Governor wants police probed over attacks during invasion of tea farms by residents

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai when he appeared before Senate Committee on County Public Investments and Special Funds at KICC in Nairobi on March 14, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai has petitioned the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) to investigate alleged atrocities committed by the police during the invasion of multinational tea companies by residents.

The governor said he is working with leaders from Bomet County to get justice for those affected.

He said they have asked IPOA to carry out thorough investigations into the arrest, alleged torture of innocent people, and the raping of women.

"Leaders of Kericho and Bomet have agreed to invite IPOA to investigate the alleged atrocities committed by the police during the crackdown on those who torched tea plucking machines and police vehicles at Kimugu and Chepchabas," Dr Mutai said.

He claimed that police used excessive force while dispersing demonstrators at Brooke Trading Centre who invaded Ketepa head office, stole tea leaves and vandalized ATM machines.

The residents were protesting against the use of tea-plucking machines by multinational tea companies in Kericho and Bomet counties which have rendered my people jobless.

Several leaders in Kericho, Nandi, and Bomet counties, the major tea growing areas, have openly opposed mechanization of the sector saying it has led to job losses.

But while the leaders and residents are concerned about job losses, multinational tea companies say they are saving costs through mechanisation.

Workers use a tea picking machine to harvest the produce in Nandi Hills, Nandi County. Residents of tea-growing regions have opposed the mechanization of tea harvesting over job losses. [File, Standard]

Dr Mutai has dismissed claims his fight against the mechanisation of tea harvesting is targeting major investors in order to take over the huge parcels of land they occupy.

“We don't want to kick them out, that is not our intention. However, we must have a dialogue on the utilization of the farms and their benefits to residents. They are profiteering enterprises in the middle of thousands of poor communities,” said Mutai.

He said all they want is for the multinationals to be guided by the prevailing economic realities in the country.

"These companies had invested in other more developed countries but were driven out when they attempted to introduce the machines. Our economy is still growing and we have to protect every available job,” said Mutai.

The governor said multinational tea companies' insensitivity to local communities is to blame for their woes. "There should be a balance to ensure everyone benefits," said Mutai.