Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Road to Kenya’s Riches, Paved with Potholes and Gullies

Kenya’s economy has for many years been supported by tourism and exports from the agricultural sector mainly tea, coffee and horticultural products. Many a citizen came to believe that Kenya unlike Tanzania, South Africa and other African nations such as Nigeria and Gabon was not endowed with natural resources such as oil and minerals including gold, diamonds, rubies etc.

Green Tourmalines From Osotua Mining Company Mgongoni Mines

However, in the last five years the government has put in place mechanisms to encourage foreign and local investors to explore and prospect for oil, minerals and a whole array of hydrocarbons.

Green Tourmaline from Osotua Mining Company, Mgongoni mines

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Mining Using Simple Tools

These efforts have been rewarded by the discovery of onshore and offshore oil reserves in Turkana and Coastal regions respectively.  The discovery of precious, semi-precious minerals such as rubies, garnets, tourmalines, titanium and rare earth minerals in the south coastal region has boosted efforts by the government to target new revenue sources.

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Tough life in the Taita Taveta gemstone mines

It feels like mining in the 19th century! Mines around Kasigau, Mgongoni, Mangale, Kapanga and Kuranze are rich in tsavorites, ruby, rhodolite, tourmaline, and red garnet. These mines are located within the expansive Taita Taveta group ranches. Here mining is mostly done by hand with very little to no investment in machinery and modern mining technics.

Machinery which can accelerate mine production

The potential for hitting rich gemstone reserves and other precious stones is high but very little has been achieved since the peak of mining in this region which appears to have been in the mid-1970s to late 1990s. This is evidenced by the huge and deep trenches which have been left open and the numerous broken down excavators, compressor machines and abandoned mining camps. Apparently, no heavy investments followed this peak of mining for unknown reasons.

Abandoned mines characterized by open trenches and deep holes left uncovered are a hazard to wildlife, livestock and people. Policies and regulations to require miners to refill abandoned mines should be developed and enforced.

Dangerous Abandoned Mines

Poor Infrastructure Hampering Investments

Matters are not made any better by the utter neglect of the infrastructure in the region. Misplaced priorities are not uncommon in the way Kenyans take care of resources that produce golden eggs.

One of Several Washed-out Bridges

You would imagine that with the fierce scramble for resources to manage and run development projects by county governments, counties such as the Taita Taveta would be in the fore-front of ensuring all roads to the mineral rich Kapanga, Kasigau and Kuranze regions are maintained to standards that will encourage investors from within and without. It is imperative that, the maintenance of infrastructure in Taita Taveta county and other counties in Kenya should be a top priority.

Damaged Maungu-Kasigau road

Recent observations indicate the roads are in total disrepair. Urgent remedial measures are required. Some of the roads leading to, for example Kapanga are characterized by gullies and lack of continuity forcing motorists to occasionally divert into the bushes to avoid getting stuck in deep trenches and gullies.

Dangerous broken road surface on the Maungu-Kasigau road

The Maungu-Kasigau-Kuranze road which also leads to Kwale, Tanzania and also to the Tsavo West National Park is in no better state. The road is characterized by washed out bridges, deep gullies and a very deeply corrugated road surface.

Broken-down cars on the Maungu-Kasigua road and beyond are not uncommon due to poor state of the road

These dilapidated roads are a danger to road users, an obstacle to efficient transportation, dampen business atmosphere and cause tremendous damage to vehicles.

Poorly drained and flooded Mgongoni Road

Insufficient Telecommunication Network

The region is poorly served by the mobile or fixed telephone network. As a matter of fact, mobile telephone connectivity is not available past Kasigau. Inside the mining zone, people have to climb trees or seek elevated grounds to capture the elusive mobile network.

Mgongoni Network-Point Tree

Lack of mobile telephone connectivity hinders communication especially between buyers and sellers of gemstones. It also makes the management of multiple mining sites very difficult. Overall we all know the role efficient telephone communications play in enhancing security. Lack of it in this region makes all the miners on edge especially when they are handling large volumes of gemstones in the camps.

The absence of Internet connectivity cannot be gain-said. The potential immeasurable benefits miners would acquire by being able to access the internet include learning modern mining methods, shop for efficient and affordable machinery and look for internal and external markets.

Water and lack of electricity are additional constraints which make mining in the region next to impossible. Most mining camps have to buy and ferry water from as far as 20 Km at exorbitant costs.

Long distances traveled to fetch water

Similarly, electricity which would come in handy enabling the use of power tools and welding of broken down machinery parts is not available and can only be obtained from Kasigau, more than 20 Km away.

A whole day can be spent waiting in line for 20 liters of water

Notwithstanding, water supply to the local residents living adjacent to the mining zones is non-existent. The residents spend countless hours fetching for water for household consumption and for their livestock.

This one single activity hampers development when so much time is devoted to fetching one item deemed to be a basic necessity the local government should provide above everything else.

Waiting the whole day for water. A development killer activity!

n conclusion, the advent of the new dispensation and a devolved government system may augur well for the development of smaller regions in the name of counties, but care should be taken not to devolve the ingrained complacency from the central government that depressed rural development in yester-years.

By Patrick Shompole



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