Drama unfolded at the Ragati Tea Factory in Mathira, Nyeri County, on Monday when former directors ousted in outgoing reforms stormed the premises and declared themselves the legitimate officials.
But their action was immediately dismissed by the current board of directors as an illegality that they vowed to counter.
The former team, led by ousted chairman Eustace Karanja, stormed the factory at around 9am, called a meeting of senior managers and declared that they had taken over the directorship of the factory and all staff should be answerable to them.
Speaking to Nation.Africa by phone, Mr Karanja, a onetime director of what is now called the Kenya Tea Development Agency, claimed he and other directors were ousted illegally and forcibly and that they were resuming work “to establish law and order”.
He claimed they were the bona fide directors and that there had been a number of court orders requiring the factory to reinstate them but they had been ignored.
The former directors were ousted following elections ordered by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya two years ago, who said reforms in the tea sector had saved the factory from imminent collapse.
Mr Munya said cartels had a chokehold on the tea sector and would have drained all life from it were it not for the government’s intervention.
The former directors had left the factory by the time Nation.Africa visited at midday, but they pinned a memo on the notice board saying they had taken over the running of the factory as the “lawfully elected directors” and asked the staff to cooperate.
The notice said: “The lawfully elected directors of the company have resumed their lawful duties, and will ensure that court orders are respected and obeyed. Members of staff are asked to cooperate and they have nothing to fear.”
But current board chairman John Muriuki Kareu dismissed the action as null and void, saying they are the bona fide directors lawfully elected by shareholders.
Mr Kareu threatened to mobilise shareholders to kick the “imposters” out of office if they insisted on taking over, saying the former officials only had a letter from a lawyer but did not have a court order for their purported reinstatement.
“This is a group that was ousted by the farmers two years ago. What they had is just a letter from their lawyer which they claimed was a court order. We have not been served with any order. As far as we are concerned, they are engaging in an illegality,” Mr Kareu said.
Mr Munya, in his numerous meetings with tea farmers, said some unscrupulous dealers made enormous profits as farmers were left languishing in debt and poverty. He cited the Mombasa tea auction, which he said was controlled by cartels that colluded with KTDA officials to have tea sold directly to buyers.
Mr Munya said that though tea prices in the international market were still high, one wondered why money paid to farmers continued to decline, a situation he attributed to interference from cartels.
The former directors’ action sparked anger among some farmers, who asked fellow growers to continue supporting the government in its bid to restructure the agricultural sector that has been ailing for decades.
Mr Joe Wanjau said farmers need to support directors who will continue supporting the reforms and shun those who could reverse the gains.
“If the leadership wrangles remerge in the tea sector, there is a possibility of instability and all the gains made will be reversed. Farmers have enjoyed enhanced tea prices and bonuses after the reforms. With imminent instability creeping in, this could mark the beginning of the end of this industry,” he said.