Local Governments in Kenya Seek to Repossess Tea Lands from Multinationals

With a high altitude and virtually daily rains, Kericho is the centre of Kenya’s large tea industry. Some of the largest tea companies including Unilever Kenya (here on the photo), James Finlay and Williamson tea are based here. Photo: GettyImages.com

As the expiry date nears on 99-year tea estate leases, local counties in Kenya are refusing to renew and attempting to repossess thousands of acres of developed tea lands farmed by multinationals.

British multinationals working in colonial Kenya during the 1920s signed hundreds of leases that already have expired or will expire in the next three or four years. Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony and his counterpart in Nandi County notified multinationals two years ago the government will not renew these leases. Chepkwony went even further and said these companies cannot sell their land without redressing injustice including seizure of property dating to the time the leases were signed. Tea is the major crop in Nandi and Kericho counties where Unilever Kenya has the largest holdings.

Last week Nandi Governor Stephen Sang and Chepkwony called for the creation of public companies to manage developed tea land as leases expire. Sang raised his concerns with British Deputy High Commissioner Susie Kitchen who said the British government is committed to solving the dispute. Apologies are not enough, said Sang who supports eviction of companies on plantation lands originally held by the Kipsigis community.

Local governors say that residents of “Nandi, Bomet, and Kericho were forcibly evicted during the colonial era to pave way for the establishment of the multinational tea companies, according to reports published in The Nation.

Counties contend “locals continue to wallow in poverty more than 50 years since independence due to lack of natural resources which are being exploited by multinational companies. They accuse the foreign companies of shipping all the profits out of the country, leaving residents with nothing,” according to reports in the Daily Nation.

In his address Aug. 1, Sang said “it is unfortunate that the displaced families continue to live in deplorable conditions after they were evicted from their ancestral land and subjected to torture by the British colonialists in the process of establishing the multinational tea companies.”

In 2015 Del Monte, fearing the loss of millions invested in pineapple plantations in Murang’a and Kiambu counties, face similar demands and is fighting the process in the Environmental and Lands Court.

Attorney Njoroge Regeru, speaking for Del Monte, said “the arguments by these multinational companies are the same. The fact that some companies are multinational does not mean that they don’t have right over land. They too have a right to have their land leases renewed.”

Source: The Daily Nation