Intrigues that led to Ichoho's 'ouster' from KTDA's top seat

KTDA chairperson David Ichoho. He delivered a handwritten resignation dated July 11. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The ouster of Kenya Tea Development Agency Holding chairperson David Ichoho exposes a trail of political intrigues involving government and former KTDA directors.

After delivering a handwritten resignation note dated July 11, Ichoho rescinded his decision and rushed to court claiming external powers were on his neck forcing him to resign.

According to Ichoho some ‘external forces’ had teamed up with a section of members of the KTDA to plot his ‘unfair ouster’.

In a complaint to the High Court where he seeks the court’s urgency, Ichoho claims some members of the Executive are working with external powers to unfairly remove him.

“The respondents are acting on instructions from agencies not authorised to meddle in the affairs of the KTDA Holding Limited. The applicant has been forced to sign a resignation letter by the respondents,” reads part of the plaint lodged by lawyer Danson Ng’ang’a.

Ichoho further argues that he was not given any written notice or reasons for the intention of his removal, nor granted a fair hearing.

He said on July 11, 2023, the day he wrote the resignation letter, a special board meeting was held to review the resolutions of the Kericho Tea Conference but instead, it took a turn to deliberate on the issue of his removal from office, forcing him to resign.

High Court Judge Justice Jairus Ngaah ordered the matter to be mentioned on July 25.

According to Ichoho, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua who held a National Tea Sector Conference in Kericho last month might have a hand in his troubles.

During the forum, Gachagua is said to have admonished the current directors, accusing them of making unilateral foreign travels, a move that led to the reduction of tea farmers’ earnings.

“We will not allow the Agency’s management to make unilateral decisions in Nairobi anymore, especially regarding new projects worth billions of shillings. Small-scale tea farmers must be actively engaged in such decision-making processes,” said Gachagua.

The DP said among key reforms the Kenya Kwanza regime would focus on is full implementation of the Tea Act 2020 to enable smallholder tea farmers to benefit from the produce.

However, talking to The Sunday Standard on phone, Ichoho and some of the current directors claimed the intentions of the DP were more politically instigated than they were for the benefit of farmers.

They claimed the current office bearers have been labelled as pro-Azimio because they took office in the last regime. "I have been labelled as pro-Azimio simply because my team and I came in after Munya reforms. It’s just that; it has nothing to do with my performance, but let’s wait for court directions," he said.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua tours Samson Birgen's tea farm in Keben village, Belgut, Kericho County. [DPPS]

On his part, Maina Watai, a director at Chinga Tea Factory claimed the ousted directors who once stormed the KTDA headquarters had the blessing of the government operatives who wanted them out of the office.

“I happened to be at the headquarters and the former directors had State protection, they had even accessed the boardroom and started operations before we swung into action to stop them,” he said on phone.

He said part of Gachagua’s compromise with the former directors was for them to withdraw court cases while he would interfere with the KTDA elections calendar and hold elections earlier than scheduled.

“This is where the legal battle between the current directors and the government will start because we shall not allow them to interfere with our election calendar since the resolution was passed during our Annual General Meetings," he noted.

According to Watai, another stalemate in waiting is the plot by those seeking the ouster of the current directors for the tea farmers to revert to elections based on shareholding and not the one-man-one-vote system.

“We are privy to information that some people want us to revert to a shareholding mode of voting to block as many tea farmers from participating in voting in a bid to have specific outcomes of the elections, that we shall reject in court,” he added.

The current team of directors led by Ichoho was elected in June of 2021 in a poll that ended the 26-year reign of Peter Kanyango as KTDA chair.

Nyeri Tea Factories Company Secretary Patrick Ngunjiri has however differed with a section of directors accusing the Board of gravitating to the old status quo, a move he said led to the disillusionment of tea farmers.

“While I agree a new government wants to control the tea sector, the national board has dragged in implementing tea reforms, a move that has made farmers disgruntled," he said.

Ngunjiri said board changes are normal as long as they are done procedurally in accordance with the law.