Of noisy reign and messy fall for Knut boss Sossion

Monday, September 2nd, 2019 12:00 |
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary general Wilson Sossion.

Barring a miracle, Wilson Sossion’s goose as Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) boss is cooked. Just like he led, the fall of the embattled and battle-hardened secretary-general of the giant union has been equally dramatic.

He really should have seen this coming. After all, he lived by the sword, cutting through anything and anybody who opposed his one-track view of reality.

The fires he lit over his six-year tenure have all come home to roost. He held two public offices. Only impunity of the highest order can make one believe they can so blatantly ignore the law- and get away with it. The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) brought that impunity to a halt when they deregistered him as a teacher, and the courts cemented the decision.

Then the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) happened. As the country closed ranks over the new curriculum to ensure it works for the sake of the country and her children, Sossion remained a disruptive and noisy opposing voice. That’s where he became isolated. 

The career progression guidelines (CPG) introduced by TSC has also seen teachers benefit massively from promotions and pay increases. For some reasons only known to him, Sossion was dead set against this.

As is he won't, he promised a strike if they were not withdrawn. TSC went to court, but the court ruled in favour of Sossion. He celebrated the victory wildly, not realising that this would be his biggest undoing. 

Piqued, TSC suspended the implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was the basis for the CPG for Knut members and stopped their pay rises. Teachers who were members of other unions and those not unionised enjoyed pay rises.  Panicked, Knut members are leaving the union in droves. 

TSC further refused to deduct and remit union dues to Knut from their members. This has brought the union to its knees, and it now faces imminent collapse. TSC has, with deadly force, demonstrated who holds the balance of power in this relationship! Things could not have been worse. 

As he stared at his Waterloo with teachers now baying for his blood, Sossion finally saw the light. “All grievances should be resolved in an amicable manner with a view to achieving sustainable industrial peace,” stated the former fire-eating firebrand. That light might have come too late. 

There are key lessons for trade union leaders to learn from this. 

Rabble rousing and disruption is a currency of operation that is past its sell-by date. 

The current trade union leader is a business manager well versed with the country’s body-politic and operates from a platform of extensive research, excellent negotiation skills and networking. 

Secondly, professionals (teachers, doctors, nurses etc) must demonstrate productivity. Union leaders of the professions cannot continue demanding pay rises in a vacuum. Neither can they stand in the way of demands for productivity by employers. Where is the money they are demanding to be paid going to come from?

Sossion has long fought the demand for performance contracts from the employer. This is a country where most schools perform dismally, and teachers’ work rate is poor, has depleted much of the goodwill and respect teachers used to enjoy among the public.

Neither can the courts and strikes be the platforms where you spend your entire energies, challenging anything and everything that does not conform to your jaundiced world view. Leadership is about consultations and compromises.  Fighting your employer day in day out cannot be a trade union leader’s forte!

Critically for any leader, arrogance, hubris, extremism and demagoguery will not get you very far. Finally, you find yourself alone and lonely, and that is the signal for the hounds to attack.

One man who must be smiling broadly right now is the former chairman of Knut, Mudzo Nzili. Nzili should have taken over as secretary-general in 2013, after acting for a stint. But Sossion trashed longstanding union traditions to shove Nzili out of the way, and ascend to the top position. 

He then engineered a “palace-coup” that saw Nzili controversially thrown out in the name of retirement in what was seen as caused by a political fallout. Truly, those who live by the sword. -— [email protected]

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