Construction work on the Sigalagala-Butere road in Kakamega County has been temporary suspended… because villagers have taken over the site in search of gold.
For the past three days, the equipment taken to the site by the contractor has not moved because it is unsafe to continue with the work with so many people digging.
“We have been unable to do our work because of the presence of villagers,” said Mr Jacktone Onyango, a supervisor with East African Trading Development and Engineering Company, which was awarded the Sh1 billion contract to build the 24-kilometre road.
“We have talked to administration officials and leaders to talk to the community to allow us to work.”
It all started when earth movers started digging up earth on the stretch where the road is expected to pass near the former Rosterman gold mines.
No sooner had the excavation started than wananchi from Ikolomani and Shinyalu areas started streaming in, taking up positions on the site as they chipped away in search of gold.
MP IN A DILEMMA
Ikolomani MP Bernard Shinali said he was in a dilemma over what to do.
The tarmacking of the road is an important project that would impact positively on development in the region, he said.
However, he appeared unwilling to ask the gold diggers to give way to the road construction workers. They probably voted for him.
“We are talking to the community to allow the contractor to proceed with the work uninterrupted,” he said.
On Thursday, women and men armed with machetes, hoes and metals bars had taken up positions on the newly-excavated section, splitting rocks amid claims that there were traces of gold.
Some pupils skipped classes to join their parents in the search.
Mrs Jane Mbone from Bulindwa village said she had worked at the site from 6am on Wednesday until 7 pm, hoping for a lucky strike.
“We are here to dig up the tunnels in the hope that we will find gold deposits to sell and pay school fees for our children,” she said.
Cruspinus Avado, 17, said he had been unable to raise fees to join Form One and hoped to make some cash to fund his education if he struck gold.
The search for gold is now threatening to get out of hand.
Mr Lawrence Itolondo, a former chairman of the Kakamega County Council, on Thursday said the villagers had threatened to invade his home, which is not too far from the road, because there is a tunnel from the abandoned mines, which passes through his compound.
To secure his property, he had to call in Administration Police officers to keep the villagers away from his home.
At one point, police and administration officials were called in to disperse the villagers who had gathered at the site in large numbers.
The word “Ikolomani” is a corruption of the English word “gold mine” although it is now used as the name of the district in Kakamega County.
The Rosterman company prospected for gold in the area but departed in the early 1960s because the deposits were not commercially viable.
However, wananchi from the area have continued to prospect for the precious metal but mainly in river beds. Some of the diggers have had lucky strikes.
The arrival of the earth moving equipment attracted villagers because they do not have sophisticated equipment to dig for the precious metal.
Generally, villagers pool the nuggets they collect, which they then give to trusted couriers who then sell the gold to dealers in Kisumu where it is measured in grammes.