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Home » Press Releases / News

Kericho Bend the Knee Ceremony

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bend-the-knee

An international symbolic “Bend the Knee” Ceremony will take place on Saturday, 8 August 2020 at 11am (EAT) outside Unilever Kenya HQ at Brookes, Nakuru Road in Kericho Town, Kenya.

A parallel commemoration took place in London entitled “Bend the Knee, Don’t Drink The Tea”. This symbolic action was held outside Unilever HQ at 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY, organised by Blaksox, the Society of Black Lawyers and Reparation Rebellion, on Friday 7th August at 11am.

In Kenya, the Ceremony will be led by His Excellency, the Governor of Kericho County, Professor Paul Chepkwony, with tribal elders of the Kipsigis and Talai people, to mark the theft of their land by white British settlers during colonialism, which has occurred since the Sotik Massacre of 1905. The Ceremony also recognizes the continuing illicit actions of the settlers’ modern-day multi-national corporate beneficiaries:

  • Unilever Tea Kenya Limited
  • James Finlay Tea / The Swire Group
  • George Williamson Tea
  • The Sotik Tea Company and
  • Sotik Highlands Tea

We are coming together to call on these British Multi-Nationals, to stop the brutal exploitation of Kenyan farmers working on tea plantations. Rates of pay and working conditions are abysmal. The workers on tea plantations providing tea for British breakfast tables, in what is a multi-million pound global industry, deserve much better pay and conditions. Most are paid less than $100 a month to pick 80kg a day, with pro-rata reductions in pay if they pick less.

In addition, British Multi-Nationals and their Kenyan subsidiaries are being called upon to implement the historic ruling of the Kenyan National Land Commission from 2019. This followed the filing of the claim by HE Gov Chepkwony in 2018 claiming restitution for the Kipsigis and Talai people, who suffered huge economic and social losses when their land was forcefully taken from them during the colonial era. The NLC ruling also recognized
the need for renewal of the leases and a resurvey of the land held by the Multi-Nationals, along with meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. British companies are seeking to legally challenge the return of land to Kenyan citizens, even as they fail to pay anything but peppercorn land rates.

Unilever has recently written to the Kenyan Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union stating its intention to sell to another Company all its tea plantations. We believe this to be just another business tactic by the multinational Unilever to avoid its historic and current responsibilities in relation to the Kenyan people.

Furthermore, HE Gov Chepkwony has lodged a full complaint before the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence and is lobbying for further action.

Similarly, in Kenya’s Laikipia County, where thousands of Masai people were forcibly removed in the 1940’s and 50’s by the British, forty-four Europeans now “own” some 40% of the land, they pay little or no taxes either in Kenya or the United Kingdom, according to sources at Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Her Majesties Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

British Members of Parliament supporting this campaign against historical and present injustices are MP’s Rt. Hon. Claudia Webbe and Rt. Hon. Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who both highlighted Kenya in their maiden speeches.

His Excellency, Professor Paul Chepkwony, Governor of Kericho County, stated:

Since the 1920’s white settlers, their descendants and now European owned multi
nationals and their subsidiaries own over 200,000 acres of land in Kericho and
Bomet County. They contribute nothing to local schools, hospitals or infrastructure
for communities and exploit plantation workers whilst reaping huge profits. We are
working tirelessly to end this historical injustice. Recently Unilever announced they
were intending to “sell” their tea plantations. In my letter to them, I demanded that
no sale can take place without the production of their title deeds to my office. I will
challenge them in Court to prove how it is possible for them to sell ‘stolen lands’.

The Rt. Hon. Claudia Webbe MP has commented:

As Africans in the Diaspora, we have chosen to stand in solidarity with the people
of Kenya whose history has been erased from the history books of both Kenya and
the United Kingdom, and to force the British multi nationals to abide by the laws of
Kenya. The theft of land in Kenya was all too often accompanied by a legacy of
brutality and exploitation, dating from colonial times, that continues to this day. All
over Kenya ethnic groups were forcibly removed from the best farmland, with no
compensation, and often left to starve on barren and unproductive land, never to
return. This was Kenya’s version of Bantustans and apartheid. This story must be
told.

The Rt. Hon. Bell Riberio Addy MP has stated:

Tea has long been the national drink of Britain. At the recent UK Africa Investment
Summit held in Africa held in January of this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson
said, ‘Half of all tea drunk in UK comes from Kenya…Britain without a nice cup of tea is
barely worth thinking about…nothing in Britain without Kenya is worth thinking
about…literally sustained, kept sane and rational throughout day by infusions of
Kenyan-supplied tea.’

While Britons enjoy a nice cup of tea, Kenyan farmers, tea plantation workers and
Kenyan citizens’ rights to their own land are being brutally exploited by companies
like Unilever. The colonial legacy of the British involvement in Kenya is shameful
and continues to this day. Unilever not only exploits the people of Kenya, it pollutes
the land and degrades the environment with its industrial farming and cash crop
economy.

I will be taking the knee, outside Unilever’s London headquarters in solidarity with
the Kenyan people who are demanding Unilever pay fair wages and implement the
recommendations of the Kenyan National Land Commission and return the tea
plantations to the people of Kenya.

Faith Alubbe, CEO of Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), commented:

Communities have a right to be included and fully consulted over any
developments on their localities. As much investments is progressive, inclusion of
impacted communities in decision making spaces is important. Structured
community benefit mechanisms should be put in place instead of the tokenistic
CSR approach currently employed by multi nationals and their subsidiaries. Public
participation is entrenched in our Kenyan Constitution and all subsidiary laws.
Communities have a right to a say.

Kenyan Historian, Godfrey Sang, stated:

The rolling tea plantations of Kericho and Bomet Counties hide a dark history of
ethnic cleansing, massacres and modern-day slavery. Land was stolen from local
people under the threat of force by the colonial militia and granted directly to British
colonials and their companies. Today much of that land is held by British multi
nationals like Unilever, James Finlay Tea, and George Williamson which pay little
or no taxes in either Kenya or the United Kingdom, and syphon their profits to
shadow companies in Switzerland and Belgium, and other tax havens in Europe
and beyond.

They also fix tea prices at the local Tea auction and this has helped impoverish
millions of Kenyan farmers. Besides reaping huge profits from the massive tea
plantations, these multi-nationals exploit local workers who are paid less than $100
per month, and who are housed in poor conditions with little investment in local
schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. They also massively pollute the local
environment, and fingers are pointing to them for the rising cases of cancer in the
South Rift.

Dr. Shem Ochuodho, President of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance, stated:

For Kenyans who live in the diaspora and at home, it pains us to see how our
country of origin is still often run for the benefit of the former colonialists. Neither
in Europe or North America do we see African ownership or enterprise permitted
on this scale. The continued presence of these exploitative British multi nationals
prevents Kenyans from benefitting from the fruits of their hard labour. The current
situation provides for the theft of Kenya’s largest cash crop, tea, that should benefit
all Kenyans and not serve to enrich absentee landlords or foreign shareholders.
This reality must change.

Mr Henry Belsoi, Tea Sector Consultant, explained:

There is a tendency of the local tea multi nationals companies operating in Bomet,
Kericho and Nandi Counties to perceive that the leases issued by the colonial
administration were automatically extended by the New Constitution 2010 for
another 99 years. This is against the spirit of the new constitution, which starts with
addressing ‘We the people of Kenya…’ Surely, continued extension of these
suspect leases totally undermines the purpose of enhancing the socio economic
development of the country.

There is evidence now of how these local tea Multi-National companies are
conducting unethical business practices, perennially declaring losses in their
financial statements and being used as ghost companies simply to siphon revenue
to the parent companies outside the jurisdiction of Kenya and probably even the
UK. The County Governments should audit these multi Nationals and question why
they can not even provide copies of their leases. The issuing authority of these
leases was the colonial government and thus as the national land commission
stated, they should have been surrendered after independence like all others, the
least that should happen is for a negotiated for renewal so as not to disrupt the
country’s competitive advantage as the leading export of the country, third largest
producer of tea in the world and the leading exporter of tea in the world.

For media and press enquires, contact:

Kenya.

HE Professor Paul Chepkwony, Kericho Governor: Governor@kericho.go.ke
Judge D Peter Herbert (retired): +254 742 101 877 pherb5law@aol.com
Ms Faith Alubbe, CEO Kenya Land Alliance: +254 726 601 079
Dr. Shem Ochuodho, President Kenyan Diaspora Alliance: +254 736 189 624
info@thediasporaportal.com
Dickson Sang, Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union: +254 723 644 710

London.

Lee Jasper (BlakSox, Reparations Rebellion): +44 7984 181 797 lee-jasper@live.com
Viv Ahmun (BlakSox, Reparations Rebellion): +44 7985 395166 viv@coreplan.org.uk

Tanzania.

Donald Deya, CEO PALU: +255 787 066 888 ddeya@lawyersofafrica.org

Notes for Editors:

BlakSox is a social action and economic development network based in the United Kingdom and East Africa. The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has been engaged in international human rights for 50 plus years. The Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA), is a federation of 44 registered diaspora organizations, with a combined 250,000 Kenyans
across the globe. The Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU) is the premier continental membership forum of and for individual African lawyers and lawyers’ associations in Africa. The Bandung Conference is an international non-governmental organisation, working to promote the development of Pan African solutions to global problems linking
Africans on the African continent and in the Diaspora. Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) is a cutting edge NGO that has led the fight for communal land rights in East Africa. The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union (KPAWU) represents over 200,000 workers, including tea pickers.

 

The Kenyan National Land Commission Recommendations:

  1. That the ancestral land ought to have been surrendered to the affected communities at independence.
  2. That the British Government pays reparations to the direct victims of the historical injustices and issues an apology over the various forms of injustice inflicted against the Kipsigis and the Talai communities.
  3. That the Government of Kenya officially acknowledges that land was unlawfully taken from the Kipsigis and Talai.
  4. The British Government and multinational tea companies constructs for the Kipsigis and Talai amenities such as schools, hospitals etc and provide services such as water and electricity to alleviate their suffering.
  5. That the British Government and the multinationals pay victims mesne profits for the loss of use of their land from 1902.
  6. Rates and rents for land occupied by multinational tea firms companies be enhanced to benefit the County Governments of Kericho and Bomet and the National Government.
  7. The British Multinational companies do lease land from the Kericho and Bomet County Governments at commercial rates.
  8. Land with expired leases should not be renewed without the concurrence of the County Government where the land is domiciled.
  9. The Government of Kenya through the Department of Adjudication and Settlement in the Ministry of Land identifies and acquires adequate and suitable land to resettle members of the Kipsigis and Talai to end their perennial landlessness.
  10. A fresh survey and audit should be undertaken for land allocated to multinational tea companies in Kericho and Bomet and any land in excess of the size documented in official records should be reverted to the County Governments of Bomet and Kericho to be held in trust on behalf of the residents of the two counties.
    The land shall be used for public purposes.

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