Residents in new push to stop Kitui coal mining plan

Coal reservoir of an old steam locomotive.
The proposed coal mining project in the Mui basin in Kitui County is now in limbo after residents petitioned Parliament seeking to have it stopped.

In a strong-worded petition to the National Assembly Energy Committee, the residents say if allowed to continue, the project would have adverse effects on their lives.

This is not the first time the locals are voicing their opposition to the project that has been dogged by controversy, including claims of lack of public participation.

The basin has coal deposits with an estimated value of Sh3.4 trillion whose discovery was seen as a major breakthrough in making Kenya an industrial hub like Germany and other European powerhouses.

But the project has stalled for years now since the award of a mining licence to Chinese firm, Fenxi Industry Mining Company, in December 2013 due to politicisation.

As part of the project, there was also a proposal to set up a coal power plant in Mui that would produce 1000 megawatts of electricity to be connected to the national grid.

But following recent attempts to revive the project, residents have renewed their push to have the project stopped, saying it would have irrevocably damaging effects to their health and the environment.

During a recent meeting with the National Assembly Energy Committee at Mathuki Market, the residents through their spokesperson Peter Musyoka said the Government acted in bad faith by entering into a mining contract with Fenxi before an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done.

In the petition, the residents dismissed coal as “dirty energy” with irreversible health and environmental side effects.

Mr Musyoka, who sits in a community committee that has been educating the Mui residents on the adverse effects of coal mining, said his team visited Mpumalanga Province in South Africa and were shocked by the level of pollution as a result of coal mining.

“We are convinced that coal is not clean energy and therefore should not be encouraged. Coal mining will result in water and air poisoning, leading to adverse effects on human health not only for residents of Mui basin but beyond,” Musyoka told the David Gikaria-led committee.

The residents noted that through research, they had learned that China had closed down 151 coal-fired power plants, while another 531 coal-fired power plants were closed in the United States due to pollution.

The community noted that an EIA ought to have been done before awarding the mining tender, adding that there was no public participation or civic education on what to expect from the coal mining project.

“The community that lives within Mui basin and have nowhere else to call home totally opposes the Government’s proposal to mine coal,” said Mr Musyoka.

The visit by the National Assembly committee was prompted by another petition filed in the House by Mwingi Central MP Gideon Mulyungi - in whose constituency part of Mui coal basin falls - on February 14, citing among other things, non-involvement of the locals in the project.

In the petition, the MP says his constituents were not consulted widely on the project and were not educated on effects of coal mining.

He adds that the Government was also not clear on issues of compensation, relocation and resettlement of the residents.

“The community has never given consent for the mining of coal in accordance with the provisions of section 37 (1) of the Mining Act in regard to the procedure for mining in private or community land,” says Mulyungi in the petition.

The MP adds that the land has not been properly surveyed, with many residents holding title deeds that have a myriad of errors.

“The title deeds have anomalies such as missing ID numbers and wrong acreage for individual landowners,” he states.

No word

Mr Gikaria, the chairman of the committee promised that the community’s grievances would be captured in a report to be compiled in two weeks’ time before it is tabled in the full House for adoption.

“We came just to listen and collect views from the villagers. We are happy they have backed their complaints with evidence from research they have done. We will write our report and present it before Parliament so that the House can give direction on the matter,” he said.

There has been no word from the national government on the status of Kitui coal project five years after the signing of the tender documents, with unverified information claiming that the Chinese investor had fallen out with their Kenyan partner - Great Lakes Corporation.

Another thing that seems to have stalled the project is a document prepared after the signing of the main contract, as an addendum, that captured the interests of the locals.

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coal mining projectMui basinNational Assembly Energy Committee