Kenya crisis hits tea hard

NAIROBI, Jan 17, 2008 (AFP) – Tea is a casualty of the turmoil sparked by disputed presidential elections in Kenya, with thousands of workers forced to flee plantations in one of the world’s top exporters, industry sources say.

Between 26,000 and 70,000 tea sector employees from the western region of Kericho, where Kenya’s main plantations lie, fled in fear of their lives after the disputed December 27 presidential poll, said Joshua Okelo, national treasurer of the Kenya Plantation Agricultural Workers Union.

“The tension is very high,” he said, three weeks later.

After Mwai Kibaki was declared re-elected on December 30, the east African country sunk into a week of riots and tribal clashes which killed more than 700, according to police, and forced a quarter of a million to flee their homes.

Strongholds of opposition leader Raila Odinga in the west of the country were badly hit and the tea plantations witnessed score-settling between Odinga supporters and suspected Kibaki sympathisers.

“The Kalenjin said they don’t want Kisiis in the tea industry,” Okelo said, referring to two of Kenya’s 42 tribal groups.

Dozens of employees’ houses, which sit among the tea fields, were burned down. Their inhabitan