Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli is a fascinating man.
For a man who has not much college education or a rich pedigree to speak of, Atwoli is by every standard doing very well for himself. With just a good measure of self-assurance peppered with an embellished sense of himself, Atwoli has managed to scale dizzying heights of wealth, power and success, joining the citadel of the elite on the back of the poor workers whose rights he claims to advocate for.
A man with an impeccable sense of sartorial splendour — except for the litany of gold rings that choke his chubby fingers — Atwoli is not just an interesting man to look at but also captivating to listen to.
For a man who has managed to make Kenya’s Labour Day celebrations about himself, he has perfected the art of broadcasting his exceptionalism at every chance he gets — and two nights ago, in a much-talked about TV show, Atwoli was in his element.
I had never thought of writing about Atwoli until I watched the interview and it occurred to me that a man of Atwoli’s talents, verve and personality could perhaps be worth writing a column about, particularly regarding some two or three lessons we could glean from him. I have on several occasions here made crystal clear my respect for people who manage to succeed with little or no education or a college degree in a world that has over-glorified academic credentials. I am of the opinion that it takes a significant amount of grit, intellect and general cleverness for someone without much credentials to amass the influence of Atwoli’s magnitude.
So, that evening, as I was watching Mr Atwoli speak to an ever-giggly interviewer, I thought to myself, what amount of success could I possibly achieve if I had the confidence of this man?
The first lesson we could learn from Atwoli is that confidence is king. You would think that a man of Atwoli’s background would shy away from taking on jobs that he is perhaps too underqualified for, but obstacles seem to have never deterred Atwoli from gunning for top jobs, qualifications or not. That is the level of confidence we should all aspire to achieve.
Atwoli teaches us to just believe in yourself and do the damn job, it doesn’t matter if you are qualified or not. After all, motivational speakers will tell you “God does not call the qualified … he qualifies the called!’
Lesson number two we learn from the Cotu leader is to embrace who you are. Now I started reading from nondescript blogs that Mr Atwoli had apparently “demolished” another man’s home taking off with the other man’s wife. The bloggers might have thought they could embarrass Atwoli and his drop-dead gorgeous wife (who is also a journalist), but Atwoli handled it like a real man. He came out clean. He went on live TV to clear the air, to quash the rumours and said; Yes, I took on a third wife — to replace the second wife; yes I have 17 children (more on the way), and yes I am a polygamist, so deal with it.
From Atwoli, we could learn to be comfortable in our own skins; to embrace ourselves, our shortcomings, mistakes and missteps — and not to allow people to shame us for the decisions that we have made in life.
Now, by coming out in the open to declare his undying love for his wife, he has killed the rumour mill, silenced the critics and whoever has a problem with the thirty-something age gap between Atwoli and his new bride could take a long walk to China.
Last lesson we could learn from this man Atwoli is the value of personal branding. Labour day celebrations in Kenya are never complete without Atwoli’s grand entrance, long and dramatic speech, not to mention his purple shirt.
Labour Day in the country could easily pass for Atwoli’s birthday. He has created a larger-than-life profile around himself both locally and globally. Say what you like but we could learn something from Atwoli’s personal branding strategy. He teaches us to own our ambitions, to be present in the moment, to seize the day, to make the most of what we have, to squeeze every opportunity to its last drop and exhaust every prospect that comes our way. Harvard will never teach you that.
And that is the story of Francis Atwoli.
I can only wish him more wealth, success and of course a happy marriage to the newest Mrs Atwoli in town.