Taita Taveta residents push to get access to mine in Tsavo

Miners at a mine in Mkuki area, Taita Taveta County. The miners want the government to open the Tsavo National Park to prospect for minerals.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group

Artisanal and Small Scale miners in Taita Taveta have for years been pushing to have access to the Tsavo National Park to prospect for minerals.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Mining has locked out locals from accessing the potential mineral wealth by being denied the rights to mine in the park, that is believed to be endowed with enormous gemstones deposits.

The miners are now calling on the government to allow them to exploit mining opportunities at the park to create a level playground for everyone.

Speaking in Voi during a mining forum, the miners cited that mining in the park has for many years been a preserve of a few influential individuals, who have hugely benefited at the expense of communities neighbouring the expansive protected area.

A photo of Sh60 million Voi Gemstone Value Addition Centre in Taita Taveta county. The centre has been lying idle since 2017 despite having been equipped by government in 2018. The facility will offer value addition to gemstones and benefits small-scale and artisanal miners in the region.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group

"The locals are denied mining opportunities within the park for allegations that we will engage in poaching and environmental degradation. How do they trust those that are currently mining there?" questioned a local miner, Ezra Mdamu.

He said the government has not made it clear how the few individuals acquired their rights to access the park for mining.

"We have tried to know the requirements needed for us to be able to get the mining rights but the ministry has failed to make the process public," he said.

Taita Taveta Human Rights Watch chairperson, Hajji Mwakio claimed that Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers assault residents who go near the park by accusing them of being poachers.

Mr Mwakio said the residents are not benefitting from the park’s resources and are instead suffering from harassment by KWS rangers and also continue to face increased cases of human-wildlife conflicts.

"We want to know how the government gave them the mining rights, the process involved and also why they are denying locals the same rights. The whole process is shrouded by secrecy," she said.

Kenya Lands Alliance executive director Faith Alubbe said residents must benefit from resources found within their locality.

Ms Alubbe said it was unfair for the government to allow outsiders to mine in the park but prevent locals from accessing the area.

"If the park is opened for mining then there should be no discrimination in issuing of permits. Together with the community, we will ensure that residents too are allowed to mine in this park. There should be a level playground for everyone," she said.

An officer at the Voi Gemstone Value Addition Centre, Brian Bundi shows Petroleum and Mining PS Andrew Kamau a gemstone and how some of the machines are used to polish the stones on April 22, 2021

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group.

Among the influential individuals who allegedly own mining rights in Tsavo are senior state officials, former legislators and well-connected people in government.

The Mining Act, 2016 has provided access to mines in the protected areas but the law is yet to be implemented following the absence of regulations to govern the process.

Leaders in the county are also pushing for the gazettement of the Public Finance Management (Royalty Fund Sharing) Regulations to allow residents to benefit from minerals extracted in the county.

The regulation would see royalties shared between the national and county governments and communities on a percentage of 70-20-10 respectively.

Taita Taveta county is endowed with a vast variety of minerals including Tsavorites (green garnets), red garnets, sapphire, ruby, rhodolites, topaz, tourmalines, manganese and iron ore.


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