News Analysis By Leo Odera Omolo In Kericho Town
The British multinational tea companies operating in Kericho and Bomet Counties in the Republic of Kenya whose 99 land lease has already expired should not be pushed out of their property, but they should be compelled to donate several hundreds of acres back to the community for the use in establishing essential public utilities projects.
Owing to the fact that the land in the rural locations in the two counties has become too congested and over populated, there are no space for the establishment of important public utilities such as hospitals and universities as well as other institutions of higher learning, therefore some parts of the land on which the tea plantations and factories stand on should revert to the community which were the original owners of the land.
These were the sentiments expressed by a prominent Kericho politician William Kepkemoi Arap Kettienya who reminded the multinational tea companies land that was forcefully seized from its original owners by the colonialists at the turn of the 20th century. Its lease has since expired but the locals live in densely populated rural community reserve land which can no longer be used in establishing socio economic projects such as hospitals and universities, which requires hundreds of acres of land space.
Kericho and Bomet housed more than 45 large tea estates and over 30 tea green leaves processing factories employing over 40,000 work force.
Keiitanya was reacting to a newspaper report which quoted leaders and politicians in the neighboring Nandi County who had called on tea farms whose land lease have expired to return the parcel to the original owners of the land and at the same time restore it to its form it had when the land was taken by force by the colonial authorities and distributed to the white settlers for tea plantation.
There are more than 30 large scale tea plantations for processing factories operating in both North and south Nandi. Key county leaders were amplifying what the Mps from the region had demanded.
Like in Kericho, Bomet counties, the tea farms operating in the region are owned by the British farms and individuals.
The Mps want the ownership of potrate of land used by British multi national companies reverted to the community. However, the leaders of Nandi county are not advancing the proposal that the land be sub-divided, hut will hold them in trust on behalf of the community.
The Nandi county leaders under the governor Cleophas Lagat is in total agreement with the Mps on the contentive issues is now backing the proposal hailed by the Mps and senator Stephen sang, Mrs. Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), Nandi women rep. Zipora Kurgat , Alex Kosgei (bumugwen), Julias Meli (tindieret), Julius bitok (mosop) lejah lagat(ge) and Oscar sudi.
According to Mr. sang, their man is to give legal community ownership of land and not necessarily to interfere with the manners and the management of the tea firms
‘’we would like to make it clear that we are not trying to stage the kind of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe style of farm takeover Of more companies, but rather empower the local community ownership and not necessarily interfere with owners and management of tea companies, but rather empower the local to be held in trust by the county government”.
There are more than 20 tea estates and factories in the Nandi Hills sub-county of the Nandi county, situated in the western part of the Rift valley.
The companies include George William’s and Eastern province of Kenya, Kepchono, kapchorwa, Koisagat, Sivet, kirkarus ,Nandi Hills Tea Company and others. These companies have employed up to 350000 workers directly and indirectly.
The issues surrounding the lease of the land on which tea estate and factories stand. On has remained the thorniest issue ever since 1996, When some leaders in Kericho and Bomet demanded that the land should revert to its original owners.
Thousands of rural communities previously occupying the land were forcefully removed from their property at gun point and consigned to to drought strickened and unproductive areas at the tune of the 20 century to pave the way for the introduction of tea bushes in the region which began in the early 1910 and 1922.
Some of the British multinational tea companies at one time were forced to disclose that their property land leased was not for the 99 years, but for the 999 years. This stunned and those advocating for the land to revert to its original owners/ The Kenya government made no comment on these claims.
Major tea companies operating in Kericho and Bomet Counties include james Finlays a Scotish firm, which is also of late involved in the production of cut fliers for reports. There are also other firms owned by individuals and companies in the region. They bringing the employment of the labour force in the regions to a total of about 40,000
However, the recent introduction of mechanized tea plucking machines saw a large number o0f workers being declared redundant and sent home. This has reduced the number of workers in the tea company drastically almost by half.