• The financially endowned trade unionist is a key figure in the direction Western will take in the 2022 presidential election.
• He is a key champion of the Building Bridges Initiative, a proposition hailed as the cure for cyclic post-election violence.
Trade unionist Francis Atwoli is emerging as the force to reckon with in Western as the country hurtles towards the 2022 general election.
Going by his activities, the firebrand Cotu secretary general is undoubtedly in charge of the region’s polity even without a political party under his wings.
Further, his dalliance with President Uhuru Kenyatta and by extension the handshake has placed him at a high political pedestal.
Atwoli leads a pool of Uhuru’s fierce defenders in the Western region, having resolved to back the head of state's agenda in the remaining two years of his governance.
The trade unionist is also a key champion of the Building Bridges Initiative. His vocal support for the initiative clearly ranks him as the face of BBI in the region.
He repeatedly reminds the political class that "Uhuru is too young to retire", shaping the conversation around the need to expand the Executive.
Up to 2017, the Cotu boss is reported to have quietly been bankrolling some key Western political figures.
In the last election, he openly endorsed ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi as the region’s spokesperson. Today, he feels that the latter has abdicated that role.
It was Atwoli who, thanks to his financial muscle, hosted all Luhya leaders and marshalled them to declare their backing for Musalia – and by extension the National Super Alliance (Nasa).
Musalia was in Nasa with ODM leader Raila Odinga, Ford Kenya's Moses Wetang’ula, Wiper's Kalonzo Musyoka, and former Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto.
With the disintegration of Nasa, Atwoli has turned out to be Raila’s hope for retaining his massive support in the Mulembe nation.
That hope is threatened by DP William Ruto’s frequent forays in the region, especially in Vihiga and Bungoma counties.
Raila and Atwoli meet often and their deliberations have been linked to the upheavals in Jubilee where Ruto’s men have been axed from key posts.
The DP allies point accusing fingers at the Cotu boss for their political woes citing Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe's dalliance with him and Raila.
Many say that the dalliance is defining the 2022 political matrix, which now includes Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.
Gideon is the leader of Kanu, the Indepencence party that Atwoli subscribes to. That gave President Kenyatta the support he needed to discipline rebels in the august House.
Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali holds that Atwoli has been bidding for Raila since 2013, “even in 2017 when he claimed to appoint Musalia as spokesman.”
"It is time to separate leaders who have Luhya interests at heart from those bidding the interests of the community to other people," the MP said.
Atwoli is the face of Ruto’s opposition in Western even as the others apply calculative moves in fear of jeopardising their future bids.
The veteran trade unionist surprised many when he recently hosted a delegation of dozens of Western leaders at his Kajiado home.
The meeting left observers wondering who he leaned on or on whose authority he held the gathering despite Health ministry’s Covid-19 restrictions.
Barely a day after the Kajiado meeting, chaos erupted at Senator Wetang’ula’s Ford-K with the attempted installation of Wafula Wamunyinyi as the party leader.
Musalia blamed the disruption on the Cotu boss and by extension Raila.
He said: “The mischief has been escalated at a number of meetings led by the leader of a Nasa party, whose objective is to destroy and dominate everyone politically.”
The situation has put the ANC leader on a collision path with Atwoli - the man who elevated him to the region’s kingpin.
During the Kajiado meeting, the Cotu leader, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, and Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa were picked as the voices of the Mulembe nation.
This technically widened the gap between then and Musalia and Wetang’ula. The two did not attend the meeting, dealing a blow to the region’s unity bid.
Oparanya on Monday said the two are to blame for the region's disunity and commended Atwoli for his bid to unite the community.
He said this was part of the reasons for the Kajiado meeting, noting that their discussion was not about Luhyas per se but the entire Western Kenya.
“We were not there as Luhya leaders but as Western leaders…and as you know there are many tribes. Luhya, Teso, and Sabaot leaders attended.
“Jubilee has not allocated enough resources to us. We thank Atwoli for bringing us together to chart the path to developing Western,” he said.
Former nominated MCA Reuben Ombima told the Star that it was time Musalia stopped being someone’s shadow to attack Raila and Atwoli.
He observed that this has been the pattern since the ANC leader’s trip to the US, adding that the ODM leader and the Cotu boss will not grant him a hearing.
Ombima, a key mobiliser in Western, said Musalia’s attack on Atwoli arises from his interest in working with Ruto in 2022.
“Every political party has its issues and he can’t claim to blame Raila or Atwoli. We believe Musalia is the new face the DP is using to attack Raila,” the politician said.
- mwaniki fm