Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general Wilson Sossion leads the pack of trade unionists eyeing parliamentary seats in this year’s General Election, a move that could usher into the august House the largest number of workers’ advocates since independence.
Mr Sossion is joined by fellow secretary generals of key unions, Seth Panyako (Kenya National Union of Nurses), Tom Odege (Union of Kenya Civil Servants) and Roba Duba (Kenya County Government Workers) who are sweating it out on the ballot.
The four secretary generals have realistic chances of setting foot in the next parliament after clinching nomination tickets of the Orange Democratic Movement, which is popular in Western and Nyanza regions, where Mr Panyako is seeking a senatorial seat in Kakamega County as Mr Odege tries his luck for Nyatike parliamentary seat in Migori County.
Mr Duba, on the hand, is party leader of newly formed Frontier Alliance Party, which is popular in Marsabit County.
Mr Duba is seeking re-election as MP for Moyale.
And besides Mr Sossion, who is prioritised second in the ODM nomination list for the National Assembly, Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu) deputy secretary general Ernest Nadome features on Kanu nomination list.
The aforementioned are only but the bigwigs within the trade union angling for parliamentary seats, otherwise Cotu officials have confided to the Nation that a huge number of workers’ officials are lined up for elective posts from the county assemblies all the way to Senate.
In the outgoing Parliament, Mr Duba and former Kabete MP the late George Muchai were the high profile unionists.
The Kabete legislator, who was Cotu’s deputy boss, was, however, shot dead in February 2015 in Nairobi under controversial circumstances.
The transition of trade unionists to politics is neither a new phenomenon in Kenya nor the rest the world.
The pioneer secretary general of the umbrella body for trade unions in Kenya, then called Kenya Federation of Labour was, for instance, Tom Mboya – the flamboyant politician who became independent Kenya’s first Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Mboya helped to build the trade union movement in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and across Africa and also served as the Africa Representative to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
The political bug also caught up with Mboya’s deputy at KFL, Arthur Ochwada, who joined elective politics later in 1969 as MP for Busia Central, the present day Funyula constituency, in Busia county.
SERVED TWO TERMS
Ever since, leaders of the giant umbrella body have followed suit – with every secretary-general of Cotu plunging into politics.
Clement Lubembe, who succeeded Mboya, became MP for Ikolomani in 1974, as did his successor, Dennis Akumu, who served two terms as Nyakach MP between 1969-1974 and 1992-1997.
Juma Boy, who characteristically wore black leather jackets, was next in line and the gifted speaker too ended up as MP for Matuga.
He is the father of Boy Juma Boy, the Kwale county senator who died early this year.
Taking charge from Boy, Justus Mulei was, however, not as lucky as his predecessors. He failed to capture the Kitui North parliamentary seat.
SERVES LARGER CONSTITUENCY
But the next Cotu secretary-general, Joseph Jolly Mugalla, made it to parliament as well as MP for Ikolomani in 1997, before being edged out by Benjamin Magwaga.
The current Cotu boss Francis Atwoli, who unsuccessfully contested the Khwisero parliamentary seat in 2007, has since exhibited disinterest in vying for political office maintaining that he serves a larger constituency of Kenyan workers.
“I am humbled by the gesture of Kenyan workers, who have bestowed on me the responsibility to act as their servant and guardian on labour-related issues.
Together with a host of regional, continental and global responsibilities, I neither wish to be boxed in a specific constituency nor viewed through the prism of a particular outfit,” Mr Atwoli told the Nation, through his spokesman, Adams Barasa.
Instead, Mr Atwoli has over the last decade lobbied for nomination of trade unionists to parliament with a view to represent workers.
Indeed this effort has paid off courtesy of Article 97 (c) of the Constitution which now requires political parties to nominate 12 members to the National Assembly to represent special interests including the youth, persons with disabilities and workers.
Secretary General of Kenya Union of Journalists, Eric Oduor, explains that this time around the electoral body took initiative to meet union and political party officials to ratify an agreeable mode of the nomination listing.