What government can do to end rising cases of illegal mining

Murang'a security committee led by County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo inspecting one of the illegal quarry mines within Delomonte Kenya Limited (DKL) land. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Kenya's mining sector is undergoing reforms. The government is taking steps to address the widespread issue of illegal mining, prioritise safety, and ensure compliance with regulations. This shift towards responsible mining practices is a positive step for the country, but challenges remain.

It's important to acknowledge that the current situation is partly a consequence of past decisions. The 2019 moratorium on mining licences, while intended to improve regulation of the sector, might have inadvertently created opportunities for illegal operations.

Additionally, delays by the Ministry of Mining in designating specific zones for small-scale mining as stipulated by the 2016 Mining Act (Section 13) could have contributed to the burgeoning of unregulated activity.

Furthermore, the slow establishment of artisanal mining committees, coupled with the lack of clear boundaries for licensed artisanal miners may have left room for exploitation. This complexity also highlights the potential negative impact of corruption in instances where bona fide mineral rights holders facing an influx of illegal mining in their licensed areas end up finding it difficult to obtain adequate support due to corrupt practices.

An additional challenge facing Kenya's mining sector is the growing influence of foreign entities in established artisanal mining zones. Lax oversight and insufficient enforcement of regulations have enabled undocumented foreign traders and miners to infiltrate these areas. Often operating without proper licensing, these groups have the financial means to introduce heavy machinery, outcompeting smaller-scale, local operations.

By purchasing minerals directly from artisanal miners, they bypass official channels, leading to significant loss of revenue that should be collected by the Kenyan government through royalties and taxes. There are also concerns about these foreign actors engaging in smuggling activities, further undermining the integrity and potential benefits of the sector.

Despite these challenges, recent action taken by the government indicate a clear commitment to tackling illegal mining. The formation of a specialised police unit, the crackdown on unlicensed operators, and the streamlining of the licensing process are positive developments. Efforts to regulate artisanal mining while prioritising environmental protection will be crucial in ensuring communities benefit from responsible mining practices.

For long-term success, the government needs to address the factors that contributed to the rise of illegal mining. Swift designation of zones for small-scale operations, the establishment of functional artisanal mining committees, and clear demarcation of licensed areas are essential steps. Tackling corruption within the mining sector is vital to ensure a fair and transparent environment for all.

To address the issue of foreign actors in illegal practices, the government should take decisive action. First, stricter border controls and the proactive monitoring of artisanal mining zones are necessary to identify and curtail undocumented foreign involvement. Secondly, enforcement of the Mining Act's provisions is crucial to hold foreign and domestic illegal operators accountable. Third, limiting the activities of foreign entities in artisanal mining areas is worth considering.

Designating market centres where they can establish monitored businesses could help separate them from informal mining sites and improve transparency. Finally, the government should explore the establishment of mineral trading houses, similar to the model adopted in Tanzania. This would mandate all foreign buyers, with the exception of established investors registered with the Kenya Investment Authority and the Department of Mining, to purchase minerals through these regulated centres and obtain the required export certifications and tax clearances.

Mr Mwakesi is Executive Director, Extractive Insight Centre