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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 10 August 2014

STAGE SET FOR EXPROPRIATION OF TEA FARMS FROM BRITS




The future of the multi-national British companies which own tea plantations and factories in Kenya is looking rather bleak following intensified demands by natives on whose ancestral land the companies were built nearly a century ago, for compensation and the sharing of the billions of shillings profits accrued annually.

Most of the tea plantations and green leaves processing factories are located in the South Rift counties of Kericho and Bomet, and also in the North Rift county of Nandi.
Last week, Kericho county government launched fresh demands that members of the Kipsigis andTalai communities who were driven out of their ancestral land on which the tea plantations and factories were established at the beginning of the 20th century should be compensated by the British government for the atrocities and grave mistakes which its colonial administration in Kenya did to the communities.


Members of the Kericho County Assembly raised the issue during a stormy and heated debate. The MCAs said they were pursuing the British government to compensate thousands of members of the Kipsigis and the Talai communities for the land lost due to forcible acquisition for tea plantations during the colonial era.

Similar demands had earlier been raised by members of parliament representing various constituencies in Nandi county. There are close to 40 large scale tea plantations and close to 30 green leaves tea processing factories in the South Rift regions of Kericho and Bomet counties. And in the North Rift county of Nandi, there are about 20 tea estates and 15 factories, all located in the Nandi Hills sub-county.

Addressing newsmen at a hotel in Kericho town, Governor Paul Chepkwony disclosed that he had already instructed the procurement department of his government to hire lawyers to pursue the matter.

The move came after members of the Kericho county assembly unanimously approved a motion to ask the British government for compensation for the communal land which was taken away at gunpoint from the locals by the colonial administration police force. They forced the natives to relocate to the remote and semi-arid land in Bomet and Belgut to facilitate space for the establishment of tea plantations and factories.

Chepkwony said the matter was well covered in the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report and that it is going to be the second case after one launched  by the Mau Mau war veterans by Kenyans seeking compensation from the British government. The MCAs also asked Queen Elizabeth to apologise to the families of the Kipsigis who were the victims of injustice committed by the British colonial power in Kenya.
The settlers who pioneered tea growing in Kenya were mainly ex-soldiers and veteran of the First World War who fought the Germans in the East African campaign. They had started the experiment tea crop planting in 1910 when they were given land which was grabbed from the Kipsigis and Talais.

Members of the Talai sub-clan numbering about 2,000 families were later in 1934 banished and exiled to the remotest areas of Gwassi Hills in Suba region of South Nyanza under the hastily introduced Laibon Ordinance Bill introduced into the white settlers-dominated colonial Legislative Council in 1933 on suspicion that they were mobilising a rebellion by the native communities against the acquisition of their land for tea plantations against the white settlers.

The pioneer white settlers after having acquired large tracts of the fertile highland had imported the seedlings of the tea crops from India and Ceylon and the tea planting began in earnest between 1920 and 1926.
After seizing the Kipsigis land, the new white settlers then named the tea estates after the names of the sub-clans whose ancestral land were grabbed. For example, Chomogonday Estate was named after the famous Kipsigis sub-clan called Kapchomogondek.

This is the clan of the late ex-Senior Chief Cheborge Arap Tengecha who ruled Bureti location with an iron fist for many years. The same with Kitumbe Estate (Kapkitumbe), Kapsongoi Estate (Kapkipsongoyiat), Kimugu Estate was named after River Kimugung that traverses the area through Kericho town  to Chemosit (Sondu-Miriu).

Governor Chepkwony told newsmen that experts will be hired to do evaluation in order to determine how much money should be paid to the natives in terms of compensation. The evaluation will be carried out in the thousands hectares of land currently owned by the two British multi-national tea and flower companies, namely Unilever and Finlays tea companies in Kericho and Bomet counties.

There are also a dozens of tea estates privately owned by individuals and smaller firms such as George Williamson Tea Estate, and Sotik Highland Tea Companies in Sotik. The family of the retired President Daniel Moi also owns Kaisugu Limited Tea Estate and a factory.

The governor explained that his government will also be seeking compensation and the sharing of profits received by the companies from the sales of the crops in line with tenant and landlord laws. He said the compensation was possible because the Kipsigis people are the rightful and legal owners of the land that benefits mainly foreigners. The sales of tea are raking close to Sh 35billion annually.