23 police officers injured in Ekaterra, Finlays farm invasions

General Service Unit officer on patrol in Brooke trading centre in Kericho County

General Service Unit officers on patrol at the Brooke trading centre in Kericho County on May 24, 2023, following demonstrations and the burning of tea-plucking machines at Ekaterra estates in the area. 

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Early this week, 14 police officers sustained injuries in a confrontation with demonstrators who torched nine machines and a tractor at Ekaterra's Chagaik and Kapgorech estates.
  • Of the 23 wounded police officers, two are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Kericho County Referral hospital.

At least 23 police officers have suffered serious injuries in clashes with people who have invaded multinational tea firms in Kericho and Bomet counties to illegally harvest green leaves.

Groups have, in the last one year, invaded Ekaterra and James Finlay tea estates in Bomet and Kericho counties, burning police cars, tea plucking machines and tractors, and injuring workers and security officers while seeking to illegally harvest green leaves, in protest against the mechanisation of processes in the plantations, which led to job losses.

Early this week, 14 police officers sustained injuries in a confrontation with demonstrators who torched nine machines and a tractor at Ekaterra's Chagaik and Kapgorech estates, opposite the Brooke trading centre in the outskirts of Kericho town.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki confirmed that on Monday alone, five police officers were injured in the incident at Brooke trading centre, but the numbers rose on Tuesday before more security officers were deployed to the area.

“Five police officers, a journalist and one youth were injured during the violent and unlawful protests (on Monday and Tuesday). Business was disrupted as well as traffic flow along the Nakuru-Kericho highway,” CS Kindiki said in a statement, the first from him since the chaos broke out after the August 2022 General Election.

“The National Police Service has rightfully and lawfully determined that the protests pose clear, present and imminent danger to public order. The violence, looting, burning and destruction of public and private property, disruption of daily activities and assaulting of security officers are criminal acts that must cease.”

Kericho: Irate members of the public torch tea plucking machines

He added that security agencies in Kericho and Bomet shall enforce the law firmly and decisively and apprehend all criminals “without fear, favour, ill will or affection”.

Senate majority leader Aaron Cheruiyot also confirmed the report on the 14 nijuries, following a security meeting at the Kericho ACK Hall on Tuesday, of leaders and administrators from Bomet and Kericho.

“We have been briefed and made to understand that 14 officers have been injured in the fracas. Two of them are in the ICU. We are calling upon our people to stop the violence, the invasion of tea estates and burning of machines,” he said.

Two weeks ago, a group of 14 police officers were attacked at James Finlay’s Chemasingi estate in Konoin. Six were seriously injured while one sustained deep panga cuts in the head.

A police vehicle was torched in an unprecedented incident that left residents in shock.

And on April 20, two police officers were attacked at James Finlay' tea estates in Konoin and another at Kapkelek in Belgut Constituency, Kericho county, as they repulsed a crowd that had staged an invasion.

Of the 23 wounded police officers, two are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Kericho County Referral hospital.

A police officer who was attacked when the chaos broke out last October, with the torching of 10 machines at Ekaterra in Belgut Constituency, Kericho, has since been released from the hospital’s ICU, but is being treated as an outpatient.

The three sustained deep panga cuts in their heads after being overpowered by a group that invaded the tea plantations and engaged in other criminal activities.

Operations halted

As a result of the chaos, the Kenya Tea Growers Association (KTGA), the umbrella body of the multinationals, large scale tea growers and local privately-owned factories, has asked President William Ruto to “intervene, restore security and assure local and foreign investors that property will be secured and a conducive environment to do business is provided by the government”.

“The prevailing security crisis demands immediate attention and comprehensive solutions. We appeal to the presidency and all relevant authorities to urgently intervene and take the required action to restore peace and stability in Kericho and Bomet,” Mr Silas Njibwakale, the KTGA chairman said.

Meanwhile, Ekaterra has announced the suspension of its operations, in what puts the jobs of 16,000 workers in the balance, while large scale plantations and tea processors have scaled down operations in solidarity with the company.

Kericho governor urges multinational tea companies to talk to locals to tackle insecurity

Mr Njibwakale, in the company of Ms Slyvia Ten Den, the Ekaterra managing director in charge of Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, announced at a press conference in Kericho that the suspension of operations will be in place until the government and all stakeholders address the insecurity issues.

"What began as daytime raids and the theft of tea leaves and machinery in October 2022 has escalated into organised assaults on business premises and the deliberate destruction of crucial assets" he said.

"Despite ongoing engagements with the county security teams, the interior ministry, local chiefs and elders, the situation has unfortunately worsened.”

Labour Cabinet Secretary Florence Bore noted the need to bring the chaos to an end and encourage dialogue on the prevailing labour issues.

“All the parties involved should come to a roundtable, hash out issues that have accelerated the conflict and enable quick resumption of operations in the estates,” Ms Bore said, adding the government will protect local and foreign investors.

She said workers will also be protected and all efforts made to ensure job opportunities are created by the players in the tea industry.

“Tea is a key foreign exchange earner for the country so we are keen, as a government and a ministry, to ensure stability prevails in the sector.”

Ainamoi MP Benjamin Langat also noted the need to end the violence that has taken an international dimension as the investors are from Britain, which is one of the key export markets for Kenya’s tea.

“It is unheard of for the Kipsigis people to defy law and order, attack police officers, invade and destroy private property, then barricade roads in the manner we have witnessed in the past few weeks,” Mr Langat said.

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan (centre) addresses journalists at the Kericho County headquarters following the arrest of suspects in an invasion at the Ekaterra tea farm.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

Many suspects arrested

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan announced on Thursday that six suspects have been arrested following the Monday incident and destruction of business premises at the Brooke trading centre, hours after nine tea-plucking machines were torched.

A leading supermarket chain in the region – Kipchimatt – had its glass wall shattered by stone throwing demonstrators, with the business community counting losses from the incident.

Most of the business premises have not re-opened while others are operating partially in fear of attack and looting by the youths following escalating insecurity.

Police conducted an all-night patrol in Kericho town and Brooke trading centre on Wednesday and Thursday in a bid to contain demonstrations and invasion of the tea plantations.

Kipchimatt Supermarket

Smashed windows at Kipchimatt Supermarket at the Brooke trading centre in the outskirts of Kericho town in this photo taken on May 24, 2023, following two days of demonstrations over the operations of multinational tea firms in the area,

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

After chairing a security meeting at the Kericho County Commissioner’s office, Dr Hassan said more suspects were being sought by security agencies in Bomet and Kericho, which have been the epicenters of the criminal activities for almost a year.

“Security will be beefed up in the region and all those involved in the criminal activities dealt with irrespective of their status in the society. I can assure you that we will smoke them out, round them up and deal with them in a manner they have never seen or imagined. Security will not be compromised” he said.

“When you invite the government to come after you, we will use all the force at our disposal to ensure that law and order is restored. We cannot allow insecurity to rise to this level. This must come to an end … it is not debatable. We must all respect and uphold the law.”

Dr Hassan’s tour of the region was preceded by the arrest of 46 suspects who torched a police vehicle at James Finlay’s estates in Bomet as security officers attempted to disperse them as they illegally harvested green tea leaves.

Bomet Police Commander Mathews Mabgira said more than 200 people attacked officers who were on patrol, injuring six of them and torching a police vehicle - a Toyota Landcruiser, registration GKB 980T. Two wheels and a battery were stolen.

“Two of the six police officers were rushed to Chebitet Health Centre and the Central Hospital, owned by Ekattera, before being transferred to the Kericho County Referral Hospital for specialized treatment,” Mr Mangira said.

He said the attackers were armed with crude weapons including stones, slingshots, pangas, catapults and wooden sticks, which forced the police officers to fire in the air and lob teargas canisters at them.

One of the invaders was hospitalised after a bullet ripped through his abdomen, narrowly missing the internal organs.

Two people have drowned at Itare and Chemosit rivers while escaping arrests, with at least four having sustained gunshot wounds.

In a bid to complement the security agencies’ efforts to end the criminal activities, leaders and management of the multinational tea companies have called for a roundtable meeting to find a win-win situation.