Wilson Sossion

Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion and Gender Violence Recovery Centre executive director Alberta Wambua address journalists at Knut House in Nairobi on September 22, 2020. The embattled union is headed for national elections next month.

| Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Disquiet in crisis-torn Knut ahead of national elections

What you need to know:

  • Polls come amid claims of state interference in union’s affairs.
  • At stake will be 11 seats in the National Steering Committee and 44 others in the National Executive Committee (NEC).

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) is headed for national elections that will define the future of the limping labour organisation that once commanded the following of all tutors and the government’s undivided attention.

The polls come amid claims of state interference in the affairs of the union and the shock resignation of its national treasurer, John Matiang’i, who was immediately posted to the Ministry of Education.

The union will convene its annual delegates conference (ADC) next month upon expiry of the 60-day notice given by Secretary General Wilson Sossion on April 22. The delegates have not met for two years, a situation that is blamed on lack of funds.

The cash-strapped union will now hold the mandatory elections with teachers keen on the shape relations with their employer, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), will take.

At stake will be 11 seats in the National Steering Committee and 44 others in the National Executive Committee (NEC). The national polls follow branch elections that have been running since March, with only the Mumias branch yet to go to the ballot. It will do so on May 15.

Knut, which has been at loggerheads with the TSC, was last week rocked by the sudden resignation of its treasurer for more than a decade, who was appointed as a deputy director in the Ministry of Education.

In a letter to the chair of the Public Service Commission, Education Cabinet Secretary, George Magoha, said Mr Matiang’i had requested to be transferred from the TSC and that the commission and the ministry did not have any objection.

Mr Matiang’i was being challenged in the forthcoming polls by his deputy, James Muuo Ndiku, who is now the acting treasurer. Two other candidates, Lucy Bwari Machuki (executive secretary, Gucha branch) and Kennedy Nyamwanda (chairman, Nyamira branch) have also declared interest in the position. Mr Sossion, who is being challenged for the secretary general’s position by acting chairperson Collins Hebry Oyuu and Kericho branch executive secretary Stanley Mutai, has accused the government of meddling in the elections.

“I can say without fear of contradiction that the state will be on the ballot in our election, it will be represented in the ADC. It is represented in our meetings through moles as it is keen on having puppets in the union’s leadership,” claimed Mr Sossion.

Gone without pay

His opponents accuse him of fuelling the deteriorating relations with TSC, which has seen members miss out on promotions and pay rises since July 2019 on the basis of a contentious court ruling.

Branch officials and employees have also gone without pay for months as income from members’ contributions continue to dwindle. At its strongest moment in June 2019, the union had 187,471 members who contributed Sh144 million monthly to run its affairs. In January, the union received only Sh15 million from 23,000 members.

Yesterday, Mr Sossion told Nation that the union is fundraising globally to finance the ADC, which, he said would require Sh100 million to host. He added that, apart from the elections, delegates will discuss the stalled negotiations with TSC for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The current deal, from which Knut members have been left out for two years, comes to an end at the end of next month. 

“Mr Sossion runs the union like a personal business. There is urgent need to restore relations with TSC and the government,” Mr Oyuu told Nation in an interview.

Mr Sossion and Mr Oyuu have been meeting delegates from different regions to win their support ahead of the ADC to be held on a date that is yet to be announced. Embu executive secretary Josephat Kathumi said the ADC will be “our last bullet that we will use to salvage the union from the hands of rogue officials.”

TSC has had its own change of guard and will have new commissioners negotiate with teachers’ unions after the appointment last week of Jamleck Muturi John as the new chair and Timon Alfred Otieno Oyucho as commissioner.

They will join Mr Mbange Njuguna and Ms Leila Abdi, who were appointed a year ago. The secretary of the commission is its CEO, Nancy Macharia.

During his vetting by the Education Committee of the National Assembly, Dr Muturi promised to mend relations with Knut as well as other unions.

“Strong unions and systems are very important and they enhance service delivery,” he told the MPs.


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