From Saul to Paul, Francis Atwoli eats a humble pie

Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli.

Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli.

Photo credit: John Nyaga | Nation Media Group

Fierce, menacing and strong-willed are just some of the words that come close to describing Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary-general Francis Atwoli.

The 73-year-old minces no words and often does not have a reverse gear once he spots a prey; he always pounces and devours them with not-so-kind words.

This week, nonetheless, the veteran trade unionist ate the humble pie, cutting a subdued figure and lacking his usual exuberance, noting President-elect William Ruto outsmarted Azimio.

The Supreme Court had just upheld the August 15 declaration by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that Mr Ruto – a man he has had a long-running feud with and opposed his presidential bid – was the President-elect.

Looked humbled

Addressing the press, the septuagenarian looked humbled and a pale shadow of his ferocious self as he congratulated Dr Ruto.

If Saul (Paul) was alive, he would be proud to witness yet another “Damascus” moment with Brother Atwoli playing a starring role.

The ODM leader Raila Odinga die-hard changed tune, denying having said that Dr Ruto cannot become a president.

“William is an articulate politician and that is what I was saying. But as I had envisaged that he can become the president of the republic of Kenya. I did not say he cannot become the President. He is the president and I am urging all Kenyans to rally behind him and give him an opportunity to form his government,” said Mr Atwoli.

The quick about-turn and change of tune can only be summarised by the popular lingo: “Mr Atwoli ashaoga haraka na kurudi soko”. In other words, he has cleaned up himself and returned to the market.

Accept the outcome

Granted, he has now urged Kenyans still in denial of Dr Ruto’s win to accept the outcome, even confirming he will be attending the Tuesday swearing-in ceremony at Kasarani.

“We thought (Mr Odinga’s Azimio) we had won since many people were clapping for us but God had his plans, even though we had our own. Ruto’s skills in the game gave him the position. Ruto is now our father and we have to accept,” he said.

But to say that the Cotu boss and Dr Ruto have no love lost between them would be an understatement. In fact, the two have not been seeing eye-to-eye for many years.

Verbal sparring

The two have been involved in verbal sparring at every turn since 2014 with the situation getting murkier in the lead up to the August 9 elections.

Mr Atwoli has been a fierce critic of Dr Ruto since 2014 to the extent of going public about the chances of the UDA leader ascending to the helm of Kenya’s leadership.

In 2019, he said Dr Ruto will never lead the country and in fact, his name will not even be on the presidential ballot claiming that issues of integrity surrounding his nemesis will deny him the chance.

“Ruto will never lead Kenya. We shall have a president in 2022, but it will not be William Ruto,” said the Cotu boss. “If issues of integrity surrounding William Samoei Ruto were followed and checked, he would not have been allowed to be on the ballot.”

Dr Ruto would also respond by calling the trade unionist “stupid old man” or “mzee yule wa kuvaa nyororo (old man who wears chains)”.

But as the August 9 polls drew closer, the larger-than-life trade unionist would coin popular phrases including “kata miti Sugoi”, “zoea hiyo sauti” and “in whose hands are we safe?” all of which were rallying cries against a Ruto presidency.

“Those close to Ruto in Sugoi should cut down trees as that boy (Ruto) might commit suicide after announcement of presidential results,” he would proclaim in rallies.

Reminded of his words, Atwoli only muttered. “That was part of our campaign tools and those are things that happen in any democracy.”