In the ongoing legal turbulence surrounding Mumias Sugar Company, the farmers of Kakamega County are caught in a whirlwind of uncertainty. This follows a recent High Court ruling that found officials from the Uganda-based Sarrai Group Ltd guilty of contempt, for continuing operations at the distressed sugar mill in defiance of a court order.
Justice Dorah Chepkwony, in April, found Sarrai’s top executives, including proprietor Sarbjit Singh Rai, in contempt and levied fines of Sh100,000 each. Their defiance was in response to a July 28, 2022, order to halt operations. Justice Chepkwony further mandated these officials to appear before the presiding judge of the Commercial Division of the High Court on May 18, to justify why they should not face imprisonment.
The legal wrangling has sent ripples of unease through the farming community in Kakamega County, who are left in limbo regarding the future of the sugar mill. Regional leaders are now pleading for resolution, urging for the resumption of cane farming which was halted when the beleaguered miller ceased operations in 2018.
Mumias Sugar has been under receivership since September 2019, and it wasn’t until the Sarrai Group’s involvement that the situation seemed to gain some momentum.
Prominent regional figures, such as Bishop Joseph Wandera of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Mumias Diocese, and Bumini Parish priest, Fr Josphat Kuchio, have urged the government to prioritize the revival of the miller and alleviate the farmers’ suffering. Their pleas have received backing from Mumias East MP Peter Salasya and Kakamega Woman Representative Elsie Muhanda.
Bishop Wandera stated, “While we respect the law, it should not supersede public interest. We need to strike a balance between the application of the law and public interest. Let the company continue operations as the matters before the court are heard and determined.”
Fr Kuchio expressed concern over the numerous families in the Mumias Sugar catchment area being pushed into poverty due to a lack of alternative income sources.
The high-stakes court proceedings have ignited local tensions, leading to clashes between opposing factions in Mumias town last Wednesday. Former employees have rallied behind the court’s decision to halt Sarrai’s operations, alleging that the management has displayed disregard for the rule of law. They demand payment of their outstanding wages and dues, totaling Sh2.3 billion, that have accrued since 2019.
Meanwhile, local farmers have implored President William Ruto to deliver on his commitments – to write off all debts in the sugar industry and identify a new investor to helm Mumias Sugar.
While touring Kakamega in December 2022, President Ruto had promised that the government would find an investor to resuscitate the miller, after absolving the debts owed by State-run sugar factories. He further pledged that the new investor would remit Sh100 million monthly to the county’s residents to ensure their benefits from the miller’s operations.
Raphael Werimo, a representative of the farmers, earnestly appealed to the President, “We have suffered enough. Our children’s education is at stake. Mumias can only be resurrected by a serious investor who is ready to collaborate with local communities and farmers. Please, heed our cries.”