Senate piles pressure on tea multinationals

James Finlays Tea Estate in Kericho county. [File, Standard]

The Senate Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, and Human Rights has summoned senior multinational tea company managers over historical land injustices committed against members of the Talai clan and the Kipsigis community.

Ekattera, James Finlay, and George Williamson occupy an estimated 80,000 acres of land straddling Kericho and Bomet counties. Members of the Talai clan and Kipsigis community lay claim to the vast parcels.

The decision to summon the top managers comes days after the National Land Commission ordered that all 999-year-old land leases to multinational tea companies in Kericho, Bomet, and Nandi counties be converted to the constitutional requirement of 99 years.

NLC announced the decision in a Gazette notice No. 4512 dated April 6, 2023. The decision has brought joy to members of the Talai clan and the Kipsigis community, who have been fighting for years over historical land injustices.

The Commission gave the orders following an investigative hearing of historical land injustices complaints taken to NLC in 2017 by the county government of Kericho on behalf of the Talai clans and the Borowo and Kipsigis self-help groups versus the colonial government and the government of Kenya.

Senior managers 

Speaking during public hearings held in Kericho over the weekend, Justice, Legal Affairs, and Human Rights Committee Chairperson Senator Hillary Sigei, said members of the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA) are expected to appear Before Senate on April 27, this year, to respond to the charges labelled against the large-scale tea companies.

“Though we had summoned senior managers of the multinational tea firms to make their submission before the senate committee in our sessions held here in Kericho, they provided reasons they can’t and requested they be accommodated on a later date,” he said.

He said the managers of the companies will appear before the Senate in Nairobi and present their submissions on the land and other matters raised. “Much as we ceded to their request, we now expect them to travel to Nairobi to appear before the Senate to present their submission on the land and other matters raised by the claimants. We will be waiting to hear their submissions,” he added.

The Senate held public hearings in Kericho after area Senator Aaron Cheruiyot presented to the Senate a petition by the Kipsigis Community Clans Organisation regarding historical land injustices by the British colonial government.

In his submission, David Tuwei, an author and member of the Talai clan told the committee that the British colonial government forcefully took away the Talai clan and Kipsigis community’s ancestral land during the colonial period.

“There was no compensation to the Kipsigis Community for the land taken for settlement by the British. Instead, the Kipsigis people became squatters and were forced to provide cheap labour to the British settlers,” he said.

Tuwei added that after the First World War, the colonial government forcefully evicted the Kipsigis Community from their ancestral land around Kericho, Kerenga, and Tagabi estates and the whole of the African highlands to give it to the British soldiers in the name of British East African Disabled Officers Colony.

“When Kenya gained independence in 1963, the land forcefully taken from the Kipsigis Community continued to be held and used by those who forcibly acquired it during the colonial administration,” he said.

Stanley Mutai, a member of the task force formed by Kericho Governor Erick Mutai to review the firm’s operations termed the mechanisation of tea harvesting by the companies as the ‘final eviction’ of local residents from setting their feet on the tea estates.

“60 years after independence, the multinational tea firms are still conducting brutal eviction of local communities. It is being done through the deployment of mechanisation in the tea plantations with little consideration of the descendant of the people who were forcefully evicted from their ancestral land 100 years ago,” he said. Mutai pointed out that the effects of mechanised tea harvesting machines were being felt through the stunted growth of trading centres such as Brooke, Kapsuser, including Kericho town.

Governor Mutai in a Gazette Notice dated October 2022, formed a task force to look into various issues and conduct an extensive review of multinationals and other tea sub-sector stakeholders in Kericho, Nandi and Bomet counties.

Among the recommendations made by the task force was the use of machines and tea workers in the farms. It recommended a ratio of 60:40 machine harvesting to hand plucking. It also recommended that land rates of Sh5,000 to Sh10,000 per acre be charged and reviewed as and when the time comes.

The report revealed that large-scale tea producers and other tea sub-sectors continue to pay the land rates at Sh1,600 as negotiated with the defunct County Council of Kipsigis and the Municipal Council of Kericho.

Kericho County Lands executive Brian Langat presented to the Senate Committee the county’s task force report whose key recommendations include the hiking of land rates paid by the multinational tea firms for an acre of land per annum from Sh1,300 to between Sh5,000 and 10,000.

The Kipsigis Community is seeking compensation and an apology from the British government for the damage caused by the forceful eviction from their ancestral land.

The committee is required to consider the petition and to table its report thereon by May 8. During the 12 Parliament, a similar petition was submitted to the Senate.