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Unions To Pick New Cotu Boss

The Daily Nation, 8 March 2001

A date has been set for elections which will give Kenya's umbrella workers' body a new leadership.

Registrar-general Omondi Mbago yesterday directed the Central Organisation of Trade Unions to hold its polls by September 30.

He also ordered registered trade unions - including those not affiliated to Cotu - to hold branch and national elections by April 30 and June 30.

The decision sets the stage for a bitter contest in the labour movement as Cotu secretary-general J.J. Mugalla - who has been at the helm since January, 1987 - will be stepping down.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers, the only trade union not affiliated to Cotu, is also covered by the government order.

Its secretary-general, Mr Ambrose Adongo, died last Friday and candidates for the seat will come out into the open after his burial on March 17.

Although the law requires trade unions to hold elections every five years, the new development apears aimed at keeping next year's calender free for the General Election campaigns.

Mr Mbago, who is also charged with ensuring that all registered political parties hold elections and make returns on time, did not extend his driective to political parties.

Intense lobbying for Cotu's top seat is expected to begin immediately as Mr Mugalla, who is also MP for Ikolomani, has publicly stated that he will not defend the seat.

Mr Mugalla led a faction of trade unionists to victory for a second term in August 1996 against a group led by Mr Wilson Makumi.

Yesterday Mr Mbago asked the unions to stick to the timetable and ensure that the elections are supervised by Labour Ministry officials.

The unions were also asked to elect executive committee and central council officials, and forward the names to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

Some unions are beset by internal wrangling over the appointment of committee members.

Mr Mbago told unions to ensure such officials are elected union members. "For the purpose of the (Trade Unions) Act, a member of the Executive

Committee is an officer of a trade union," he said. Labour Minister Joseph Ngutu later addressed a press conference later on the same issue.

Mr Mugalla's withdrawal leaves Deputy Secretary-General Boniface Munyao and chairman-general Peter Muthee, who is also secretary- general of the

Kenya Railway Workers Union, as the likely contenders for the top post.

But also interested are the Kenya Guards and Allied Workers Union chairman Joseph Mujema and the the National Chairman of the Kenya Union of Journalists, Mr Ezekiel Mutua.

Campaigns for union leadership in the country have in the past been marked by intense lobbying and occasional violence.

Holding trade union polls in the same year as the General Election would not only present serious logistical problems, but would also increase the security faced by the government.

Cotu has lately come under scathing criticism from some of its affiliates, who claim it is dormant.

Critics say its top leaders are aged and have lost touch with the new generation of workers and modern trends in industrial relations.

Cotu is grappling with serious financial difficulties. It owes its employees at Tom Mboya labour college a lot of money in unpaid salaries.

Three senior officials of Cotu have sued the organisation for failing to pay over Sh4,578,370 in workers' wages.

Copyright 2001 The Daily Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).