Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary general, Francis Atwoli is known as a no-nonsense man who speaks with a lot of energy and conviction. But beyond that is a loving man who attended to house chores as a young husband and a provider who cannot allow his wife to spend her money on the family, as his daughter, Julia Atwoli reveals
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Julia Atwoli, aged 36 and daughter to Francis Atwoli. I’m a mother of two. I work at the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) as the Communications and Public Education Manager. I hold a Master’s Degree in International Conflict Management Administration and degree in Communication and Sociology. I am currently pursuing my PhD in Public Policy.
How can you describe your father?
First of all, my dad is a family man and what he believes in greatly is providing for his family. I can tell you for instance, my mother has been working throughout her life, but that’s her money.
Dad has never ever allowed her to spend a single dime to support the family. Can you believe that up to this point, he is the one who is still paying for my school fees?
What if you were to describe him in one word?
He is a philanthropist. He believes that those who give always receive, and it is something that he keeps instilling in all of us.
Let’s talk about your family at large.
We are a family of many and dad knows better than I do. Among the many siblings, I have two brothers who are doctors, one who is an advocate of the high court and the rest are senior officers in government parastatals.
Still on that point, he is never shy to say that he has over 15 children. How is that?
Since our childhood, dad has been taking care of many children. So, he is the only one who can shed light on the matter.
Tell us about your mother?
Her name is Jennifer Atwoli and she used to work for Telkom Kenya, but resigned in 2007 to become a businesswoman. She is 57 years old. Currently, she runs a beverage wholesale business and at the same, she has several rental houses in Kisumu.
What are some of the best childhood memories you have of your father?
We grew up in Eastleigh, Nairobi. My mum was a busy career woman and sometimes she used to work on night shift. Dad used to drop and pick us from school.
He would go ahead and cook us dinner and even bathe all of us. Sometimes he would treat us to a trip where he would explain all landscapes and natural features on the way. That is still one of our hobbies as a family.
So, what kind of a husband is he to your mother?
He is the kind that believes a woman is a support system and should be well kept by her man. This is exactly what he is to our mother and they have been married for 37 years now. There is a time she suffered from arthritis and she could barely walk. My dad personally took her to India for treatment. Though currently, she resides upcountry, they are so tight.
Your father has been on record a lot of times saying that men need to have more than two wives, citing that women are too many. What is your take?
Dad has his reasons for supporting that. But here we disagree. I do not support polygamy.
During the doctors’ strike, your father implicated your brother, Lukoye Atwoli for what he termed as frustrating the negotiations between the government and the doctors. What was happening at home then?
(Laughs) Lukoye and dad are best friends. In fact, he is his favourite, and during that period, they would actually laugh and meet up as usual. The thing is, my dad is free spirited and he allows us to have different opinions. So, it was just a case of father and son having different ideologies.
He travels a lot and has been in the union for quite a long time. What was the most challenging thing for the family when you were younger?
When he became a champion for workers’ rights, his busy schedule used to be the main issue and we would rarely see him at home. That’s the case even today. But when he is around, all his children and 17 grandchildren meet over a barbeque at home.
Do you think we could see him vie for a political seat anytime soon given his vocal nature?
No. He first contested for Butere parliamentary seat in 1992 against Martin Shikuku, but Shikuku won. In 1997, he also vied against Harrison Odongo for Khwisero parliamentary seat, but lost. From then, he surrendered and said he will not ever try again.
Last September, your father marked 50 years in trade unionism. What is one achievement that the family can take pride in?
When he was elected general secretary of the Kenya Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union in 1992. It is this achievement that enabled him to vie for a Cotu position.
Your father is always spotted in gold ornaments. Has this been his thing?
My father loves himself and further loves good things in life. He has several gold chains, bracelets and watches. He also owns a Mercedes Benz, S300 model, one of its kind in Kenya. One remarkable feature of the vehicle was that it changed colour according to the weather. That is how much he loves to reward himself.
What is it that many people do not know about him?
Not picking up his call is a crime. He never expects any of his calls to go unanswered and for that he bought each of us an extra phone just in case the other goes off, so that he can always reach us.