In Kenya, Kwale County’s Mrima hill is amongst the top five regions in the world with rare earth deposits. Recent lab results from Cortec Mining Limited indicate that niobium, valued at Kshs. 5.3 trillion (62.4 billion USD), exists in the area. In addition, the county has several ongoing mining activities such as exploitation of gold, titanium and natural gas. This represents a beacon of hope for the locals who stand to benefit from employment opportunities.
However, the region is marred by persistent land ownership issues that prevent the local population from enjoying the economic benefits of the rare minerals. Communities in the county, especially those living around the mining sites, are often evicted from their homes without compensation by both the government and private mining companies. In addition, informal mining groups are short-changed by unscrupulous brokers, leaving them in poverty despite working for years in mining. There is a general lack of transparency regarding the location of the minerals, which aggravates tensions surrounding community benefits-sharing deals.
Kwale Youth and Governance Consortium (KYGC), a Hivos partner through the Making All Voices Count (MAVC) initiative, has proved to be an important factor in enhancing information exchange amongst informal mining groups and the community at large.
To support their work on social accountability, KYGC has embarked on digitally mapping mineral resources in the county, giving priority to those areas where extraction activities are either ongoing or planned.
Their Digital Mapping for Social Accountability (Extractives) project ensures that minerals in the county are extracted sustainably, in ways beneficial to the communities. In addition to community and small-scale mining groups, the project also targets organizations working on social accountability in the extractive sector, the Ministry of Mining, and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.
Through KYGC’s methodology, digital maps are created and distributed in mining regions across Kwale County. This ensures that the locals have the information they would need to effectively demand accountability and reforms in mining.
Three miners from the Lungalunga region tell a harrowing tale of their experience in sand harvesting dominated by brokers. The small-scale miners usually fill one lorry with about two to five tonnes of sand, for which the middle men pay them a meagre Kshs. 5,000 (49 USD). It also takes them longer to sell their sand owing to the large queues of sand harvesters, leaving them with little income to get by on.
With a sector that lacks strict regulations on costs, unscrupulous brokers fleece the sand harvesters at will by gaining double profits from selling sand. Five tonnes of sand bought at Kshs. 5,000 are sold for anything between Kshs. 20,000 to 30,000 (200-300 USD).
KYGC has moved to remedy this situation by registering informal mining groups so they are recognized as legitimate groups. This means their concerns cannot simply be disregarded on account of legality. Apart from government, the organization is also working with Pwani University to publish a baseline report on natural resource information in Kwale.