In the last two weeks, the Mining Department has made itself visible. A comprehensive mining status report has been publicised in the media, the presence of coltan mineral deposits in Embu County was officially announced, and a gold processing plant was promised in Kakamega.
Kenya has essentially lost about 10 years in implementing a mining strategy despite having developed a first-class mining legal, regulatory and institutional framework.
Mining is one of the three principal production sectors ( including agriculture and industrialisation) with a high potential for foreign direct investments (FDIs), increased exports, and the creation of rural jobs. I believe Kenya has as much mineral potential as any one of our neighbouring countries. It is all a matter of scaling up the commercialisation of known deposits and upgrading artisanal mining to well-capitalised corporate operations.
Mining licensing has to be done professionally and transparently to avoid the familiar dangers of beneficial speculation and the creation of local mineral cartels with the potential to hold the sector and economy to ransom.
Experience and capacity to fund the development of mining prospects should be a key licensing criterion. County governments and local communities should be sufficiently involved, as these have shared legal stakes in all local mineral resources.
Above all, mining should be shielded from unwarranted activism and politics. Kenya should ride on the ongoing high global demand for critical energy and IT minerals, by sufficiently publicising its mineral potential on global platforms and trade delegations.
There is an urgent need to upgrade expertise in our mining department and institutions to acquire first-class expertise to fully participate in global mineral opportunities.
Universities and technical and vocational education and training institutions (TVETs) should be guided and funded to develop requisite extractive skills.
And let us be pragmatic about Kitui coal deposits which we need to substitute imported coal and fuel oil used for industrial heating. Climate-wise, there is no difference between carbon emitted by Kitui coal and that emitted by imported coal.
Historical records show that Kitui County has iron ore and limestone deposits, which would need heat from coal to make steel and cement. I also believe that the mandate for coal reserves development should be with the Department of Mining and not the Energy Ministry.
Initially, we should not be obsessed with minerals value addition, which requires economies of scale and significant capital. We should instead focus on countrywide exploration and scaling up production and exports of mineral resources already established. In the meantime, officially publish what minerals are available here in Kenya.
The writer is a petroleum consultant. [email protected]