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Blood tea: The UK’s alleged land theft and Kenya’s demand for justice5 minutes read

“People were killed. Livestock was stolen. Land was taken. Women were raped… And a crop was planted”

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Blood tea: The UK's alleged land theft and Kenya's demand for justice
A farm worker harvests tea leaves using shears at a plantation in Kenya's Kericho highlands, Kericho county, approximately 296 kilometres northwest of capital, Nairobi. Kericho hosts vast tea estates established at the turn of the 20th century by British settlers who are said to have appropriated the ancestral lands of the local Kipsigis and Tulai communities to start the plantations, displacing thousands of the natives whose decsendants today are demanding a return of their lands currently under tea estates, large swathes of which are still held under colonial-era titles by organisations based in the United-Kingdom. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

Kibore Cheruiyot Ngasura was just a small boy when his family was violently expelled from their ancestral land in Kenya’s lush tea-growing western highlands by British colonisers, and banished never to return.

Eighty-five years later, he still bristles at the memory, recalling the fear and confusion as his community was marched to a distant, unfamiliar place, and people around him begged their white overseer for answers.

“They asked him, ‘What wrong did we do? Why are you punishing us like this?” said 94-year-old Ngasura, the only living survivor of a mass deportation in 1934 from Kericho, where rolling green hillsides ripple with Kenya’s world-famous tea.

It is a question those forced off their land over decades in Kericho have been asking ever since.

Fed up with being ignored, the Kipsigis and Talai peoples have urged a United Nations special investigator to open an inquiry into their plight.

British and Kenyan lawyers representing the victims will on Wednesday make their first visit to Kericho since filing an official complaint with the UN, accusing the UK government of failing to account for this colonial-era injustice.

READ: Kenya’s tea price slumps to $1.80 per kilogram

They allege that the British army and colonial administrators deployed rape, murder and arson to seize swathes of arable land in Kericho from its traditional owners — rights violations for which nobody has ever answered.

The victims — more than 100,000 are signatories to the UN complaint — want an apology, and reparations for their homeland being usurped and reallocated to white settlers, who turned the fertile soils to cultivating tea.

Kericho boasts some of Kenya’s most profitable agricultural land — but the Kipsigis and Talai say they reap none of the benefits. The land today is largely owned by corporate giants such as Unilever, which sources tea from Kericho for some of its best-selling brands like Lipton.

‘Blood tea’ –

Blood tea: The UK's alleged land theft and Kenya's demand for justice
In this photo taken on October 2, 2019, Godfrey Sang, a Kenyan researcher who hails from the Kipsigis community, holds up an artefact recovered at a location in now Kericho county, currently occupied by tea estates from which members of his community were forcefully evicted by Kenya’s colonial administration to make way for tea plantations, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

The alleged expropriation of land began in the early 20th century but accelerated from the 1920s, after Kericho’s exceptional suitability for tea was realised.

“There is blood in the tea,” said Godfrey Sang, a historian whose grandfather’s land was doled out to white farmers.

“People were killed. Livestock was stolen. Land was taken. Women were raped… And a crop was planted.”

Lawyers pushing for UN special rapporteur Fabian Salvioli to launch an inquiry say the intentional displacement and resettlement of Kipsigis and Talai occurred when Kenya was under the Crown, making the UK responsible under international law.

The UK Foreign Office, in a statement to reporters, said it supported the work of UN special rapporteurs, and would “respond accordingly” if contacted by Salvioli, the independent expert for the promotion of justice.

Those thrown off their land were herded into so-called “native reserves”, marginal areas where conditions were often appalling.

READ: Forsaken in terror war, Kenyan islands await doctors by boat

Blood tea: The UK's alleged land theft and Kenya's demand for justice
Kibore Cheruiyot Ngasura, 95, sits in his compound with an old picture, bearing his image and those of some of his clansmen with whom he was forcefully evicted from their lands, at his farm in Tugunon village, Kipkelion in Kenya’s Kericho highlands, Kericho county, on October 8, 2019. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

In an extreme case, the entire Talai clan — hundreds of families, including that of 10-year-old Ngasura — was deported by decree in 1934 and interned in Gwasi, a barren land two-weeks walk to the west, where malaria was endemic and water scarce.

“Life was so difficult. People were dying,” said Ngasura, speaking through a translator, surrounded by his extended family.

Today, many Kipsigis and Talai live as squatters, humiliated and landless, generations after their forebears were exiled from Kericho’s verdant slopes, land known locally as the “White Highlands”.

Most possess nothing more of their past than chunks of pottery and other fragments, unearthed surreptitiously from beneath the tea fields: proof, they say, that their people once lived there.

“It is very bitter, to see where you used to live, and (know) you were chased away,” said Joel Kimutai Kimetto, staring wistfully at distant hills where his father’s land was razed, and tea planted in its place.

‘Stolen property’ –

A spokesman for Unilever Kenya Ltd told reporters by email they would not comment on colonial-era claims against the UK. Williamson Fine Tea, and James Finlay Limited, two other multinationals with major tea estates in Kericho, did not reply to requests for comment.

“First of all, they need to acknowledge that it is stolen property,” said Kericho County Governor Paul Chepkwony, who has fought for reparations for years.

Blood tea: The UK's alleged land theft and Kenya's demand for justice
Kibore Cheruiyot Ngasura(L), 95, sits in his compound with his two wives at his farm in Tugunon village, Kipkelion in Kenya’s Kericho highlands, Kericho county, on October 8, 2019. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

In March, they scored a rare victory when Kenya’s National Land Commission ruled that the Kipsigis and Talai did suffer injustices, and recommended the UK apologise.

But efforts to broker dialogue have not been successful, said Joel Kimutai Bosek, a Kipsigis lawyer representing his people.

READ: Kenya’s Safari Rally returns to World Rally Championship

The UK has faced a slew of compensation claims from across its former empire, including from Kenya. 

In 2013, the government paid reparations to victims of its bloody crackdown on the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule in Kenya. But similar appeals have failed.

Rodney Dixon QC, a British lawyer representing the Kipsigis and Talai who is visiting Kericho this week, said the UN special rapporteur could assist in mediating a settlement, and had experience investigating long-past historic abuses.

“This is a precedent that could equally apply here,” Dixon told reporters in Geneva in September.

Ngasura, reaching the end of his years, just wants an apology before he dies.

“After that, we would shake the hands of the British, and forget the past,” he said.

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Tanzania goes digital to woo Chinese tourists

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Tanzania is going digital in its quest to attract more Chinese tourists to the country.

Addressing tourism players and investors in Arusha this past week, Tanzania’s ambassador to China, Mbelwa Kairuki says the country should meet Chinese tourists on its own turf-which is online.

 Kairuki says the embassy is creating an online booking platform specifically for promoting Tanzania’s tourism services in China, which will host a reservation and booking app, Chinese social media apps and offer marketing and advertising space. 

Tourism investors will be expected to pay for the platform for at least, six months.

China is more technologically advanced than Tanzania, although the government has banned WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter and developed its own unique platforms such as WeChat, Weibo and QQ.

WeChat, which is synced with financial and translation services, is China’s top social media platform.

Tanzanian companies will therefore be expected to have WeChat QR codes on the website.

All tourism players in Tanzania are expected to market themselves through the website.

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East Africa News

Ethiopia to hold parliamentary polls in May or June, PM Abiy

The election will be the first under Nobel Peace Laureate Abiy, who took office in April 2018 and launched political and economic reforms.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed/Kfm

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Sunday that the country will hold a parliamentary election in May or June despite security and logistic concerns that his government is tackling.

The election will be the first under Nobel Peace Laureate Abiy, who took office in April 2018 and launched political and economic reforms.

His reform agenda has also stoked violence and highlighted ethnic divisions in the country of about 105 million people, and the election board said last June that the security situation could delay the 2020 election.

“On the schedule, I am not sure whether it is May or June, because the schedule will be declared by the election board but I think we will conduct an election this year because it is a constitutional mandate,” Abiy said in response to a question at a media briefing with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, a Reuters report said.

“There might be lots of challenges, not only logistics but also peace and security… It is better for Ethiopians and for Ethiopian parties to conduct the election on time in a very peaceful and democratic manner,” he said.

Ahmed is on an official state visit to South Africa. The two governments signed agreements to enhance cooperation, including on tourism and health.

Ethiopia has regularly held elections since 1995 but, with the exception of the 2005 election, no election has been competitive.

In the 2005 election, riots erupted after the opposition cried foul, security forces killed nearly 200 protesters, and the government jailed many opposition politicians.

Opposition politicians have warned against any delay in the election, and critics have said that postponing the vote could cause an adverse social reaction, fuel regional conflicts and damage Abiy’s democratic credentials.

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Nile talks deadlocked again as Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan transfer talks to Washington

“We hope to reach a deal next week in Washington,” Egyptian Water Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty said.

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Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Sileshi Bekele, speaks during a news conference after the trilateral ministerial technical meeting on the case of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Renewed talks by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Thursday remained deadlocked after two days of meeting on their dispute over a giant hydropower dam on the Nile though Cairo said it hoped the issues would be resolved by Jan. 15 in line with a deadline agreed with Washington.

“We did not reach an agreement today but we achieved clarity at least on all issues including the filling. We hope to reach a deal next week in Washington,” Egyptian Water Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty told Reuters late on Thursday after two days of meetings in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The countries are due to convene on Jan. 13 in Washington with the aim of resolving their disagreements by Jan. 15 over the filling and operation of the $4 billion hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile.

They agreed to the timeline after a meeting in Washington with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass in November.

After the meetings in the Ethiopian capital ended with no progress, Ethiopian Water Minister Sileshi Bekele accused Egypt of coming to the talks with no intention of reaching a deal.

“We didn’t agree on the filling of the dam as Egypt presented a new proposal requesting the filling to be carried out in 12-21 years. This is not acceptable. We will start the filling of the dam by July,” Sileshi told a news conference.

The dispute over the filling and operation of the massive dam has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Ethiopia, who both see existential threats in each other’s positions on the project.

Cairo fears the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will restrict supplies of already scarce Nile waters on which its population of more than 100 million people is almost entirely dependent.

Addis Ababa denies the dam will undermine Egypt’s access to water and says the project is crucial to its economic development, as it aims to become Africa’s biggest power exporter with a projected capacity of more than 6000 megawatts.

One diplomat close to the talks said Ethiopia did not offer sufficient guarantees on water reserves.

“Ethiopia is not willing to commit to any meaningful mitigation safeguards including during extended drought, therefore there was no prospect for an agreement. Next step is going to (Washington),” he said.

If the dispute is not resolved by Jan. 15 then an international mediator will be appointed to help resolve it, according to the deal the countries reached in Washington.

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