Kenya lays ground to lift mineral exploration freeze


Mining Process using pressurized Water Pipes at the Base Titanium Site in Kwale County in this photo taken on June 29, 2022. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Kenya is racing to finalise the digitisation of data on owners of mineral rights, location, the validity of permits and compliance with regulations, including payment of fees, to lay ground for President William Ruto to lift the ban on prospecting permits.

Principal Secretary for Mining Elijah Mwangi says a secure mineral rights system will improve regulation of the sector activities, including new exploration of ores, which has been on the ice since November 2019.

The country, under the previous administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta, stopped issuing prospecting licences in 2019 to allow fresh mapping of mineral resources.

“We are working round the clock to see whether the issue of online [mining] cadastre, geophysical data as well as equipping and modernising the geological laboratory at Madini House are done,” Mr Mwangi told the Business Daily on phone.

Read: Reviving Kenya's mining sector

“If they are done then the moratorium may be lifted. But, of course, it is the prerogative of the president to lift the moratorium. We may do everything, but that does not make the president lift it.”

The three-year-long moratorium has slowed new investments in the sector, which contributes less than a percentage to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Dr Ruto, who took over power last September, has pledged to unlock the potential of the sector and make it a key driver of Kenya’s growth under his administration.

Besides exploration, Kenya has not renewed or issued new mining licences since 2015 when then Mining minister Najib Balala revoked the licences of 65 companies, forcing mining firms to operate under a gazette notice.

“There has been three years of inactivity in matters of licences and permits for exploration and prospecting. The immediate impact of this is that there’s no activity that is going on that will lead us to have new discoveries because new discoveries come from continuous exploration and prospecting,” said Patrick Kanyoro, who chairs the board of the Kenya Chamber of Mines (KCM), the sector lobby.

“The general trend in mining is that when you do not have exploration, then you don’t expect new projects to come which is a loss to the economy.”

Kenya has proven deposits of titanium in Kwale, gold in western Kenya and coal at Mui Basin in Kitui.

The country is also believed to hold significant deposits of copper, niobium, manganese and rare earth minerals which largely remain under-exploited, dwarfing the mining sector’s contribution to the national economic output.

The sector’s contribution to GDP — a measure of national economic output — has for years stagnated at less than a percentage, hovering between 0.7 and 0.8 percent in five years through 2021.

Read: How Treasury is reaping big from Kwale titanium mine

The Kenyan Mineral Rights Board chairman Stephen Kuria has in the past estimated that Kenya's untapped mineral sector has the potential of earning the country $6.6 billion (Sh818 billion), or nearly 10 percent of GDP.

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