Why gold mining in Kenya stands on shaky ground

Karebe Gold Mine

A view of a new site for Karebe Gold Mine in Chemase, Nandi County, last year.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Cyanide is a lethal poison that can kill in a matter of seconds. It does so in a gruesome way with seizures, acute lung injury, nausea and vomiting and survivors may suffer parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders.

It is, however, important in mining gold and its use is heavily managed to the extent that players are given three to five years to leach out the chemical when decommissioning a mine.

Karebe Mining and Equatorial Land Holdings was, however, forced to abandon a mining site after its owner evicted them after a decade leaving behind dangerous chemicals.

The owner, Cheseret Korir refused to renew their lease on the land even though they had agreed back in 2008 they could roll over their tenancy.

But after multiple court cases, Mr Korir was granted his right to enjoy the property. This legal lacuna forced the gold mining company to relinquish their stay and leave the site without full decommissioning and seeping off the cyanide.

Dangerous situation

“A dangerous situation has presented itself whereby we had no option but to remove our assets and staff with the exception of security personnel. The company has been forced to stop all activities on the suit parcels, which includes control of the poisonous tailings dam, which contains significant amounts of the chemical sodium cyanide,” David May, Karebe mining managing director said in a letter to Mining secretary John Munyes.

The company says the decision to throw them out of the site they had been operating on for 10 years, providing job opportunities and remitting annual taxes amounting to Sh1.6 billion to the government, was politically motivated.

It was forced to close from March 2019 and July the same year due to court rulings that resulted in job and financial losses for the company.

The company owned by international investors including Dutch government, Europe and US among the local Kenyan investors is a significant player which has produced gold worth to $50 million.

The row attracted top levels of government who tried to intervene including Munyes, who visited the region last year and assured of a peaceful end to the tussle between the mining company, landowners and local leaders, noting that mining sector was a pivotal economic activity in the region.

"We know of pending land cases pitting the Karebe and the landlord. This has rendered many youths jobless, but the government is working to formulate the policies to guide the mining sector in the country to control the extraction of the minerals and in securing the interest of the community,” said CS Munyes after assessing the Karebe mines in Chemase.

Political sabotage

But that was just the beginning of their troubles, the company claims political sabotage from local politicians and refusal by the county government to grant them local approvals has frustrated their operations.

The firm relocated from a land site it was leasing from the Korir family to an uncontested land parcel it owned.

The new land bought recently is barely a kilometre from the initial mines where they installed machines and acquired a 25-years operational license from the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining.

But even here it faced even more resistance unable to secure change of use from local officials.

Karebe Gold mining company administrator Martin Kiplimo said since they secured a new license, illegal miners have been blatantly exploiting the area in the unrestored tunnels, under the watch of the powerful individuals.

When police officers raided the mining tunnels, rival illegal miners linked by powerful politicians were irked by the crackdown.

Nandi Lands minister Dr Philemon Buret and chief officer Dr Solomon Mangira said the company has been involved in protracted land dispute with local residents and denied claims the county government is frustrating the Karebe Company into quitting the area.

Governor Stephen Sang distanced himself from the company’s troubles stating the county government does not deal with security and that his administration has been falsely accused of interfering with the investors.

“The County Government of Nandi has indiscriminately supported all its investors, Karebe included. We urge all our investors to operate within the law at all times,” he said.