North Rift politicians step up bid to control foreign tea estates

 tea plantation
A boda boda ferries passengers through a route in a tea plantation in Nandi County on January 14, 2014. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Counties in the Rift Valley have renewed their push for control of close to 45 large tea estates and 30 factories as most of the leases held by multinational corporations expire.

Governors Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu), his Nandi counterpart Stephen Sang and five Nandi MPs asked the State not to renew the leases so as to ensure the tea business reverts to the community. Governors of Kericho, Bomet and Kiambu have also made similar demands on leases recently.

Under the leasing regulations passed by the land ministry late last year, however, owners of large tracts of land can only lose their leases when the property is deemed idle or where the State has changed land use policy.

“We want the National Land Commission’s intervention to ensure expired land leases for the multinational tea companies are not renewed ... they must revert back to counties whose residents are the trustees,” said Governor Mandago. He also accused the multinationals of retaining “colonial rules” that require motorists passing through tea plantations to produce national identity cards as they pass through multiple barriers. “Multinational tea companies should not exploit Kenyans. They should do away with colonial laws which were established before year 1900 to limit free movement and travelling for Africans,” said Mr Mandago in Kapsabet on Sunday.

The two governors; and MPs Vincent Tuwei (Mosop), Julius Meli (Tindiret), Wilson Kogo (Chesumei), Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) and Aldai’s Cornelius Serem vowed to oppose any attempts by the tea companies to have their leases renewed.

There are more than 20 tea estates and factories in Nandi County, among them, George William’s, Kepchono, Kapchorwa, Koisagat, Sivet, Kirkarus and Nandi Hills Tea Company.

Nandi County Assembly for instance is seeking the intervention from the Senate to block the multinational tea companies in the country from having expired leases renewed. Counties from tea growing zones, especially Nandi and Kericho, have also been seeking compensation from the British government over massacres during the colonial period.

British government officials led by the Deputy High Commissioner Susie Kitchen two months ago held talks with both Mr Sang and Kericho his counterpart Paul Chepkwony on expired tea leases.

According to Mr Sang, local communities whose parents were evicted from land owned by the tea companies “live in miserable conditions and the county government is prepared to take up their cause to International Criminal Court.”