Inside radical legal reforms to transform our mining sector

A gold miner at work at Lolgorian Gold Mines in Narok County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Proposed sweeping legal reforms aimed at revitalising the mining sector in Kenya and positioning it as a significant contributor to the economy are advancing rapidly.

Disclosures regarding the comprehensive plans to overhaul the mining industry emerged during the recent Geo-East African Conference and Expo, jointly organized by the Geological Society of Kenya (GSK) in celebration of its 50th anniversary, and the Geological Registration Board.

A distinguished panel comprising policymakers, scholars, regulators, private sector representatives, international and artisanal miners, as well as leading geologists, engaged in extensive discussions on various facets of Kenya’s mining sector, exploring its historical, legal, physical, technical, and economic dimensions.

These discussions were invigorated by the conference theme, “Beyond 2030: East Africa’s Geo-Resources Portfolio for Economic Development and Energy Transition,” which underscored the importance of natural resources and the pivotal role of geologists in fostering sustainable economic development.

Sofia ole Sambu, Chair of the Mineral Rights Board (MRB), entrusted with licensing mineral rights and agreements, highlighted Kenya’s inability to attract the necessary investments to uplift its mining industry to the desired level. She pointed out that neighbouring countries, with fewer mineral resources, have been more successful in enticing investments, emphasizing the need for effective marketing in this competitive arena.

Ole Sambu, herself a geologist, attributed this challenge to a lack of political will and negligence within the geology community. Responding to a query posed by Prof Daniel Ichangi, a prominent figure in Kenyan geology, she questioned why, six decades after independence, the mining sector in Kenya has failed to flourish, echoing sentiments about the need for a stronger collective voice.

“The challenge facing us is adaptation to take up these issues to develop and adopt a robust legislative and regulatory framework for the sector. There is no solid mining regime. If we resolve this and streamline exploration and the acquisition of accurate (statistics) data, then the mining sector will pick up,” said ole Sambu.

Prof Beneah Odhiambo, Vice-President of the Geological Society of Africa (Eastern Africa), echoed these sentiments, decrying the misrepresentation of Kenya as solely an agricultural nation despite its abundant mineral deposits since the 1940s. He emphasized the urgent need to recalibrate perceptions around mining and leverage Kenya’s vast mineral wealth for economic development.

With the impending legislative amendments to the Mining Act, 2016, aimed at restructuring the mining industry and enhancing state oversight, Kenyan lawmakers are poised to usher in a new era for the country’s mining sector, positioning it as a cornerstone of economic growth.

Odhiambo also revealed that Nairobi will host the Colloquium of African Geology (CAG30), a significant biennial meeting organized under the auspices of the Geological Society of Africa in collaboration with the Geological Society of Kenya, in September 2025.

This event is expected to further catalyse discussions and initiatives aimed at advancing the mining sector in Kenya and the broader African continent. The urgency for reform is underscored by the recent discovery of coltan in the Mbeere and Kiritiri areas of Embu County. Coltan, a key raw material found in smartphones, laptops, and advanced medical equipment, holds immense economic potential for Kenya.

The discovery has generated excitement among local miners and stakeholders, signaling a potential shift towards transparency and community involvement in the mining sector.

Embu miners see the government’s announcement as a positive step towards ensuring that mineral resources benefit local communities. The government’s commitment to conducting comprehensive surveys and tests to determine the size, depth, and value of the coltan deposits demonstrates a proactive approach to resource management and economic development.

Classified as a strategic mineral, coltan mining will be undertaken by the National Mining Corporation (NAMICO), the government’s investment arm in the mining sector. This move aligns with the objectives outlined in the Mining Act, 2016, which aims to promote sustainable and responsible mining practices for the benefit of all stakeholders.

NAMICO’s mandate extends beyond coltan mining to encompass mineral prospecting, exploration, and mining activities nationwide. The corporation is tasked with acquiring interests in projects associated with mineral exploration and development, signaling the government’s commitment to maximizing the potential of Kenya’s mineral wealth.

Local miners and stakeholders are optimistic about the economic prospects associated with coltan mining. The government’s commitment to transparent and accountable resource management bodes well for the sustainable development of the mining sector and the broader economy.

In addition to coltan, Kenya boasts a wealth of other mineral resources, including gold, graphite, zinc, lead, and copper, distributed across various regions of the country. The government’s efforts to conduct comprehensive surveys and assessments of these resources are crucial for informed decision-making and strategic planning in the mining sector.

The successful exploitation of Kenya’s mineral wealth requires a collaborative effort involving government agencies, private sector investors, local communities, and other stakeholders. By fostering a conducive regulatory environment and promoting responsible mining practices, Kenya can harness its mineral resources for sustainable economic development and prosperity.

Furthermore, the involvement of artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMs) is vital for inclusive growth and poverty alleviation. The government’s initiatives to support ASMs through capacity building, cooperative formation, and regulatory oversight are commendable steps towards formalizing and empowering this sector.

However, challenges remain, including the need to address issues of land tenure, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility in the mining sector. Effective governance mechanisms, stakeholder engagement, and community participation are essential for addressing these challenges and ensuring that mining activities contribute positively to local development.

Kenya stands at a pivotal moment in its quest to unlock the full potential of its mineral resources. With strategic reforms, transparent governance, and responsible practices, the country can position itself as a key player in the global mining industry while simultaneously driving sustainable economic growth and development for its people.