Evicted Kenyans demand compensation after mining firm exits
SEE ALSO :NLC sued over Sh24b dam land“We are looking at paying them for their land,” said John Omenge, principal secretary at Kenya’s mining ministry. “We don’t have alternative land to give them.” The battle over compensation in the Kerio Valley illustrates global struggles to balance the need for economic development with the land rights of local people, who lack formal titles but have become increasingly vocal. The East African nation has deposits of titanium, gold and coal, as well as oil and gas reserves, often in remote regions where the country’s poorest live, but experts say few have reaped the rewards from mining. Kenya launched an ambitious industrialisation plan after the end of British rule in 1963, acquiring vast tracts of land for mining, according to the National Land Commission (NLC), an independent government body that arbitrates land disputes.
SEE ALSO :One killed, two hurt in clan chaosThe pull out of KFC - which said it experienced three years of losses before laying off all of its staff - has devastated the local economy, forcing many businesses to close, from food retailers to money transfer services. About 1 km from the abandoned crushing plant, the deserted Kimwarer shopping centre was dotted with closed shops and stalled trucks. Young men played board games under a tree. “When the company stopped mining, our vehicles also stopped moving,” said Musa Wendot, whose three trucks used to transport blasted rocks from the mines to the plant and railway, which ferried them to the coast for export. “We had loans with banks which we are struggling to pay. Some of our trucks have been towed (by creditors).” Numerous KFC-funded projects that benefitted both staff and the impoverished community, including schools, a medical centre and water services, have become “paralysed” since the mining company left, said Philemon Cheruiyot, a local activist. Tall grass surrounded a poorly-stocked clinic within KFC’s deserted staff quarters, while a male nurse sat on a bench fidgeting with his phone. “Mining doesn’t help if it doesn’t give back to the community,” said Cheruiyot, secretary of the Kimarer Sugutek Fluorspar Community Trust, a group pushing for compensation. He is also lobbying for the community to be given shares in any new company that comes to mine in the valley. Kenya’s 2016 Mining Act provides for communities in areas where mining takes place to receive 10 percent of the royalties, and for firms to list 20 percent of their equity on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. In the meantime, hopes are focused on a committee of mining and lands ministry officials which recommended in May that the government pay Kerio Valley evictees 1 billion shillings ($9.9 million) in compensation, said NLC commissioner Silas Kinoti. But further action has been delayed by disagreements among community members over whether to ask for cash or alternative land, he said. At the Kimwarer shopping centre, some locals said they wanted 3 million shillings per acre, 12 times more than the government’s offer. “The committee looked into these disputes and will give a report,” said Kinoti. “We can then ... make proper compensations.” The arrest in August of the head of the NLC - the body mandated to oversee compensation - on corruption charges has also caused delays, the ministry’s Omenge said. Standing outside his house, a few metres from the pit, Tumo said he hopes to be given an alternative piece of land. “If I get land elsewhere, I will go,” he said, adding that no specific promise for land or cash had been made to him yet. "We pray every night with my children that we get compensated so that we can find somewhere else to go."