What next for mining fields as Base Titanium tenure ends?

Suleiman Kassim Manga, who is the Chairman of Bomamani Village, shows some of the assets he built after he was compensated by the Base Titanium Mining Company. [Robert Menza, Standard]

The Post Mining Land Use (PMLU) agreement of over 4,000 acres that has been under titanium mining in Kwale County for over a decade is now a subject eliciting keen interest in surrounding communities.

With Base Titanium set to wind up next year, the land is set to revert to the National Government who have the prerogative to develop it as they deem.

Currently, the company is in the process of rehabilitating and restoring the land to its original state which will ensure its productive use.

While the company prepares to close down the site, the local communities are pondering their next source of income as over 1,600 workers stand to be rendered jobless and numerous projects and funding coming to an end.

Among the beneficiaries of the exploration and mining is Bomamani village elder Suleiman Kassim who received millions of shillings for his three acres and built a magnificent estate for his three wives and sons and now plans to marry a fourth wife.

Kassim regards himself a rich man, having moved from a mud and makuti house that he once shared with his wife and children, to a modern stone-walled bungalow in the village.

A six-classroom project that was installed at Ramisi Secondary School in Kwale County by the Base Titanium Mining Company through the Msambweni Community Agreement Committee. [Robert Menza, Standard]

“This land was taken by Base Titanium. My land was three acres. I was paid part of the money and built houses for my family and married two more wives and I plan to marry the fourth soon after I get paid the rest,” says Kassim.

According to Msambweni Community Development Agreement Committee (CDAC) Secretary Faki Omar, three communities have extensively benefitted from an annual Sh250 million payment, being a one per cent gross revenue earning from the mining.

Omar says the once sleepy rural village has significantly transformed into a major town with several infrastructural developments sprouting up over the years, courtesy of the mining activities.

“For close to 10 years, residents of Msambweni, Bomamani, Likoni and Lungalunga in Kwale County have extensively benefitted from schools, hospitals, road networks, power grids and a dam,” says Omar.

Omar says the community wants projects that will directly impact them and ensure continuity of projects and programmes already undertaken by the CDAC and the mining company.

“In the PMLU, we are trying to get into the discussion so that the projects should be an idea that progresses with the projects undertaken by Base Titanium and viable,” says Omar.

Among the projects that the company has proposed to the government is agribusiness, conservancy and construction of a state-of-the-art industrial training institution.

According to Base Titanium General Manager Simon Wall, it would be ideal to combine both the projects for maximum utilisation of the land. Wall points out there is a strong desire to put up a conservation corridor.

“We still have rehabilitation of the land and when we stop generating revenue the benefits to the community stops and that means a huge drop in employment. We seeking to avoid such scenario,” says Wall.

He says they are working with Pwani University to explore different farming techniques in agricultural trials.

Wall explains that to ensure PMLU, the company levels the land and spreads top red soil mixed with sand, then puts manure and plants grass to net the soil.

He says they are undertaking trial projects that will ensure value of the mined land and sustainability of the communities surrounding the mine.

“It is not up to Base Titanium to decide what to do with the land. What we are doing is giving government an option. We are looking into agribusiness which is a key in Kwale and cash crops, training workshops, conservation, public space and brick making using the clay,” says Wall.

According to the company’s external affairs Manager, Dr. Melba Wasunna, when the government attracts the right kind of investors, it can bring life changing impact to society.

She said the company is also introducing new crops to the region as a way boosting farming and educating the communities on modern sustainable farming.

Wasunna says they have planted maize, tomatoes, cassava, cotton, sim sim, ginger, garlic, highland rice, okra, cabbage, kales, onions, carrots and corriander.

“We are trying different species of crops like eggplants that we give to children homes. The rehabilitated areas can be a perfect agriculture land,” says Wasunna.

She says production of Kwale red brick will present a huge opportunity for youth employment once the project is approved and starts operating in large scale.

According to Omar, the CDAC is guided by the mining act 2016 which came to force in 2018 and their role is to negotiate on behalf of the community on projects that benefit the entire community.

General Manager for External Affairs at the Base Titanium Mining Company, Simon Wall, at the company's rehabilitation agricultural area in Nguluku Senda Village, Kwale County. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Omar says youths were coming up with projects that were costly and not prioritised on the funds given by Base Titanium.

“We have 17 projects including scholarship to needy students. The budget was Sh160 million and the project in Msambweni cost Sh140 million. So we contribute Sh15 million to scholarship projects,” says Omar.

He says they also have done a six-kilometre tarmac in Kinondo and rehabilitated and put up perimetre wall in schools and upgraded a maternity with four-bed capacity.

“We have done two dormitories in school with a 100 bed capacity. Right now there is a school we are putting up perimetre walls to deter machete youths who defiled a girl at Waa Girls in Matuga constituency,” says Omar.

He says the CEDC has an empowerment fund to boost small businesses in terms of grants and loans and they collaborate with Kinondo village Bank which received Sh5 million to lend out to the community and after its success, they shall add another Sh5 million.

The company has also endeavored to plant between 50,000 to 60,000 trees annually in an effort to restore the forest and wetlands. Wall says the society and wildlife will also benefit from the Mkurukuti dam that holds 8.6 million cubic metres of water.

According to Said Mwang'azi Chair of Magaoni Community Development where exploration of titanium is ongoing, the locals hope that the company will get enough titanium to commence mining with hopes to benefit.

Mwang’azi says to promote locals, the company buys tree seedlings and the community helps in planting them.

Wall points out that the government was able to benefit from a direct revenue of Sh29.3 billion (US$246 million), Sh5.9 billion (US$43.6 million) in Pay as You Earn (PAYE) and an additional Sh246 million (US$1.8 million) in Non-Refundable VAT.

Base titanium Port Manager Elizabeth Ndanu says they have been exporting between 17 to 18 vessels per year, with China being the number one importer from Kenya. Ndanu says there has been an increased demand in the local market.