for others.

He has a penchant for vulgarity in his messaging. “Wewe ni kijana mdogo, na lazima uheshimu wazee kama mimi, Maina Kamanda na Raila Odinga. Kama tungetangulia kukutana na mama yako hapa barabarani labda sisi ndio tungekuwa baba yako (You are fairly young and must therefore respect nominated MP Maina Kamnda, Opposition leader Raila Odinga and myself. If anyone among us had encountered your mother first, perhaps one of us would be your father),” said Atwoli at rally in Lamu County, in reference to the 52-year old DP.

Last Sunday, while speaking to a congregation at the Salvation Army Citadel in Kakamega County, the DP dismissed vocal trade unionist’s prediction as “the work of witchcraft”.

The tale of Atwoli “the fortune-teller” is indeed a curious one. He has, over the years, demonstrated a rare knack of breaking and mending relations, including bonding well with erstwhile sworn enemies, with much ease.

Dr Ruto and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi are among those who best understand this amazing peculiarity.

SCOLDS MUDAVADI

Mr Atwoli is the same man who, seven years ago on October 15, 2013, paid Mr Ruto a surprise visit at The Hague in a show of solidarity with the DP, who was facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Describing the ICC as a political court of disrepute that should not be allowed to try a sitting president (Uhuru Kenyatta) and his deputy, Mr Atwoli gifted Ruto a Bible and a rosary.

Similarly, after crowning Mr Mudavadi as Luhya spokesman in December 2016 at Kakamega’s Bukhungu Stadium following an initiative he financed, Mr Atwoli turned around in January 2018 to dismiss the ex-vice president, alongside Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and Bungoma senator Moses Wetang’ula as “irredeemable cowards”.

This was after they failed to attend Nasa leader Raila Odinga’s mock swearing-in as “the people’s president”.

But he had particularly harsh words for the founder of the Nasa outfit: “Mudavadi is like a pig that returns to garbage immediately after you clean it,” remarked Mr Atwoli in reference to his previous efforts to market the ANC leader.

COLLISIONS

A master at building bridges, Mr Atwoli reached out to Mr Mudavadi a couple of weeks later and apologised over the choice of words in his attack, with the two quickly mending fences.

Indeed, Mr Mudavadi is not the only politician from western Kenya to have been rubbed the wrong way by Mr Atwoli.

The self-styled Luhya elder and custodian of the community’s political interests has had a series of collisions with the men and women from mulembe (peace) nation.

These include former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, whom he supposedly “cursed” and was eventually sacked.

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