Repossess tea farms, NLC tells Kericho and Bomet

Wants leases shortened from 999 years to 99, rates raised, firms to provide public utilities to communities

In Summary

• Governors Paul Chepkwony (Kericho) and Bomet counterpart Joyce Laboso have already begun repossessing  land 

• They want compensation from the British government on behalf of Kipsigis clans who were forced out by white settlers  between 1920 and 1924

A tea estate in Bomet owned by a multinational company
WHOSE CUP OF TEA? A tea estate in Bomet owned by a multinational company
Image: Felix Kipkemoi

White farmers are anxious after the National Land Commission ordered a survey of tea farms in Bomet and Kericho with a view to shortening leases and increasing rates.

Multinationals companies have denied claims that they own as many as 200,000 hectares of tea farms in the two counties. They have said they own only 89,000 hectares.

On March 1, the National Land Commission also ordered that vast tea estates be reverted back to and held in trust for the community by the two counties as public resources.

The commission wants 999-year leases converted to the constitutional requirement of 99-year maximum leases.

“The county governments and the multinationals should sign a memorandum of understanding for the multinationals to provide public utilities for the community,” the commission said.

But the multinationals, through their Kenya Tea Growers Association, say the decision by the NLC offends principles of natural justice as the commission did not afford them an opportunity to be heard or notify of them of claims made by the counties.

The firms say that if the matter is not urgently heard, the NLC recommendations will be carried out and they will lose their properties,  incurring irreparable harm, loss, and damage.

They claim they contribute significantly to the Kenyan economy through international tea exports, which is a major foreign exchange earner.

“The applicants purchase and process green leaves from approximately 26,191 registered smallholder farmers. In 2018 paid they paid Sh3,462, 380, 854 to them…it also paid Sh 44,071, 666 inland rates to Kericho, Bomet and Nyamira counties and Sh 1, 715,609,714 in taxes to the national government,” the association says.

Kericho GovernorPaul Chepkwony (Kericho) and his Bomet counterpart Joyce Laboso have already begun the process of repossessing the lands and seeking compensation from the British government for injustices and atrocities inflicted on their people by white settlers.

They are pursuing compensation on behalf of Kipsigis and Talai clans forced off their land by the settlers between 1920 and 1924.

In the stringent guidelines contained in a gazette notice, the NLC commission recommended that rates and rents of such land be enhanced to benefit national and county governments.

During a recent meeting with MCAs, Laboso said she would soon be dispatching a team of surveyors to establish the exact acreage of the tea farms owned by James Finlay, Unilever, George Williamson and Sotik highlands.

Lawyer Kimutai Bosek, representing the two counties, expressed optimism that the British government would yield to their demands.

Bosek said they will use alternative dispute resolutions mechanisms in pursuing compensation 

"The British government must humble itself and agree to pay for the damages…our people suffered greatly; they are now poor after being flushed out of their lands, their houses torched and animals were taken away,”  Bosek said.

(Edited by Pamela Wanambisi)