Act diligently to avoid dreaded ‘mineral curse’

At a time when Kenyans are grappling with a high cost of living and other challenges, there is some good news. This is the revelation that the country sits on immense potential mineral wealth.

A survey has found evidence of the underground wealth, listing some 970 minerals. However, there is no need to get overly excited about this, and the caution is also evident in reference to the findings as “potential prospects” for further exploration to establish the nature, economic viability and net worth of the find.

It will be foolhardy for the authorities to even hint at that finally being the solution to the country’s economic woes. If the presence of the minerals is confirmed in the 15 counties considered to be well-endowed, then the country could be on the path to joining the league of mineral-rich nations.

Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya is upbeat about the prospects. He has given an assurance that, on confirming viable deposits, county governments will give consent to mining firms before the ministry grants exploration and mining licences. The mining sector reportedly contributes less than one per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) but has the potential for 4-10 per cent.

However, the discovery of minerals should not become a source of problems. Ironically, countries with abundant natural resources such as minerals and petroleum oil have failed to transform that into a means to enhance development.

This is what is often referred to as the “natural resource curse”. Nigeria, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are often cited as examples. Lack of government accountability for the windfalls and tax revenues exacerbates the ‘curse’.

Kenya must avoid this by diligently exploiting, processing and marketing the minerals to benefit its citizens. There should be no repeat of the Turkana curse, where oil was discovered, extracted and ferried to Mombasa port for export but nothing is heard of it anymore.

The discovery in the county of aquifers that could supply the country with water for domestic and industrial use and irrigation for decades also came to nought.