Improve mineral wealth checks

Base Titanium mining plant in Kwale County.

Photo credit: File | Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

The other day, we woke up to the news that the government had suspended two Chinese mining companies, Zhengwei and Chuanshan, that were mining diatomite in Baringo.

The matter is yet to be ventilated in the public domain, and we know very little about the dynamics that went on behind the scenes to cause the abrupt expulsion of these foreigners.

The extractive sector, mining, fiscal justice, and unfair exploitation by foreign investors were on my mind recently.

This is after I had completed reading the report by the investigations group, the Blood Gold Report, which documents how the Russian mercenary entity—the Wagner Group—has expanded mining activities by trading mineral concessions with the provision of protection and security services to African elites and leaders, especially in countries with weak governance regimes.

Why is it that there is very little debate in Kenya about mining concessions, corruption dynamics and the wheeler dealings that underpin the issuance of mining concessions?

What I find most fascinating in the literature is the increasing presence of Russian mining companies in Africa, especially the recent exploits of the mercenary entity, Wagner Group in the continent.

Also noteworthy is a trend in Africa of what appears to be a quiet exodus by mining companies from Europe and the North mostly because of the existing trade sanctions on Moscow.

The Europeans are exiting at a time when Moscow’s engagement in mining in the continent is growing at a very fast pace, with major activities happening in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In war-torn Sudan, the reports describe how Wagner has taken control of a major gold refinery that has made it the dominant buyer of unprocessed Sudanese gold, with multiple accounts of Russian military transport planes carrying processed minerals out of the country.

These reports approximate that Wagner’s mining operations in the Central Africa Republic could see the mercenary group’s operations hit an estimated gross value of gold deposits amounting to $ 21.8 billion.

In Mali—according to The Gold Blood Report, Wagner forces are being paid in cash by the military regime that took over power in 2021.

The policy implications for countries like Kenya are clear. We must change policies and laws to ensure that their mining assets give maximum benefits to our citizens.

In January, the government went to the rooftops to make the sensational announcement that a rare metallic ore known as Coltan had been discovered in Embu County.

This is an extremely valuable mineral used in the manufacture of electronic goods like mobile phones, laptops, and video console games.

Until the other day, the belief and accepted wisdom was that this mineral was only found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Months later, there is evidence that we are in a hurry to establish the Kenya Coltan Corporation to exploit and manage this resource.

Yet this is a major opportunity for attracting foreign direct investment into the country.

Several years ago, we announced the discovery of rare earth minerals in Taita Hills which was billed as the largest untapped rare earth deposits in the world. Nothing happened after that announcement.

We must accept that the framework for regulating and steering the development of mining in this country is still very weak.

Way back in 2017, the government established the National Mining Corporation. To date, all we know about this parastatal is that it has a board of directors that earns allowances.

The institutional mechanism for monitoring whether mining companies are complying with licence conditions is also weak and inefficient.

The capacity to monitor and effect royalty payments is almost nonexistent. If you think I am exaggerating, grab a copy of the performance audit report on monitoring mining operations that was conducted by the Office of the Auditor General.

Currently, we are in the process of passing a new mining Bill that was tabled in Parliament last September.

The writer is a former managing editor of The EastAfrican.

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