Karebe Gold Mining Company mining site. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]

Activities at a gold mine at Chemase on the edge of Nandi Escarpment, Nandi County, have ground to a halt as politics and economic interests take centre stage.

Karebe Gold Mining Limited, which revived the mine after a 45-year lull, finds itself at crossroads due to a barrage of court cases after the expiry of its lease last year. The County Government of Nandi has maintained that it will not issue a business permit until land matters are resolved.

While the mining company has moved to an adjacent parcel of land from the one they leased from Mzee Cheseret Arap Korir for ten years, the battle has shifted them. In March this year, Karebe signed a sale agreement with Barnabas Kiplimo. The company claims that out of nowhere, a court case was instituted in what they interpret as an attempt to frustrate further activities in the area.

David May, the Managing Director of Karebe questioned, “How coincidental can it be that for over 30 years nobody showed interest in this piece land we have now bought but suddenly court cases are emerging?”

Court battles

On June 30 this year, Geoffrey Kipkorir Tanui and Gilbert Kipsang Tanui moved to court over the new parcel which Karebe had started fencing to start mining operations. The duo sought to have the certificate of confirmation of grant declared illegal. But the owner, Kiplimo, rebuffed these attempts.

An affidavit sworn by Kiplimo states that he bought the land from their father Pius Kiptanui Kogo on August 13, 2008, with a title deed being issued on April 16, 2013. He stated that a magistrate’s court sitting in Kapsabet confirmed his right to ownership for the parcel in October 28, 2008.

“That I have enjoyed peaceful ownership, possession, occupation and use of the subject parcel of land until April 2020 when I heard rumours that the Plaintiffs/ Respondents were alleging that they want to take the land back,” stated Kiplimo in his affidavit.

He further argued that Kipkorir and Kipsang were purporting to speak on behalf of their grandfather who was the original owner yet their father Kogo was still alive. Kogo has the authority to transact any business about the land – hence they have no locus standng to speak on the same.

He noted, “The Plaintiffs/Respondents are maliciously and mischievously seeking through the instant suit to invalidate a Certificate of Confirmation issued by a competent court oblivious of the fact that this Honourable Court is divested of the requisite jurisdiction to intervene in such a manner.”

In her September 11 ruling, Senior Resident Magistrate Christine Menya dismissed the suit which sought to invalidate the certificate of confirmation of grant.

She stated, “The application as it is leaves the parties as well as the court with nothing to litigate upon.”

With one hurdle overcome, the miner is still awaiting a business permit to start operations on the new parcel even after paying for it. On September 1, Karebe’s lawyer wrote a letter to the country government stating that despite submitting a plan on April 17 and an amended on May 28, the county is yet to issue the permit.

“It is important to note that at some point our clients were informed verbally that the delay in granting the approvals was occasioned by the disputes with respect to the subject parcels of land. We hereby formally communicate to your office that the Honourable Court itself in setting the record straight with respect to our clients’ rights on the subject parcels of land,” read the letter.

The county is yet to respond to the letter.

At the former mining site, an environmental disaster looms due to a tailing dam full of cyanide that has been left unattended due a court order barring any activity on the previous mining site.

But beyond the court cases, Karebe mining sees a bigger hand which they claim has vested interests and is keen on kicking them out of the fault scarp. May accuses certain politicians, both local and national for inciting the family to reject a lease renewal and preparing ground for takeover by some Japanese and Chinese investors.

A few weeks ago, two Chinese nationals were welcomed in a fanfare at Korir’s home, a move that is seen as a sign for the impending takeover.

The standoff is a matter that not even the ministry would want to get involved in as a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity intimated that the matter is a hot potato which nobody wants to touch lest “it goes with someone’s head.”

Attempts to reach the Cabinet Secretary for Mines John Munyes have been futile with only junior officers from his office responding but anonymously.

May says the turmoil faced by Karebe since the run-up to the 2017 General elections until now are not ordinary but well-orchestrated to frustrate the mining company and eventually drive it out.

 “It started with us getting bashed in every political rally by political figures and some have even taken our issue to Parliament but each time agencies are sent here, they leave without finding any fault,” he laments.

He adds that over 400 jobs have been lost with the closure of the mine which has earned government over Sh1.5 billion in revenue since its inception. On December 3, 2019, for instance, the State Department for Mines received Sh7.9 million as royalty on gold.

State agencies including the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) have carried audits against claims that the mine was polluting the environment. In one such audit, it was recommended that the company buys an ambulance. Visits by government officials have become a norm rather than an exception, some including fully-armed police officers.