Ever wondered what mining in Kenya entails? The laws that relate to it? The minerals? Exploration data available and where to get it? Where to get your sample(s) tested? Its significance to the Kenyan economy? The forums and events you can attend? Which institutions offer mining related courses? Wonder no more, because this blog is about these and more!
Mining in Kenya is a budding sector that is currently receiving the much-needed attention it has lacked for the longest time. Mining has hitherto contributed meagerly to the GDP, but this is changing; the Base Titanium project for example, has put Kenya on the global map and further scaled the earnings from minerals. In the third quarter of 2018, GDP from mining increased to around $130 million. This is not to imply that mining has just recently started. In fact, mining has been around since the early 1900s when gold was mined in Western Kenya. Despite Kenya’s mineral prospects, mining was considered trivial, and that can be attributed to little or no focus on the sector. Understandably so because agriculture has been the mainstay of the Kenyan economy and no major exploration activities have been undertaken. Also, some of Kenya’s neighbors are resource rich countries (e.g. Sudan, DRC, Somalia) and these minerals have fueled war and conflict; perhaps reasons that prevented Kenya from fully exploiting its mineral potential – my imagination. Nonetheless, ongoing discoveries have confirmed that Kenya is also a resource rich country.
‘Resource curse’ or a looming crisis?
So, is Kenya ready to deal with the ups and downs of mining? Is there enough capacity? Is the ‘resource curse’ likely to strike? Discovery of mineral resources begets a shift of focus to the minerals sector from the other sectors as people get jobs and the government looks to generate more revenue. But what happens if the price of the said mineral or commodity, so heavily relied on, dips? The country is suddenly exposed to market shocks and volatility and since the other sectors were neglected there is generally no fallback plan eventually hurting a country’s economy. This situation can be heightened if value-addition of the minerals is non-existent, or if the laws are not stringent enough to deal with loopholes that permit embezzlements. Personally, I like to dismiss the ‘resource curse’ narrative because I believe it’s a word that has been coined to sedate greed and corruption. Were minerals a curse, then they would be detrimental from when they lay deep down in the ground undiscovered and unexploited. Overgeneralized? Maybe.
Putting measures in place in the form of laws is vital in ensuring proper resource utilization, but this not always as easy as it sounds. With good will from all stakeholders, it is realizable. Long story short, by adopting best practices from countries that have excelled in mining (mostly pegged on good governance and implementation of good policies), I am certain that minerals can work to better Kenya.
A quick run-through…
Mining activities are currently run under the ministry of mining and petroleum previously, the ministry of mining established in 2013. The cabinet secretary is at the helm of the ministry and is also tasked with administering the Mining Act enacted in 2016 (to replace the antiquated Mining Act Cap 306 enacted in 1940), also released at the time is the Mining and Minerals Policy of 2016 that gives a blueprint of mining in Kenya. Though with headquarters in Nairobi, the ministry also has county offices that address issues relating to mining at county level. Minerals are vested in the government; therefore, exploration for/or extraction of minerals requires obtaining a license or permit depending on the set procedure. The mining cadastre portal, an electronic platform for stakeholders in the mining sector was launched in May 2015 and allows for license/permits application and management.
Mining in Kenya is classified into; large-scale mining, small-scale mining and artisanal mining mainly hinged on the magnitude of operations, similarly, the licenses and permits issued in each category differ in every stage of mining. You can read more on issuance of mining licenses/permits here. Mining activities in addition, need to be carried out in compliance to other laws such as the Environment Management and Coordination Act, Land Act, water act and the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
Prior to the establishment of the ministry of mining in 2013, mining activities were overseen by the commissioner of mines who operated from Madini house in Nairobi’s Industrial area and was tasked among other roles with approving mining licenses and permits. This has since changed, issuance of these permits and licenses is approved by the mineral rights board. Speaking of Madini house, this should be your go-to place for sample(s) analysis; besides being equipped with laboratories, the facility is a resource center with a rock gallery, library (with a good collection of mining books, reports, maps, memoirs etc.) and other directorate offices.
Kenya is endowed with vast mineral resources ranging from metallic, precious, construction, industrial and gaseous minerals. These include among others gold, rare earths elements, heavy mineral sands, diatomite and trona. Comprehensive articles of Kenya’s mineral wealth are available here.
It is an undeniable fact that Kenya has a robust youthful population, making up two-thirds of Kenya’s entire population. And what this means is a youthful and productive generation if all factors are working right. This comes at a time when many developed countries are grappling with dwindling population growth and aging population. For example, about a third of Japan’s population is above the age of 60 (2014 data). Unfortunately, most of these Kenyan youths are unemployed, frustrated and unemployable. But I still chose to see strength in our youth; why? Because Kenyans are a resilient people and if key challenges hounding Kenya’s education, health, empowerment and employment are dealt with, once and for all, Kenya will certainly rise. Like any other peaceable Kenyan, I too have a hankering for a healthy, educated and empowered youth equipped with the right tools to fuel Kenya’s economy.
Meet-ups, education and organizations
Stakeholders in mining time and again converge to exchange ideas, network and look into ways of advancing the sector. Events such as the Mining 4i, Kenya Gem & Jewellery Fair and the Kenya Mining Forum happen every year and are announced on respective media platforms.
The nature of mining is such that it is multi- and inter-disciplinary and so people from various disciplines will usually work together under the mining umbrella in various departments to achieve a specific objective. Numerous Kenyan institutions offer this vast array of courses, however, extractive centered education such as mining and mineral engineering, geology, geoscience, petroleum engineering, extractives law, environmental studies etc. are offered in some Kenyan institutions. These trainings are necessary towards incentivizing the mining sector. A comprehensive article on extractive centered education in Kenya is available here.
As such, organizational bodies such as the Kenya Chamber of mines (KCM), Geological society of Kenya (GSK), Mining Engineers Society of Kenya (MESK), Extractives Baraza (EB), Association for Women in Extractives and Energy in Kenya (AWEIK), Kenya Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas (KCSPOG), Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT), Haki Madini Kenya, amongst others, have been constituted to lobby, provide access to information and foster meaningful engagement in the sector.
Geological data is crucial in mining because from it, clear appraisals can be made. Scarcity of geological data and information is a big challenge, and this hinders investment and financing on both local and international scales. Approx. 80% of the country has been geologically mapped in the past, all the same, technical advancements have enabled the attainment of better-quality geological data, a resource that was for instance considered uneconomical 30 years ago can be presently profitable under the current economic conditions; the reverse is also true. Cutting-edge research is also providing new materials from existing ones using novel technologies. So, there is an urgent need to update the current geological database, plans are still underway to conduct airborne geophysical surveying, to enhance information on the country’s mineral potential.
Apart from paucity of geological data, most of Kenya’s mineral resources remain untapped due to inaccessibility, skill inadequacy and insufficient funds. Kenya is putting up proper fiscal regimes and there has been a lot of talk around taxation, loyalties, fees and mineral sharing benefits in the sector. For instance, the tussle between national government and Turkana County government on benefit sharing accrued from oil proceeds delayed the early pilot oil scheme in 2018. The Kenyan mining sector additionally encounters challenges such as; child labor and gender issues, mainstreaming of artisanal and small-scale miners, environmental degradation, access to land and local participation. These are delicate matters that if not addressed can be a ticking bomb.
The Mining Act requires that mining activities be carried out in a transparent manner, mining companies are therefore required to publicize their production and revenue figures and such data should be obtainable say from even a company’s website. This is aimed at elevating the public’s interest in mining. Mining companies are also obliged to use local goods and services, employ and train locals so as to ensure transfer of skills. There has also been increased gender and youth inclusiveness which should be further nurtured throughout the mining value chain. In my view, there are new opportunities specially in application of technology in mining for value addition, improving efficiency and safety. Increased research and development in mining will also painstakingly improve the mining stats.
All in all, progress is being made; a Gem Centre has been put-up in Taita-Taveta county to assist in identification, analysis and value addition of gemstones, oil is being produced in Turkana, titanium ore is being mined in Kwale, artisanal and small-scale mining is now recognized under the new mining code, gold is produced on small and large scales in Western Kenya. Infrastructure is also improving, opening up places that were somehow inaccessible in the past, and mining talk in Kenya is not as bizarre as it used to be.