Assailants kill two guards, steal 200 bags of coffee in Meru

Coffee farmer

A coffee farmer picks the cherries in Nyeri County. 

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

Two night guards were killed and 200 bags of coffee estimated to be worth Sh7 million stolen from Mariene Coffee Factory in Imenti Central, Meru County on Thursday night amid calls for proper investigations to unravel the rampant crime.

Coffee theft has become a norm in the Mt Kenya region with several factories losing over Sh25 million worth of produce last year.

Thursday night's incident comes a month after one person was killed and three other factories lost more than 200 bags of coffee.

Meru Central Sub-county Police Commander Justin Njeru said police officers were at the scene investigating the incident.

Meru County Coffee Millers Cooperative Union chairman Zablon Mbaabu told the Nation that the gang first went to a house next to the factory, tied up one of the residents and gagged him.

"They gagged a man whose house is next to the factory to prevent him from raising the alarm. They then killed two night guards manning the factory and dumped their bodies in a nearby house. They cut through the factory fence near the house and started carting away the coffee," Mr Mbaabu said.

He said the incident, which happened at around 2am, appeared to have been well planned as the coffee was first stored at the nearby house before being loaded into a truck.

Organised criminal enterprise

"There seems to be an organised criminal enterprise that is outsmarting the security agencies. In all the cases of coffee theft, the police have never found a single suspect. Even though the Interior Cabinet Secretary, Kithure Kindiki, has promised that the police will protect coffee factories, nothing is happening," he lamented.

According to Mr Mbaabu, a coffee theft case that happened last year came close to catching the suspects, but the case stalled at the DCI.

"We managed to get a suspect but the police keep saying they are yet to collect data from the crime scene," said Mr Mbaabu.

Meru Central Coffee Cooperative Union chairman Ephantus Majau had earlier advised factory managers to increase security during the harvest season.

"We have also advised factory managers to ensure that as soon as the coffee beans are ready, they are immediately taken to a miller where there is security. The police should also be alerted to increase patrols," said Mr Majau.

Coffee association leaders are now calling for a thorough audit of cherry production in the country to identify the thieves.

"All estate farmers should be audited to see how much they can produce and what they deliver to the market. Since coffee hawking is banned, every player in the coffee auction must be able to explain the source of their produce," said Mr Mbaabu.