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The billions buried under Kenyan soil

By Moses Michira | May 2nd 2017

In mid-February three years ago, MV African Eagle pulled away from the port of Mombasa in a maiden journey that may have lifted the lid off Kenya's mineral and oil wealth worth over Sh15 trillion.

The cargo on that ship was titanium ore, worth Sh400 million destined China in the first of hundreds of similar of trips to come. Since 2013, titanium valued at over Sh35.5 billion has been produced and exported as the most important mineral for Kenya.

Now, Kenya is firmly on the path to earn the trillions from its 77 different minerals, petroleum and gas reserves buried under the surface to offer reprieve for citizens who are already heavily taxed.

A quick math puts Kenya's mineral wealth at Sh333,333 for everyone in the population of 45 million, in wealth that the political class would die to manage.

Mining Cabinet Secretary Dan Kazungu told the Standard the exact value of the mineral deposits was significant but could only be determined after a pending aerial geological mapping.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich told Parliament when he unveiled the national budget last week that the mining sector could "immensely contribute to the development of industries, wealth and job creation".

Official records released last week in the Economic Survey indicated gemstones as steadily rising on the list of important minerals, with production in 2016 reported at Sh936 million – nearly six-fold growth since 2012.

President Uhuru Kenyatta's government has taken note of the mineral potential and has taken baby steps in ensuring the State earns the maximum gain from the resources.

"We will endeavor to keep a close watch on exploitation of mineral resources on behalf of Kenyans, in the hope that if they are well protected, then our people can benefit from them," Kenyatta told members of the Chamber of Mines in a past event at State House Nairobi.

"We are aware some miners have had licenses for over 20 years with minimum returns."

Among the radical steps already in effect is levying of royalties on all minerals mined from country.

The Mines and Geological Department along Nairobi's Machakos Road is a hive of activity - dozens of royalty payment cheques are received every day, an official there told the Standard.

Reserves for Titanium and Niobium, both found in the Coast region, are projected to be worth Sh9 trillion, and Sh3.8 trillion for the estimated of 750 million barrels, according to Tullow Oil's latest projections.

Kenya's think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs has projected that the State will earn no less than Sh12 trillion directly the mineral reserves, double the country's gross domestic product, GDP.

The figures however do not capture the valuation of the mineral deposits, which is obviously much higher considering the mining expenses and the contractors' margins.

Rare earth minerals, coal and oil are carry Kenya's hopes of resource wealth, according to the report titled 'Resource Bliss, Dilemma or Curse' published by the IEA earlier this month.

"This is a sector with great potential to enhance an economy," Dr Miriam Omolo, the lead researcher said, following conclusion of the 8-month long analysis of the country's extractive sector.

The findings for the first time provide a collective and independent valuation of Kenya's mineral wealth. While the minerals are largely untapped, exploiting them would have major benefits for the economy and the citizens.

Commercial exploitation of the mineral wealth is anticipated to ease the pain on the ordinary citizens, through revenues from royalties and taxation of profits made by the mining firms.

IEA projects that the State will earn Sh300 billion ($3 billion) from the mining sector, exclusive of oil and gas, a year which is almost of fifth of national budget.

Another research by the Strathmore University's Extractive Industries Centre puts the expected contribution of the mining sector at 10 – 15 per cent of the GDP, including the new jobs and value addition down the supply chain.

Dr Luis Franceschi, Dean of the Strathmore Law School, says the 'mineral wealth will play a catalytic role in the development of the country'.

The government is also eying at least 60 per cent of oil reserves, according to Energy Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge.

Kenya first discovered oil in 2012, in the Lokichar Basin but subsequent exploration activities have revealed even more resources.

Tullow, the UK firm leading in the exploration of six blocks, has announced the discovery of more than 600 million barrels – above the threshold for commercial viability.

More recent updates from the firm and its partner Africa Oil show that Turkana basin alone has over 1.3 billion barrels of oil resource.

Several other prospecting firms have announced the major finds in different blocks, including offshore. Mwendia Nyagah, the chief executive of Oil and Gas Services, is optimistic that further oil discoveries would be made.

"Yes we are likely to get more blocks with oil and gas resources.

Once they are then evaluated and confirmed commercial, we will then call them reserves.

Evaluation has been going on to establish how much is there and how much of it can be profitably extracted," Mr Nyaga, a former chief executive of National Oil told the Standard.

In total, Kenya has 77 minerals according to the Department of Mines, among them rubies, emerald and tsavorite - though small quantities.

These three are on the list of the World's 10 priciest substances. As a price indication, Tiffany - the World's top end jewelry store, is offering a beaded tsavorite necklace for Sh10 million ($115,000), foreign media reported.

The mineral derives its name from Tsavo area that straddles the Kenya – Tanzania border. In any case, Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama has built an empire out of dealing in ruby, garnets and zoisite.

A map detailing the mineral occurrence across the country provided by the Mines Department shows that the section of Rift Valley around Samburu and Isiolo counties as among the most endowed.

Here, there are tens of minerals which geologists attribute to the volcanic activity associated with the formation of the Rift Valley.

Incidentally, it is the region that ranks poorest on distribution of wealth and is often the worst hit by ethnic clashes. Investigations have shown a scramble for pasture and water to have sparked off the often deadly encounters among the Turkana, Pokot and Samburu communities.

Kenya's geological map indicates the occurrence of gold in several locations around the country around the Lake Victoria basin.

In 2012, gold was Kenya's most important mineral export earning Sh13.9 billion, half of the total mineral wealth produced in that year, and ahead of the traditional leader Soda Ash.

Official records placed the production in that year at 3,600 kg.

New gold finds by Acacia Mining of United Kingdom in Kakamega firmly suggests gold could be the most important mineral export in the near future. The firm announced in February of the discoveries an estimated resource of 1.31 million ounces of gold at its mines in the Liranda Corridor in Kakamega, whose grade, Acacia added, could be the highest in Africa.

Mr Kazungu estimates the discovery could be valued at Sh171 billion.

UK-listed company Goldplat has mined the precious metal at its Kilimapesa mines in Narok County for five years, accelerating the operations last year with the installation of a newer and bigger plant.

Already, the investment has seen a major lift in gold production.

"Operating profitability continued at the recovery operations together with continued reduction in losses made at Kilimapesa. The sourcing of by-product material for processing at the recovery operations remains the number one strategic focus area and good progress is being made in this area at all operations," company executive Gerard Kisbey-Green said last Thursday.

He added that the firm was "very pleased" with the mining operations. In Migori however, artisanal miners have for decades sought the metal as a full time occupation.

Nearby in Kisii County, a vibrant economy that employs hundreds directly and many more down the value chain is supported by soapstone- a rare mineral used in carvings.

There has not been an independent valuation of the greyish or bluish stone but the price of the carvings, which are sold the World over, could offer a preview into its worth.

But it is much further south of Kenya, where two main minerals are found, coal in Kitui and the rare earth reserves in Kwale. Canadian firm Cortec announced it had discovered about Sh9 trillion-worth ($100 billion) of rare earth minerals and niobium, at its site in Mrima Hill, Kwale County.

"This is by far the largest mineral deposit in Kenya and the find at Mrima Hill will make Kenya one of the largest rare earth producers in the world," said David Anderson, managing director of Cortec Kenya Mining told a press briefing.

Rare earth minerals are used in the manufacture of electronic components such as miniature batteries and semi-conductors, while niobium is used to strengthen steel and jet engines.

Cortec expects to export 330,000tn of ilmenite, 79,000tn of higher grade rutile and another 30,000 of zircon over the first seven years, Anderson said.

IEA projects that the State will earn about Sh5.5 trillion from the estimated 40 million tonnes of rare earth minerals, and a further Sh300 million from mineral sands.

The earnings will be in the form of royalties and taxes paid by the companies involved in the mining and export.

Even with the largely untapped mineral deposits, Kwale is ranked among the poorest counties, where only three in 10 people have access to toilet facilities.

A big majority defecates in the bushes, as an income indicator. In Block C, one of the four blocks where Kenya's coal deposits have been discovered, a Chines firm has announced the resources are 400 million metric tonnes.

International markets peg the price of coal at Sh4500 per tonne, ($53), valuing Kenya's proven coal reserves at about Sh2 trillion.

Prospects of finding commercially viable deposits of the heavy fuel in Kitui's Mui Basin are high.

The recent coal finds contradict earlier surveys that had ruled out 'any possibility' of finding traces of the resource, with one geologist even attributing available traces to dumps abandoned by military forces during wartime.

Colonial era geologist C G Bu Bois also wrote that any coal found in Kenya might have fallen off wagons moving the cargo from the sea port inland.

But coal is the mineral that powered most of the World's industrialization owing to its low price, and could be the silver bullet for the Kenyan case.

Already, Fenxi Mining is setting up a Sh45 billion-worth plant to harvest the resource that is the World's cheapest source of power.

Kenya's cost of power is projected to fall significantly with the completion of coal power plant in Lamu, expected to produce 960 MW – more than half of the country's needs.

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