Death and rape at Marsabit gold mine spark fear among residents

With the influx of fortune seekers and with little or no regulations by government, Dabel is becoming a Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.

As The Standard established, locals, especially women and children are the biggest casualties of the heterogeneous fusion of visitors and natives in Dabel.

When we arrived in the village we met Issa Rashida, 37, who travelled 1200 kilometres from his home in Tanzania to Dabel village.

Rashida is well aware of the realities of life here, he also knows the risk of gold mining.

"I came all the way from Tarime on the border of Kenya and Tanzania to look for wealth," says Rashida.

"One day I may make my money and go back to change my village."

Rashida is a businessman who sometimes buys gold nuggets from miners.

Unlike many who fumble to find the pricey commodity, Rashida arrived in Dabel with a special device which he says detects metallic substances beneath the surface of the earth.

"You know, gold is a metal, my machine picks it under the soil. That's what makes life easy for me," he says.

He notes that mining of gold and other precious stones requires patience... and a bit of luck here and there.

Not far from where Rashida plies his trade we find Noha Tekelo, a young man from Ethiopia. He is busy digging some whitish hard and lifeless earth.

"There are precious stones here," he says.

Tekelo says that as the first born in his family, he is obligated to help his parents raise his siblings. The family is poor.

In Ethiopia, children below the age of 18 do not engage in activities where they earn money. It is deemed child labour. However, poverty and a tough economy have forced Tekelo who is not yet 18 to work.

Tekelo, an Orthodox Christian, as are most Ethiopians, hopes that one day the heavens will open and he will strike a sizable piece of gold which he will turn into wealth for himself, his parents and siblings. He left home when he was in Form One and hopes to return to school some day.

The process of getting gold from the whitish earth is laborious. There are several stages before you get to what looks like the final product.

The first lot of workers are responsible for smashing the rocks into smaller pieces. The rocks with the gold ore are then fed into a grinding machine that further breaks them into smaller particles.

Valuable ore

Another group sifts through the particles that are now mixed with water. A final team mans the water outlet to recover any valuable ore that may slip through the initial stage unnoticed. That is the standard operating procedure to obtain gold from the earth, we are told

We monitor the process to what we are told is the end but when we ask to see the final product, the answer takes us aback.

"You cannot be shown gold just like that, you are not serious," says Juma Ouma, a Ugandan.

When we arrived in Dabel there were reports that a man had been attacked by unknown people the previous night because he had been found with gold.

That explained why none of the miners was willing to show us the finished product. Finished gold is a tight-lipped affair. No one wants to let another know his earthly wealth.

Gold mining activities here have seen businesses come up in the dry patched lands that on first glimpse appear lifeless and desolate.

Several startups are underway in this camp. They include eateries which are owned by mostly Ethiopian businessmen and women. A few Kenyans are also involved in the trade.

At one of the entertainment joints, we are welcomed by Ethiopian decorations and perfumes. The place is owned by Ayantu Chunya.

The growth however has its downside, the people are increasing and yet no amenities are being built. There are no toilets, getting clean water is a nightmare and there is no dispensary where one can be rushed when they fall ill.

We come to a mound of earth and are told that that it is the resting place of a victim of the many outbreaks of cholera in the village.

A week into our assignment in Dabel, allegations of rape and sexual assault are brought to our attention. The residents blame this on the influx of undocumented gold miners.

Sexual assault

Samira, not her real name, is a 14-year-old girl who lives here. She is a victim of sexual assault. She was unfortunate to be out while it was getting dark. She was attacked by men she didn't know and couldn't see them properly

"They held me by force and defiled me," she says

"I tried to shout but he over powered me, before he finished, another came, I don't remember what happened later, I passed out," she narrates painfully.

Gold miniers process the ore that has been dug from the pitch in Dabel village in Marsabit County. [Jacob Muasya, Standard]

Rukia Salat, the chairperson of Sakuye, says that the incident not only left Samira scared, but it also left her with a child to raise.

In a society that shuns victims of sexual assault, her family and friends have abandoned her.

Samira, who was in Grade Four, has since dropped out of school.

According to Ms Salat, Samira's case mirrors that of several other underage girls in the village.

Samira's family is enraged that the authorities are doing nothing despite the fact that the perpetrators of the heinous act are known, and roam freely.

A report published in May 2023 by Deputy County Commissioner Stanley Too that recommended that the camp be closed is yet to be acted upon.

In an interesting twist, a week after revealing the plans at a public baraza, Mr Too was transferred to another region. It is not clear if his transfer is related tohis proposal to have the camp closed.

The current county commissioner Norbert Komora said: "We will close this camp, we will consult with different groups. We have a plan as the government."

Mohamed Hussein, a resident, said they were used to empty promises by the government.

"The security chiefs are promising us this but we are sure it won't happen," said Hussein.

We obtained a letter dated March 12, 2023 written by elders of the community, lamenting insecurity and rape cases in their village.

Adeb Abdi says that according to governance analysts from Marsabit, the gold mining in Dabel is influenced by political forces and they are worried that they could steal the land.

"Our greatest fear is that we might lose the land under gold mining, hidden hands might grab the valuable land," said Abdi.

It remains curious if the government will take action for the sake of people of Dabel village.

Eastern Regional Commissioner Paul Rotich said the government will eventually shutdown the site but due process must be followed.

He added that the government is aware of the environmental degradation and rape cases in the village.