Intrigues at KTDA as Njeru takes over its chairmanship

Tuesday, July 18th, 2023 07:30 | By
A tea picker at work. KTDA has pledged to enhance the welfare of smallholder tea farmer, with a particular focus on the implementation of key reforms. (INSET) Enos Njiru Njeru, new KTDA chair.
A tea picker at work. KTDA has pledged to enhance the welfare of smallholder tea farmer, with a particular focus on the implementation of key reforms. (INSET) Enos Njiru Njeru, new KTDA chair. PHOTO/Print

A week after David Muni Ichoho dramatically resigned as chairman of Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) Holdings Ltd, directors of the company have appointed Enos Njiru Njeru to replace him. 

Njeru was elected as the new chairman during a board meeting held at KTDA  headquarters in Nairobi yesterday morning.  He steps in one year before the national tea factory elections scheduled in May and June 2024.

In his acceptance speech, Njeru said his chairmanship will be committed towards enhancing the welfare of the smallholder tea farmer, with a particular focus on the implementation of reforms on issues raised at the recently held tea conference.

“During the recent tea conference held at Kericho, we held thought provoking discussions with passionate stakeholders, who shared their insights and concerns. I want to assure you all that the issues raised will be carefully considered under my chairmanship,” he said.

“I am committed to translating the discussions into action, implementing the necessary reforms, and addressing the challenges faced by our tea farmers with the goal of bettering the returns of their hard work.” Njeru said he will champion a comprehensive tea reforms agenda, adding that the industry is not immune to change, and it must adapt to remain competitive and sustainable.

Leadership infightings

Njeru has been a KTDA Holdings Ltd board member since July 2021 representing farmers from KTDA Zone Six – which comprises factories in Embu County.  The election of Njeru as KTDA chairman confirmed information that had been circulating in the social media last week about the likelihood of him replacing Ichoho.

The change is likely to escalate leadership infightings that have been brewing in the agency for the last two years. 

In June 2021, the then board of directors under the leadership of Peter Kanyago was forced out through nationwide elections in all the tea factories ordered by the former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya.  Senior managers were also kicked out to pave way for further investigations.

The exit of Ichoho adds to the list of key individuals who were recruited with the support of the former government of Uhuru Kenyatta who have so far been kicked out. Ichoho represents small-scale tea farmers of Zone One which covers Kiambu County, the home of the retired President. 

The campaign to replace Ichoho as chair, sources disclosed to Business Hub, started immediately he was elected in mid-2021 with the support of the former government.  During the contestation of the chairmanship position on June 2021, the sources said Ichoho was not among the preferred the candidates, but the directors were coerced by forces in the former government to elect him and Wesley Cheruiyot as chairman and vice-chairman respectively. 

The action did not please the other contestants who wanted the position to be won competitively and thus an immediate campaign to replace him was started.  

The then directors Geoffrey Kirundi and John Wasusana representing zone three and five respectively who were contesting for the chairmanship position and were bypassed mounted a change campaign immediately but due to strong government influence in the agency the directors failed to achieve their objective.

Attempts to remove Ichoho from office were on several occasions thwarted by senior Ministry of Agriculture officers including Munya. “The former chairman right from the beginning was not the choice of the other directors but was imposed on us by the former system,” said a director who sought anonymity.

Politics of the day has equally contributed to Ichoho exit as the current Kenya Kwanza government has been busy replacing chairmen of boards of parastatals and state corporations as well as organisations where it has a lot of interest.

The tea conference convened by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in Kericho sealed the deal to have Ichoho replaced after KTDA was adversely mentioned by various speakers including the DP himself.

A lot of interest

Although, KTDA is not a parastatal or a state corporation, it falls under the institutions in which the government has a lot of interest and wants to use them to drive their Bottom up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA).  Kenya Kwanza Government has proposed a raft of reforms in the tea industry and hence wants to use KTDA as a key implementation platform.

A senior manager in the agency fears that the national government might push for further changes, targeting senior executives.

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