DCI summons UDA politicians, activists for interrogation over attack on tea firms

Kericho tea farm chaos

Protesters buried in smoke after police fired teargas to disperse them at the Brooke trading centre in Kericho on May 21. 

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has summoned a number of politicians and activists from the South Rift region for grilling on Monday, over the invasion of multinational tea companies and burning of tea plucking machines.

The politicians including at least five Members of Parliament, Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) and political activists, all of President William Ruto's United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, from Bomet and Kericho counties are set to appear before investigators to record statements at the Rift Valley Regional DCI offices in Nakuru City.

James Finlays Kenya and Ekaterra Plc are the most affected companies in the invasion of plantations, illegal harvesting of tea, and burning of plucking machines in what has seen a journalist and 23 police officers injured and more than five residents sustaining gunshot wounds.

Ekaterra Plc has since suspended operations in its estates over the rising insecurity that has put the jobs of 16,000 workers in jeopardy.

According to the DCI the cases of arson (of tea plucking machines) were under investigation and those summoned were expected to shed light on the matter.

“I have reason to believe that you are either connected with the said offence or have useful information that may assist us in our investigations,” the letter by the DCI reads in part.

Politicians and activists will be expected to record statements and provide more information on the allegations leveled against them.

“Failure to honour this summon will render you liable to prosecution under section 52 (2) of the National Police Act of 2011” the letter dated June 2, reads.

The summon comes two days after the Nation ran a story indicating that a Governor, two MPs and three MCAs are among those under investigation for the rising insecurity in the tea industry in the South Rift region.

One of the MPs who did not want to speak on the record, said he had been summoned to appear before the DCI offices in Nakuru.

“It is true that I have been summoned by the DCI and I will be appearing to state the facts as I know them since I have been one of those who have been preaching peace in the area since the cases of rising insecurity were reported,” the UDA MP said.

Kapsoit MCA Paul Chirchir alias Tarimbo and political activist Gilbert Kipkoech have since publicly confirmed that indeed they had a date with the investigators on Monday morning.

Mr Chirchir confirmed that he had been summoned alongside a section of elected and opinion leaders and WhatsApp groups’ administrators over the ongoing investigations in regards to the recent demonstrations against the multinationals at Brooke trading centre in the outskirts of Kericho town.

“I shall in the next few hours compile a list of those who were arrested by the police following the incident at Brooke. We shall demand their unconditional release, but in the meantime appeal to our professionals to offer legal representations…” Mr Chirchir wrote on his official social media pages.

Seemingly unrepentant, Mr Chirchir said the summons were “laced with political intimidation and blackmail” adding that he was committed to paying any price in the fight against historical injustices against members of the Kipsigis community.

Mr Chirchir claimed that the introduction of tea plucking machines by the companies without engaging the local community and their leaders were “ill-conceived, irregular and insensitive”

He stated that ownership of the estates has remained a thorny historical question with efforts by leaders and elders over the years to address it allegedly being shot down by the companies.

Mr Chirchir, an outspoken and often controversial politician, however, said there was room for negotiation and a peaceful resolution of the issues between the multinational tea companies and the local communities.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki was last week categorical that politicians and businessmen who have been fuelling the standoff will be dealt with as per the provisions of the law.

“Politicians involved in the incitement of locals to invade and destroy property in multinational tea companies in Kericho and Bomet will be arrested and prosecuted once the ongoing investigations are completed,” said Prof Kindiki.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot, Bomet Senator Hillary Sigei, Governors – Erick Mutai (Kericho), Hillary Barchok (Bomet), Bomet Deputy Governor Shadrack Rotich, Members of Parliament – Mr Benjamin Langat (Ainamoi), Mr Nelson Koech (Belgut), Mr Justus Kemei (Soin Sigowet) and a section of the Members of County Assemblies recently held a security meeting at ACK hall in Kericho town and made a raft of resolutions aimed at bringing to an end the rising insecurity in the region.

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan last week said the government would not spare politicians and businessmen who are involved in incitement that has jeopardized people’s lives and business enterprises.

“We cannot allow insecurity to rise to this level as we watch. This must come to an end and it is not debatable. We must all respect and uphold the law,” Dr Hassan said.

Despite the warning and ongoing security operations, insecurity has persisted in the area with a section of residents invading the estates to illegally harvest green tea leaves.

The cases are in Konoin, Bureti, Belgut, Ainamoi and Kipkelion West constituencies in Bomet and Kericho counties.