Kericho, Bomet locals make demands ahead of Lipton Teas and Infusions sale

Chagaik tea estate

Chagaik tea estate in Kericho County in May last year. The estate is among a number of others owned by Lipton Teas and Infusions (formerly Ekaterra), which is set to be acquired by Browns Investments Plc.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

As Sri Lankan firm Browns Investments Plc prepares to take over Lipton Teas and Infusions (formerly Ekaterra) estates, it inherits a range of unresolved issues with the local community in the South Rift region.

These include historical injustices, mechanisation-induced layoffs, and non-compliance with National Lands Commission (NLC) rulings on resurveying of land.

The Kericho and Bomet county governments are also pushing for transparency in lease agreements, increased land rates, and a larger share of the community endowment fund. They are also demanding a raise in the 15 per cent stake set aside for the community in the sale.

The acquisition, announced at State House Nairobi, includes 11 tea plantations and factories in Bomet, Kericho and Kiambu (Limuru) counties, as well as estates in Rwanda and Tanzania.

“Browns Plc is the perfect partner with credibility, capabilities and scale to work with us to raise standards in the whole tea industry,” Lipton Teas Chief Executive Officer Natahlie Roos said of the deal when it was announced on May 8.

Sinendet Cooperative Society

The Kipsigis Highlands Multipurpose Cooperative Society was allocated a 15 per cent stake. But local cooperative societies, represented by Sinendet Cooperative Society, a consortium of more than 10 societies, have protested the sale, arguing it lacks transparency and is skewed in favour of the multinational.

Mr Bernard Langat said there were plans to challenge the sale in court, revealing that the society had placed a bid on behalf of the local community.

“We have been instructed to move to court and challenge the sale with the Competition Authority and the United Nations Human Rights Council as the sale works against the rights of the indigenous people and the local communities,” Mr Langat said.

A recent meeting at Ekaterra’s International Training Centre in Kericho, attended by governors Hillary Barchok (Bomet) and Erick Mutai (Kericho), and Kericho senators Aaron Cheruiyot (Kericho) and Hillary Sigei led to the formation of a committee to spearhead discussions on the community’s stake in the sale.

The leaders also said that the Sh1 billion endowment fund was insufficient.

They expect a report by June 7, followed by public participation to get the community’s input.

Mr Cheruiyot, who is also the Kericho Senator, believes there is still an opportunity for the local community to secure a better package before the Competition Authority approves the deal.

Long-standing disputes

A petition filed at the Bomet County Assembly by members of the Kipsigis community, led by Mr Henry Belsoi, calls for the land to revert to the county governments to be held in trust for the locals.

The NLC has twice recommended that the land occupied by multinationals be resurveyed and excess land returned to the county governments.

Despite resistance from the companies, agreements have recently been made to involve the National Surveys of Kenya in resurveying the land to resolve the long-standing disputes.