Wrangles derail much needed cement plant in Kitui County

Joseph kalaita Mbulu, former chief of Kanziko and first Chairmann of Ene Mali (owners of wealth) society. Their fortune, in form of limestone deposits, take up much of the water starved land. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

Residents of Kanziko Sub County, Kitui County are helplessly sitting on wealth. The fortune, in form of limestone deposits, take up much of the water starved land.

The pervasive precious stone has not translated into economic transformation 10 years since prospecting started.

Now the County Government of Kitui has stepped in to save a desperate situation by employing a geologist and engaging researchers to ascertain the deposits’ worth and make their findings known. Cement companies have for unknown reasons kept their findings to themselves.

“We shall publish whatever findings we get and shop for investors if the deposits are viable,” says Vincent Mutambu, chairman of a liaison committee elected in February, 2015 under supervision of the county government.

“We have carried out civic education and sensitised residents against welcoming investors who do not come through the liaison committee,” says Mr Mutambu.

Billionaire Dangote

Residents have also been warned against selling their ancestral land at throw away prices. Last year, Nigerian tycoon Aliko Dangote expressed interest in investing in the area.

“Dangote came in our formative stages, but my committee met with Ado Dangote, brother to Aliko Dangote together with his team at Kitui Governor’s office before he left for Nigeria shortly before that country’s general election, promising to return.”

Jeremiah Nzuki, a former chairman of Ene Mali (Owners of wealth), a society formed in 2005 to safeguard the vast natural resource says people’s despair worsened with Dangote’s mysterious departure after a hyped entry disguised as a government project.

He says fights among cement companies over the control of the resource has contributed to the mess exasperated by envy and disunity among local leaders.

“With the aim to undercut the original Ene Mali society leaders and confuse poor members for their selfish gain, a cabal of leaders bribed and poached some office bearers to form a splinter society that approached East African Portland Cement Company even as Bamburi was prospecting for quality and quantity. The cabal’s self-seeking move was the genesis of wars by cementcompanies that have left Kanziko in limbo,” says Mr Nzuki.

He says Kanziko is a prototype of the way natural resources in Africa mutate into disasters.

“Our sorry state is reflected in the meagre structures of reeds and earth that are the dwelling houses for a majority of our people,” he says ruefully.

Nzuki’s sentiments are echoed by Mr Joseph Mbulu, a former chief of Kanziko who was the first chairman of Ene Mali.

“We are poor partly because of competing energies over our God given wealth,” he says.

The retired Chief says the original Ene Mali society with 15 officials and 210 members welcomed Bamburi Cement in 2005.

“Bamburi was the first to come to the scene and we gave them consent to drill for samples. They paid those affected for damages at the rate of Sh20,000 per drilled hole and Sh10, 000 for each affected household and left, promising to return,” says Mr Mbulu.

During their sojourn in Kanziko that lasted up to 2009, he says Bamburi’s corporate social responsibility saw them drill a borehole that supplies locals with water to this day.

Mbulu says the entry of Athi River based East African Portland Cement Company in 2009 through a splinter society led by his erstwhile Deputy Chairman Zephania Matuku, may have led to Bamburi’s exit in a huff. “Bamburi never came back as they promised and have never shown any signs of doing so even after demarcation was done,” he laments.

Mr Mutunga Mulatya who became secretary of the splinter group confirms that East African Portland Cement paid Sh20,000 to each of the of the 210 Ene Mali households to obtain prospecting rights.

“They parted with Sh4.2 million and were allowed to drill for testing purposes,” says Mulatya who has since deserted the splinter group.

He says the two companies sued for mining rights but were stopped in their tracks by the absence of title deeds.

“East African Portland Cement left their spoors behind in the form of a makeshift office complete with a signboard and guards,” he says.

Not to be left behind was Athi River Mining Company, (ARM).

“They came through individuals in the defunct Kitui County Council and paid money to the tune of Sh800, 000 to individuals in 2006 as down payment for land and left promising to return. They have never reappeared to date,” says Mulatya.

There was a new twist to the debacle.

“Before the elected liaison committee could find its feet, the Dangote consortium was hurriedly introduced to Kanziko community end of 2014 at a baraza addressed by then acting commissioner of mines and geology Moses Njeru. Dangote was represented at the baraza by a Mr Bakari. The rhetoric was enticing. ‘We have looked around and found someone who will fix your problems once and for all,’” Mulatya remembers Mr Njeru saying.

To clear any doubts in the minds of the members that the new investor was serious, Ado Dangote the billionaire’s brither, graced the party.

He says Dangote raised member’s hopes to the stratosphere when he promised payment of Sh30, 000 per hole drilled to test for quality among other generous perks. That is yet to happen.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Mines and Geology that has been existence for three years unveiled a new Mining Act that came into effect on May 27, 2016.

“The Act does not only assure land owners of adequate compensation by licensed miners, but stipulates that accruing wealth be shared between the national and county governments and the affected community,” says Public Relations Officer Beatrice Kung’u.