State enforces ban on gemstone mining in Kwale

Gold mining in Migori, Kenya. The government has banned the mining of gemstones in Kuranze, Kwale County, calling it illegal.

The government has banned the mining of gemstones in Kuranze, Kwale County, calling it illegal.

County Commissioner Gilbert Oyagi said the government imposed a moratorium on mining activities in 2019 but some large-scale and artisanal miners had not heeded the ban.

“The suspension which is still on was placed to streamline the mining sector. We have agreed that all the miners are going to stop all the work and meet with a multi-stakeholder committee which will advise on the next move,” Mr Oyagi said.

Kuranze in Kinango constituency has one of the largest gemstones mines in Kenya. It was among the areas affected in December 2019 when the Mining Cabinet Secretary suspended the licences of 26 companies that had failed to renew their permits under the Mining Act of 2016.

The enforcement comes after a multi-agency team, including the National Land Commission (NLC), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Ministry of Mining, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Police raided the area after conflicts between miners were reported.

Mr Oyagi said some of the miners had complained that new people had encroached on the mining areas.

“All we want to do is put order. We are working together with the county government to ensure that those who want to do extraction in the area are in a conducive environment,” he said.

He explained that even though several miners had applied for their permits and licences, they had not been issued because the moratorium is still in place.

“We want to ensure that the streamlining which the government wanted to put in place is there so that locals who want to continue with the mining are allowed after strictly following the guidelines outlined,” he said.

Coast regional geologist and mining officer Fredrick Wafula said several miners had applied for mining permits and licences but had not received them because of ongoing changes meant to streamline the industry.

“As long as it is not approved, a miner cannot claim that they have a licence, so they must get it first before doing any prospecting and mining in the stipulated area,” he said.

He explained that certain processes must be followed before actual mining happens, including getting reconnaissance, prospecting and mining permits from the Ministry of Mining in the region.

He said none of these processes is going on because of the ongoing suspension. The online application systems were also being upgraded.

“We had some licences that had expired and not been renewed for a long time. So we want to ensure all the data is clean before we start issuing licences for the compliant miners afresh,” he said.

Dozens of minerals can be found in different parts of Kwale. For instance, gemstones are found in Kuranze, Chindi and Mtsunga and have a considerable impact on the local economy. They are sold to brokers, who export them.

Other materials mined are titanium, building slabs and blocks, niobium and rare earth oxides, coal, iron oxides and silica sand.