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Don't allow foreigners to map out our mines

By Mbatau wa Ngai | Updated Tue, March 21st 2017 at 08:35 GMT +3

Parliament did the right thing last week when it ruled out giving a Chinese company a contract to do digital mapping for Kenya minerals. To show that it means business, Parliament put money where its mouth is by bringing back Sh2.7 billion budget that had been slashed from the budget estimates.
Parliament went even further and insisted that the survey must be carried out by local geologists.Perhaps, Treasury may deem it necessary to explain to Kenyans why it is finding it so hard to find a paltry Sh7 billion in a Sh2 trillion budget to finance an exercise with the potential to unlock trillions of shillings in revenues from investments in the mining sector.

That these figures are not picked at random is proven by a report prepared by the Ministry of Mining estimating that revenues from the sector could account for up to 10 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet, despite the huge potential, Treasury seems determined to hand over the exercise that could have far-reaching financial ramifications to a Chinese firm. Treasury’s first attempt to have the Chinese do the work began in 2012 but fell through after three years of talks after Export-Import Bank of China failed to give Kenya a commitment that it would fund China’s Geological Exploration Technology Institute (GETI) to the tune of Sh7 billion. Kenyans may never know the reasons behind the fallout between the two firms given the demonstrated Chinese propensity to fund similar projects elsewhere in Africa. But we can celebrate the fact that Parliament has woken up to its responsibility to protect the public interest. For it does not take rocket science to realize the amount of mischief a country—no matter how friendly and well meaning—can do when it holds another country’s secrets.

And that is precisely what awarding a Chinese or any other foreign firm a contract to map out Kenya’s minerals’ wealth would mean. This is particularly pertinent when the country awarded the contract to a fast growing sector with ambitions to become a global economic leader. In such an event it would be naïve not to expect that country’s interests would come first.

Hopefully, the government that is elected on August 8 may find time to do a quick inventory of what the country needs to not only attain Vision 2030 but also form a coalition of the willing with other African countries to map out our mineral resources and get development partners who will develop them in a manner that ensures the continent realizes its full potential. This proposition is borne out of the often-forgotten fact that Africa has provided the resources that propelled other continents into number one.

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First off-the block was Europe. The continent was relatively backward when it had the fatal embrace with Africa soon after the Berlin Conference of 1888 when each of the major European powers got a slice of the continent. The result was trade in slavery and colonialism that lasted for about half a century although many analysts argue that the vices never ended but only mutated into a different form.

The scramble for Africa provided the resources that grew Europe so rapidly that it overtook other older civilizations and empires in Asia.
Second to take off was the United States of America (USA) which also benefited hugely from its exploitation of Central and South America although the region was nominally ruled by Spain and Portugal.

The struggle for resources from countries that were until then under various forms of colonial rule is what led the US to champion the granting of independence to these nations. Any talk of spreading democratic rule was, and still is, just that: talk. But time has come for Africa to stop being a mid-wife to other continents and become a mother herself. And Kenya can play its part by drawing together a coalition of those willing to walk the development talk together.

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