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Friday, October 8, 2010

Kenya sitting on unexplored wealth reserves

SIURCE: The Standard
By Lillian Aluanga
It has been four years since the Justice Samuel Bosire-led commission released its report on the Goldenberg scandal.
At the centre of the scandal on fictitious gold and diamond exports from the country was a previously unknown Asian businessman and dozens of Government officials whose dealings are believed to have eaten into a sizeable chunk of the economy.
While many could easily have laughed off the prospects of such mineral reserves at the time, recent discoveries of commercially viable gold deposits in Migori and Narok counties, coal in Mwingi and possibilities of oil reserves in northern Kenya have elicited excitement.

Gold mining in Nyanza and Western regions has huge potential for the economy.
"The mineral industry is underdeveloped. There has been failure to build capacity around this sector because it has not been considered a priority area for development," says Daniel Ichangi, a geology lecturer at the University of Nairobi.According to geologists in Nyanza, gold deposits in Rongo and Nyatike can support large scale mining for up to 15 years. This –– for a country endowed with a variety of mineral resources in almost every region –– could have a huge impact on the economy.
Ichangi, who also chairs the Association of Professional Societies of East Africa, categorises the country’s mineral reserves into four: Metals, industrial minerals and rocks, and gemstones. Oil, gas, coal and groundwater make up the fourth category that is crucial for generating energy.
"Gold has potential in Nyanza and Western regions along the Archaean terrane, which extends into northern Tanzania and South Eastern Uganda. It has also been encountered in some parts of Coast, Pokot and Turkwel," says Ichangi.
He lists copper, another metal whose reserves are found in Migori County’s Macalder mines. Then there are zinc and lead deposits, which come with traces of silver, occurring in Kinangoni and Vitengeni areas at the Coast.
Iron Existence
Studies have also shown the existence of iron in Eastern parts of the country, while titanium, whose mining has often generated controversy among locals and multinational companies in Kwale, is found at the Coast.
"We can also look for uranium and chromium. Usually, manganese deposits tend to come with iron, and there is also potential for its exploration," adds Ichangi.
Kenya Chamber of mines Chairman Cedric Simonet says the mineral industry’s contribution to the GDP currently stands at about three per cent, a figure that could be doubled within five to seven years, if a conducive investment environment is created.
"The Government has, since the colonial period, overlooked the potential of the mineral industry as a driver of the country’s economic growth. This is now changing, but there is still significant under investment in this sector, whose relevant laws are obsolete and unfit for both local and foreign investment," says Simonet.
Kenya’s largest mines are in Magadi, known for its production of soda ash, Kenya Fluorspar in Kerio Valley and the titanium projects in Kwale. Small deposits of gemstones are scattered across rural areas, but the most active gemstone mines are at the Coast.
According to Ichangi, the gemstones category largely comprises rubies, green garnets and sapphire deposits scattered across the Eastern, Coast, and Northeastern regions of the country. While rubies and green garnet occurrences are high in Taita Taveta, sapphire is found in areas around Garbatula, East Isiolo, Mwingi, Kitui and other parts of northern Kenya.
"We haven’t even scratched the surface yet in the discovery of gemstones," says Ichangi, who points to inadequate expertise in exploration, as one of several reasons for this. Under the industrial minerals and rocks category, limestone deposits at the Coast come in handy for manufacturers of cement, while marble, also used in construction, occurs in eastern parts of the country, Kajiado and Pokot areas.
As Kenya struggles to find her footing in the world of mineral exploration, other countries on the continent have these resources to thank for thriving economies.
"South Africa’s, economy is largely driven by minerals and technology around it. Botswana has a thriving diamond industry. Zimbabwe once had a mature gold industry, while Ghana, popularly referred to as the ‘Gold Coast’ also has potential for oil and gas," says Ichangi.
South Africa’s wealth is built on its vast mineral resources with nearly 90 per cent of the platinum metals on earth, 80 per cent of manganese reserves and 41 per cent of gold occurrences.
Closer home Ethiopia is among major producers of oil and gas in the Ogaden region, Tanzania has recently discovered gas, while South Sudan has vast oil reserves. Besides Chad and Nigeria that have oil and gas deposits, Uganda was recently added to the list of oil producing countries, churning out about two billion barrels of the black gold.
Besides a Mining Act dating back to 1940, faulted for the slow pace of reform in the sector, Simonet points to the need for enhancing research capacity to find more viable mineral deposits in the country.
Simonet says many sections within the Mining Act remain unclear, particularly in relations between land rights and mineral rights, and that an overhaul of the legislation is urgently needed.
"All successful mining countries in Africa have recent legislation (post 1995). A new draft Bill is currently in preparation and is largely satisfactory to the industry, but there are a few critical issues which must be ironed out to avoid unnecessary complications in licensing," he says.

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