Enviroment and Natural Resources verbatim

Mining sector is now an important cog in moving the state’s Big Four Agenda forward

The Government of Kenya recognizes the role played by mining in the country’s socio-economic development. Mining is an enabler to the overall success of President Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda. MyGov’s Immaculate Maima spoke to Principal Secretary, State Department of Mining in the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, Mr. John M. Omenge, regarding the status of the mining Sector in Kenya.

What is the mandate of your State Department?
The State Department for Mining is mandated to provide regulatory oversight over the mining sector in Kenya. We achieve this through implementation of the Mining Act, 2016 and its attendant regulations, guidelines and rules. In an endeavor to fully execute this mandate, the State Department has embarked on deliberate and rigorous campaigns to create awareness on what the Act portends for the Mining Sector and for Kenya as a whole, especially with regard to small operators such as the Artisanal Miners (ASMs). If well developed, ASMs have a great potential to positively impact on livelihoods of many Kenyans and the country’s economy due to the sheer large number of activities and prevalence throughout the country.

The State Department also provides policy direction to the sector as well as support to the investing community through issuance of prospecting or exploration, mining, mineral dealing, mineral processing and export permits and licenses. The Department works closely with other stakeholders and communities where mining takes place to ensure that benefits accruing from mining are shared equitably as required under the Constitution. The Department also works closely with other government Ministries and specialized agencies such as NEMA to ensure the environment is taken care of during planning, exploration, mining and post-mining.

The State Department is the lead stakeholder in the mining sector and hence responsible to develop the laws, rules and regulations that seek to attract local, regional and international investors into the sector for the benefit of the country.

What are some of the key mineral deposits found in Kenya?
Kenya is vastly endowed with deposits of different types of minerals distributed across all the counties in the country. Kenya is home to development, industrial and other minerals, which have been established to be in substantial quantities. The minerals include soda ash, fluorspar, titanium, niobium and rare earth elements, gold, coal, iron ore, limestone, manganese, diatomite, gemstones, gypsum and natural carbon dioxide. A number of global mining companies have run operations in Kenya over the years or have shown interest of venturing into the country as the Government of Kenya continues to create a conducive and sustainable environment for the growth of the mining sector.

These companies include Base Titanium which is mining heavy mineral sands in Kwale County and is currently the leading mineral exporter. Tata Chemicals Magadi Limited, which has its operations in Lake Magadi area in the Great Rift Valley, is Africa’s largest soda ash producer and also one of Kenya’s major exporter of minerals. Kenya has huge deposits of limestone, marbles and dolomites mostly utilized in cement manufacturing and construction industries.

Karebe mine, situated in the Chemase area of Nandi County is the single largest producer of gold in Kenya, followed by Kilimapesa mine situated in the Lolgarian area of Narok County. Acacia Mining has its exploration operations in parts of Kakamega, Vihiga, Siaya and Nandi counties. The company recently announced discovery of significant gold mine. We are hopeful the company will soon transition into a major gold producer to help the country maximize on the gold deposits in the region.

Gold is also found in Migori, Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot, Marsabit, Kericho, Bomet, Kisii and Elgeyo Marakwet counties where a number of exploration companies are currently undertaking detailed geological investigations. The counties with gold occurrences host a large number of ASMs.

The coastal region is also home to a number of mineral deposits such as manganese in Kilifi county, iron ore deposits in Taita Taveta county, huge deposits of gypsum in Tana River county as well as gemstones found in plenty in Taita Taveta, Kwale, Kilifi and Tana River counties. There are also occurrences of silica sands, numerous quarrying activities spanning the whole region.

Significant deposits of iron ore have also been discovered in Busia, Homa Bay, Kitui, Tharaka Nithi and Nandi Counties. The State Department is currently evaluating the iron-ore occurrences with the aim of providing the investing community with adequate data as to the extent of the occurrences for informed investment decisions.

What is the estimated contribution of the mining sector to the country’s GDP?
According to the economic survey, the mining sector contributes 0.8% to the country’s GDP. These statistics are however not a true reflection of the entire mining value chain. For instance, the statistic fails to recognize the contribution of cement plants which utilize limestone, iron ore, gypsum and pozollana in their operations. The country is the leading producer of cement in the region with a large investment in cement manufactured by Bamburi, Mombasa, Athi River Mining, East African Portland, National, Simba, Savannah and Rai cement companies.

Economic minerals such as aggregates, building blocks and other building materials obviously contribute immensely to the country’s economy going by the large outlay of roads, bridges, railway, houses and other construction that they support. Whereas the importance of the construction industry has been acknowledged, there has been failure to appreciate the critical role mining plays in creating the same construction materials.

The country exports significant amounts of titanium, iron-ore and manganese products but these are not taken into account while computing the sector’s contribution to GDP. Additionally, artisanal mining operations contribute immensely to livelihoods across the country yet these are also left out of official statistics. The State Department is pursuing these issues with relevant agencies with the hope that a true reflection of the sectors contribution to the economy is captured.

The State Department’s target is to grow the sector exponentially to a headline contribution of more than 10% by year 2030. We intend to do this through our ongoing efforts of attracting large players to the country through provision of baseline geological data sets. This we aim to achieve through the results to be achieved from the on-going countrywide airborne geophysical survey, simplifying licensing and permitting procedures and incentivizing the sector.

What is the Mining sector’s contribution to the Government’s Big Four Agenda?
The mining sector is an enabler to the realization of the government’s Big 4 Agenda. Mining has much to offer towards achievement of the four pillars as identified by His Excellency the President. On affordable housing for instance, the State Department supports this pillar through regulating and promotion of mining and processing of building and construction minerals. Specifically, the State Department is facilitating the grant of mining licenses supporting the manufacturing pillar such as in the case of gypsum used in making ceiling boards, Limestone used in the manufacture of cement, Marble used in the manufacture of tiles and ceramics, aggregates used in the construction industry, Clay and Kaolin used in the manufacture of tiles among others.

Under the agriculture and food security agenda, the Department has regulated production of lime which is used as a soil enhancer, salt, iron ore used to enrich soils, limestone, pumice used in green house and hydroponic farming, Phosphate used in the manufacture of fertilizer as well as volcanic rocks – used in green house farming, guano used to enrich soils and Carbon dioxide used in preservation of carbonated drinks.

Minerals are usually not closely identified with universal health. However, it is important to note that they make a significant contribution to health products such as in the case of barite otherwise also called heavy spar which is used as barium feed for imaging, gypsum used in making plaster, titanium pigment used in making toothpaste, sodium silicate produced from fusing silica sand with soda ash and dolomite used in manufacture of soaps and detergents.

What mechanisms are you pursuing to formalize Artisanal Miners?
The State Department is very passionate about the growth of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (ASMs) and is pursuing reforms that seek to create a sustainable and conducive environment to promote their operations. However, we are careful to balance support to ASMs with support to the large scale exploration and mining companies. We know it is in the interest of both ASM and large scale miners that solutions are found for them to co-exist harmoniously.

How is the Department addressing mining issues around the vulnerable segment of the population?

So far, the State Department has registered and supports over 10 women groups who have been registered in Tabaka and Borabu in Kisii County, and one in Kakamega County. Similarly, about 11 youth groups have so far been registered, one in Kwale County. Others are five in Kisii and four in Taita Taveta Counties. The registration targeting the ASMs is on-going, and is expected to cover all counties.

The Artisanal Mining sector is a key contributor to rural incomes and therefore, a source of livelihoods. However, a number of key constraints limit its economic potential, including: informality, difficulties attracting credit, including limited business skills and lack of market for the sector. In respect to the above, the State Department has initiated various sensitization programs that seek to enlighten the miners of their legal rights as provided for in the Mining Act.

The State Department has demonstrated commitment to ASM by improving the management and performance of the artisanal mining sector through improved training (skills) and machinery, availability of adequate human, technical and financial resources and regular sensitization of rules and regulations that govern the sector.

Owing to the importance the State Department attaches to the Sector, artisanal and small- scale miners are encouraged to maximize on the windows provided by the Mining Act to explore and exploit their potential to reap maximum benefits from mining activities.

What is the State Department doing to curb or mitigate mine accidents?
The issue of mine accidents is a challenge to mining activities, especially during the rainy season when incidences of mine collapse rise. Other concerns in regard to safety include poor health and safety standards (lack of protective gear) and inefficient and rudimentary working tools and perilous processing chemical/techniques, such as use of mercury. We are currently addressing all these.

The State Department is working with the respective county governments, and has established and trained a Rapid Rescue Team (RRT) to respond to distress calls at the mining sites. The State Department is encouraging miners to wear protective gears during mining at the site for their safety. We also have developed 13 regulations that have been gazetted to facilitate the implementation of the Act.

Concerns raised in respect to consent on land leases, local content and mining permits are also being addressed. In the same vein, the State Department has developed an Artisanal Mining Strategy, in an attempt to harness the potential of artisanal and small-scale mining to stimulate and improve livelihoods; and advance integrated rural social and economic development. The Draft ASM Strategy is awaiting stakeholder engagement in tandem with the provision of the Constitution.

Artisanal mining has been practiced in Kenya over the years without a legal framework; the sub-sector has engaged a huge percentage of the rural population, the youth and women in particular whose livelihood is tied to mining and mining related activities. This Strategy will be the key government reference document for regulating artisanal mining, with a view to formalize the sub-sector, and thus enhance its contribution.

The realization of the great potential and significant contribution of the ASM to local and the national economies has necessitated the development of the ASM Strategy. The Strategy aims to pursue a progressive and continuous formalization of the sector to maximize the micro- and macro-economic benefits of the sector, and improve its social and environmental impact. The strategy further seeks to inculcate professionalism and transform the artisanal miners into small-scale mining operators.

In conformity with the Mining Act of 2016 the department is in the process of establishing Artisanal Mining Committees in all counties. These committees will assist the Department in licensing artisanal operators at the county level. Membership to these committees will comprise representatives of the Governors and Artisanal miners in the county. A number of counties have already appointed their representatives and the process of officially formalizing the committees through gazettement is underway.

What is the Government doing to enhance the value of the country’s minerals to fetch higher prices at the international markets?
The modern Voi Gemstone Value Addition and Gemological Centre that seeks to enhance the value of the country’s minerals is set to be officially opened later this year. The Centre is one of its kind in the country, providing professional services to mineral dealers.

To further improve the services, plans are on course to add more equipment, and complete the installation of the equipment to make the centre more effective and efficient in service delivery

The Centre, once fully operationalized, will attract more local, regional and foreign investors into the County.

For many years, the Country has lacked an elaborate mechanism to deal with gemstone marketing, value addition and certification. This has exposed miners and dealers to unscrupulous brokers, who take advantage of their innocence and desperation, since they do not have access to ready markets for the products.

The establishment of the Gemstone Centre provides for a one stop shop for gemstones miners, with state of the art equipment and facilities for marketing. This will encourage buyers to visit the Centre and purchase authentic gemstones, since they will have been certified by a Gemology Laboratory. It is envisioned that this Centre will greatly reduce illicit gemstone trade, as it will provide facilities for promotion and value addition and encourage competitive bidding.

In an endeavour to improve the value of the country’s minerals and taking services closer to the people, the State Department is establishing more value addition Centres across the country. A Gold Refinery will be constructed in Kakamega County, where the County Government donated a five (5) acres parcel of land for the project.

Similarly, a Granite Processing Plant is being constructed in Vihiga County where the County Government too, has donated five (5) acres of land for the construction of the Plant. In addition, in Kisii, the State Department is constructing the Kisii Soapstone Value addition Centre on a two and half acre piece of land in Tabaka, donated by the local community. These value addition projects will provide services to a large catchment area, including neighboring counties.

Towards this end, the State Department for Mining did procure consultancy services and professional feasibility studies are underway to identify the best implementation modalities for the three projects.

How would you describe the future of the mining industry in the country?
The future of the mining sector is looking very bright. The Government of Kenya is putting in place adequate measures and incentives to attract more Kenyans and foreign companies into the sector. Additionally, the Government is currently collecting geological data that will be used to de-risk investments in mining. We are in the early stages of operationalizing the National Mining Corporation, the strategic mining investment arm of the government. We are also in the process of establishing a National Mining Institute, with the aim of adequately capacitating the sector for adequate contribution of mining to the country’s industrialization agenda. This institute will offer technical courses for the mining sector, ensuring Kenya relies on its labor force when mining picks up in the near future.

The Government is keen on moving the sectors contribution to the GDP from the current 0.8% to 10% and we are putting adequate measures to ensure we incentivize the sector. The Government is open for mining business.
Mining Principal Secretary Mr. John Menge, during the interview in his office in Nairobi on Friday, May 17, 2019.