Poverty-stricken villagers sitting on ‘gold’ - Daily Nation

Poverty-stricken villagers sitting on ‘gold’

Thursday January 20 2011

Mining iron ore by Wanjala Mining Company at Kishushe where area residents have a grudge against the miner. Photo/LABAN WALLOGA

Mining iron ore by Wanjala Mining Company at Kishushe where area residents have a grudge against the miner. Photo/LABAN WALLOGA 

By ANTHONY KITIMO [email protected] And JONATHAN MANYINDO [email protected]

After enduring years of grinding poverty, residents of Taita Taveta County are now looking forward to a better life, thanks to the discovery of rich deposits of minerals.

The region, which has for years been known only for sisal farming has vast deposits of minerals spread across its expansive plains and scenic hills.

Among these minerals are iron ore which is predominantly found in Kishushe area; asbestos in Sangenyi Village, chalk and limestone in Mto-Mwagodi as well as construction stones and sand at Voi River.

But it is the iron ore deposits, whose traces first appeared way back in 1992, that have left the area abuzz with activity and disputes, as prospectors and miners move in droves to stake a claim and make a killing.

Like the magnet used to prove its presence among pieces of rock, the iron ore deposits have lately attracted companies and individuals keen on exploiting the mineral, resulting in a scramble previously unseen in the area.

Documents seen by Nation, indicate that more than five mining companies submitted applications to the government in the last three months to win the right to mine the iron ore in different parts of Taita Taveta.

Construct roads

And as the scramble gathers pace, residents are already beginning the taste the sweet things to come as a number of investors begin to construct roads and provide other social amenities in a bid to win over the support of locals.

On its part, the government has moved in to ensure the prospecting and mining is done in accordance with the law and in an orderly way, and that the locals are not sidelined from the activities but allowed to directly benefit.

This is meant to stem confrontations and killings that have rocked the area, as those interested in the mining contracts lock horns.

In January 2009, a family at Kamtonga Village, Mwatate, in the mineral rich Taita District, was forced out of its home after more than 400 villagers raided a land to excavate gemstones.

The family was displaced when the villagers arrived and started digging for the precious stones on his land after word went round that the home was sitting on deposits.

In September 2009, a Scottish gemstone miner Mr Campbell Bridges was stabbed to death with a spear by two people over mining tussles at Kabanga in Mwatate District.

To avert this kind of violence, local leaders in the area both political and administrators are currently conducting civic education to the public on the importance of the available resources in the area in the future.

Wundanyi DO Borni David who led all chiefs and other government officials to a fact finding mission in different mines in Taita on Wednesday said the government would only license investors to excavate if they meet required standards.

He said Taita-Taveta County will be one of the counties with the potential to attain economic development, thanks to the presence of the minerals.

“We cannot allow everybody to mine in the region if the residents have not given their consent; their land to be used for mining,” said Mr David, adding that there were those operating in Taita illegally.

Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadeghu who accompanied the other leaders, said the residents would benefit immensely if they allow credible investors to excavate in their farms.

He said the available resources would be vital to the county’s economy and benefit residents when the new constitution becomes fully operational in 2012.

“The investor conducting mining activities in Wanjala is currently constructing a road which will open up opportunities in Taita and attract more investors. We should encourage such investors for our own benefit,” said Mr Mwadeghu.

Mr Mahmood Kassim, chief executive officer of Wanjala Mining Company, a company extracting iron ore in Kishushe Location, said his company was spending Sh200 million to construct Ndi-Kishushe Road.

He said that was one of the projects his company was asked to do to the residents as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility. He said he had invested more than Sh500 million to purchase excavating and crashing equipment.

“We are planning to set up melting firm in the site due to abundance of iron ore if the government gives us permission. The company will employ thousands of people majority who will be the locals,” said Mr Kassim.

Mr Kassim alleged that some local residents were being instigated by other prospective investors to frustrate his company.

“Government has certified us, but we are having problems with some leaders who want us to relocate our company to pave way for other prospective miners,” said Mr Kassim.

In the past one month, there has been attempts to shield a Mombasa based mining company operating on the 60,000 acre parcel of land belonging to Cooperative Ranching Society which has degenerated into a bitter war of words between the government and the in Taita Taveta County.

The residents are optimistic those resources alone can build better roads, health centres, schools, provide water and generate decent incomes for families in the future.

Lack of skills to excavate minerals among residents in the region has been blamed for the increasing poverty index forcing Taita-Taveta Jomo Kenyatta Campus to introduce courses in Mining and Mineral Engineering.