Violence as firms fight for gold mining rights

Residents of Chemase in Tinderet Constituency, Nandi County

Residents of Chemase in Tinderet Constituency, Nandi County, in a sombre mood on January 24, 2023, during a meeting with the management of Karebe Gold Mining Company in Chesame,.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

The rich gold deposits of Chemase in Nandi County have not benefitted the residents much.

Profits from the gold have only benefited outsiders, leaving the locals living in poverty.

“It is like living close to a river but washing our hands with spittle. We want to receive the best deal from our deposits,” said Joseph Mursi, a village elder who is pushing for better deals with Karebe Gold Mining Limited, a foreign investor involved in the extraction of the gold.

The push by the community to harness mining for development is, however, slowly paying off as they can now access quality health and education for their children with limited damage to the environment.

The mining company has connected most homesteads with clean piped water and electricity, operationalised health facilities and transformed the road network to boost productivity and link locals with markets for their farm produce.

“The company has unlocked the potential of the area by embracing mining for development. The community can now realise employment opportunities, children can access bursaries while most homes have clean water and power supply,” said Nickson Saina, one of the locals.

But the gains are likely to be reversed following rising tension between Karebe and rival company Nandi/Chemase over mining rights on the Nandi escarpment in Tindiret constituency since 2019 when the former fell out with the landowner who had leased out part of his property.

Three miners were two weeks ago killed after a blast went off at Corry mine.

Karebe Mining Company said its workers were killed when a wall that was built to prevent the mine from flooding was blasted by miners from the rival group.

Government officials, they said, had earlier visited Karebe and met the illegal miners and told them to stop their mining activities. The unauthorised miners had allegedly attacked Karebe employees deep in the tunnels.

The company managing director Charlie Tryon said the company was demanding justice for the workers killed in the rivalry over mining rights.

But the rival company, Nandi/Chemase, claimed it has a license to carry out mining activities on the disputed land.

Karebe has been given exclusive gold mining rights at Nandi escarpment for 25 years through a license was awarded by former Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes.

Locals have accused security officials of being complicit in solving the tussle and have demanded justice for the dead workers.

“Prime suspects behind the blast that resulted in the death of the workers are well known but they are still walking freely with no arrest made two weeks down the line. This is an act of impunity and we demand for their arrest,” said Mr Wilson Yego.

Envoy's concerns

British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriot has likewise raised concern over the controversy facing Karebe Gold Mining Company.

“We hope you will find a way forward on the Karebe Gold Mining. The security, stability of the region and the people are very important to us,” said the envoy when he met with Nandi Governor Stephen Sang at his office in Kapsabet.

Karebe Gold Mining is among the largest in the country and is managed by a Kenyan of British origin.

A team of detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters have been dispatched to Chemase to investigate the blast that killed the three miners and left six others with serious injuries.

The team led by the director of investigations at the DCI headquarters Eliud Lagat is expected to file a report on on how to defuse tensions between the two rival mining companies.

The locals have taken issue with the government over its failure to resolve the tension.

Chemelil/Chemase ward representative Martin Douglas accused the State and local leaders of stoking embers of discord between the two companies because their eyes are trained on the mining rights in the Nandi escarpment.

“What is happening here is incitement to violence going by the events that led to the torching of Karebe’s property and now the killing of the miners. It is foolhardy to claim State organs and powerful leaders from the region are oblivious to what is happening. They are seeing our children slaughtering one another for their selfish gains,” he stated.

The illegal miners are now using the abandoned tunnel to gain entry into the mining area. It is the same tunnel that they use to unleash terror on their rivals.

In one of the letters to the Mining Cabinet Secretary dated December 29, 2020, Karebe mining company chairman Charlie Tyron had complained of site invasion and contempt of court orders by their rivals.

“……It is not only illegal but extremely dangerous having illegal miners trying to access underground works controlled by a third party. If the access is not controlled, the illegal miners can creep into working areas and get injured or killed by machinery underground and gasses released to blasting,” read the letter.

It further warned that the situation had reached a breakpoint and they were seeking diplomatic and legal action against the individuals and government bodies who were complicit in not upholding the rule of law.

In 2021, the mining company suffered losses when staff houses, vehicles, and machinery were torched by arsonists.

The 2021 incident was blamed on rival and illegal miners allegedly hell-bent on hounding out the British firm.

Mining Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvuya last week suspended mining operations.

“The miming license for Karebe Gold Mining Limited and the Artisanal mining permit awarded to Cheseret have been suspended for 30 days pending investigations by investigating agencies,” stated the CS.

But workers at the Karebe are opposed to the move to shut down operations arguing that mining activities by the firm formed their main socio-economic activity for meeting their basic needs.

“The local community suffered a lot when the company shut operations in 2021 resulting in over 450 workers losing their jobs and it is high time the State protects investors,” said Henry Muge, a Nandi elder.

According to interviewed residents, the company has contributed a lot in terms of improved infrastructure, provision of piped water, bursaries for needy students and electricity connectivity to many homes.