Chaos as Kericho residents torch tea plucking machines

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

What you need to know:

  • Angry youths accuse companies of pushing them out of their jobs.

The dispute between residents of the South Rift and multinational tea companies has worsened with the torching of green leaf plucking machines and trucks at Ekaterra company in Kericho County.

At least two mechanical machines, known as Valian, more than seven motorised hand machines and a tractor were torched by protesters on Kapgorech tea estate next to Brooke trading centre.

Five police officers and a journalist were injured by stones thrown at them, while one youth was reportedly injured and taken to hospital.

After torching the machines, they drove one of them to Brooke trading centre, more than four kilometres away, under the watchful eyes of the police, and torched it by the roadside after driving around in it.

Armed with crude weapons, they also drove off several cows belonging to the company's managers.

Hundreds of youths engaged in running battles with the police along the Nakuru-Kericho highway, disrupting business at Brooke trading centre for several hours.

There was a traffic jam on the highway as police tried in vain to clear the road as the crowd kept erecting barriers and changing positions on one side of the highway.

Residents of Kapsaos in Ainamoi Constituency had been demanding to be employed as tea pickers in the company for the past week, and had dropped leaflets in the area warning businessmen not to open shops.

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai tried to calm the protesters, but his vehicles were stoned by the mob. “Let us not take the law into our own hands but try to resolve the outstanding issues calmly,” Dr Mutai told the protesters.

Mr Peter Mutuma, the Kericho East sub-county police commander, said an assessment was being made and a statement would be issued later.

Late last year, 10 tea plucking machines were torched by residents protesting against job losses. For the past year, James Finlays and Ekaterra have been the target of illegal tea plucking by residents of Bomet and Kericho.

Yesterday's protests also followed similar protests last week when six police officers were seriously injured after being attacked by more than 200 youths who were illegally harvesting tea at James Finlay Kenya in Bomet.

Over the past six months, more than eight police officers have been attacked and injured by the youth illegally harvesting green leaves.

Two residents drowned in the Chemosit and Itare rivers in Kericho and Bomet respectively, while fleeing police who were evicting them from the property they had invaded. Last month, another officer sustained serious head injuries and was rushed to Kericho County Referral Hospital following a clash with youths who invaded the company's estates. One suspect is said to have drowned in Itare.