Immediately news went round that Mr Francis Atwoli has been re-elected, unopposed, as the secretary-general of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) , unfounded rumours and propaganda started making rounds that the general secretary of the Kenya National Union of Nurses, Seth Panyako, had been barred from contesting in the election.
We would like to state the facts. First, Mr Panyako never applied to contest for the position of Cotu secretary-general until three days to the election while such an application, according to the constitution of Cotu, should be made three months before the poll. This also explains why many union leaders in Cotu never faced any opposition whatsoever. Until Panyako made this illegal application, three days to the election, for purposes of theatrics and soliciting funds from politicians, no one had made any application to challenge the re-election of the leadership of Cotu.
Second, Panyako realising he doesn’t have any support from the registered Cotu affiliate unions, resorted to challenge the whole election process raising a number of questions.
In the beginning, and before Panyako wrote to show interest in the position of secretary-general, he was hell-bent on stopping the 14th Cotu quinquennial conference that was scheduled to take place at Tom Mboya Labour College on Saturday. First, he claimed that the elections were illegal citing a flimsy and frivolous claim that the five years’ period had not lapsed.
Thereafter, he moved to court to stop the poll, a wish the court never granted him, which is why the elections took place uninterrupted.
Third is the fact that Panyako did not attend the Governing Council, Cotu’s supreme organ, where the election took place. Unknown to many, his union, KNUN, has never conducted any credible elections supervised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection like other Cotu affiliate unions. Cotu is in possession of numerous petitions by members of KNUN on how democracy has been stifled by him and how the selection at the said union is killing this otherwise good union.
On the contrary, all other Cotu affiliate unions conducted branch and national elections under the strict supervision of the Ministry of Labour and in adherence with their constitutions.
For instance, Mr Atwoli was elected as the General Secretary of the giant Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union in a free and fair election that took place in February.
It seems it is only news when elections are marred with violence and conflicts. In the mind of a typical Kenyan, an election has only taken place if a conflict occurs. But the good news is that the labour movement in Kenya has come of age and there is a lot of internal understanding and union democracy.
In fact, I would like to liken many elections within the labour movement to what political scientists refer to as negotiated democracy. The recently concluded senatorial election in Garissa County serves as a demonstration that there need not be a lack of understanding for elections to have taken place.
Cotu, therefore, would like to clarify that Panyako was neither barred nor stopped from contesting in the recently concluded elections. He was just on a theatrical mission to gain cheap publicity.
Francis Atwoli, Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu)