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Blood avocados: How media failed Kenyans on Kakuzi rights violations

In February, the Standard Group’s Farmers TV ran a two-part series on Kakuzi, the international agribusiness firm based in Makuyu, Murang’a County.

Kakuzi PLC founded in 1906 is an agricultural cultivation and manufacturing company, the report said. Its products include tea, avocados, macadamia, blue berries and livestock.

“Kakuzi produces the Hass variety of avocado, which is in high demand in the European Union market. For the past seven years, Kakuzi has been keen to empower avocado farmers with the right tools and information in Hass avocado farming,” the reporter said.

Now for the past week, Kakuzi has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, as a seasoned, avocado-eating Nairobi reporter might write.

A group of 79 residents of Makuyu have sued the company for human rights violations in a UK court.

The UK supermarket giant Tesco suspended the supply of avocados from Kakuzi, citing systemic human rights abuses in the lawsuit. The law firm Leigh Day initiated legal action.

UK’s Sunday Times broke the story of the suit. Kakuzi security guards are accused of human rights violations including killings, rape, assault and false imprisonment.

Why has the media in Kenya never exposed the allegations against Kakuzi? Do we have reporters in Makuyu? Yes. What have they been looking at?

In Kenya, multinational companies, or foreign investors as the government likes calling them, are sacred.

The story has been sold to the public that for the country to develop, we need international investors, whose activities are mostly never questioned.

But the ugly face of international capital was revealed in a video that went viral of a Chinese boss assaulting a Kenyan.

The Nigerian journalist, activist and author Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine were murdered by the Sani Abacha regime in 1995 for exposing the atrocious environmental destruction by the oil multinational company Shell in Ogoni land in South East of the country.

Our media is often reluctant to dig into the operations of multinationals.

The story headlined, “UK’s Tesco suspends avocado supply from Kakuzi Kenya over abuse claims” in the East African weekly was done by the French news agency AFP.

The share price of Kakuzi dropped from Sh385 to Sh380 as investors exited following bad publicity, the Star reported on October 15.

“The allegations, dating from 2009 to January this year, include battering of a 28-year-old man to death for allegedly stealing avocados, the rape of 10 women and attacks on villagers walking on paths through Kakuzi land.”

Ever heard of these stories? Yet they happened over a 10-year period.

In January, Kennedy Musyoki was cutting grass for his cows at his home near Kakuzi firm fence in Makuyu when four guards pounced on him.

“They told me to cross over to their firm where I would get more grass but I refused because that was a trick. They then crossed to my place and one guard with a machete attempted to slash me,” he said.

While blocking the machete that was aimed at his head, he sustained a deep cut on his left hand which was almost amputated. He said he bled until he fainted before neighbours came to his help.

This story was reported by the Star on October 15. Musyoki and other victims of Kakuzi abuses spoke at a meeting organized by the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Until KHRC organized the meeting, his story was unknown. What journalism are we doing?

Kieleweke, Tangatanga. Ruto said this, Raila said that. Those are the major media concerns.

We must do better. We hold power to account. Multinationals are not sacred. Journalism has a duty to examine how these firms work and ask critical questions about international capital.

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