At the foot of the majestic Chemase hills along the border of Nandi and Kisumu counties lie hidden treasures that have in recent months reignited unending hostility.
Some 10 kilometres from Kapsabet-Chemelil Road are gold minefields managed by Karebe Gold Mining Limited, which has been in operation for more than ten years.
The mining firm first entered the area in 2009 to prospect gold beneath the rocky hills. The firm’s director then, Mr David May, approached Mzee Cheseret Korir, and secured a lease to prospect the precious mineral.
“I entered into agreement with Mr May in 2009. However, this has turned out to be a sour relationship. I can’t build on these hills and I have been forced out of my house where my first wife is buried,” Cheseret told The Standard in an interview.
Cheseret said the lease agreement was signed on January 21, 2009, and he hived off a nine-acre parcel of land to be used by Karebe Gold Mining Limited for a period of ten years.
However, since 2019, the company and Mr Cheseret have been embroiled in unending court battles after the original ten-year lease ended.
Recently, three workers at the Karebe gold mine died under unclear circumstances and detectives from Nairobi have been deployed to investigate the incident.
According to family members, although they were paid in 2009, there were unclear terms of subsequent payment in the official agreement.
“When the ten-year period ended, the company refused to vacate my land, and instead, they have frustrated my family since 2019. I have not been at peace and one of my sons went into hiding after he was threatened with arrests,” said Cheseret.
He claimed that the company, with the help of government officials under former president Uhuru Kenyatta, acquired a 25-year mining permit from the ministry of mining and petroleum.
“I got information from the media that the company had been issued with an operation licence of 25 years on my land, yet they never sought my consent, and eventually we battled it out in court,” he said.
“All I want is for the company to vacate my land and I will decide whether another firm will come in. I have gone through hell and never benefitted from my land,” he added.
The Environment and Land Court in Eldoret ordered Karebe company to vacate the nine-acre parcel of land Nandi/Chemase 974 since the lease period had elapsed.
However, the company successfully challenged the High Court ruling at the Court of Appeal in a ruling made on December 2 last year.
“Due to illegal operations and frustration met by the company, we registered two sections of my land, The Nandi/Chemase 974 and Nandi/Legemet 22. The government mining department issued us with a three-year artisanal permit,” said Shadrack Kipkoech, Cheseret’s son.
The two companies, Karebe Mining company and Cheseret’s firm had been issued with operation licence to do mining activities on Nandi/Chemase 974 land, and thus elicited legal battles and clashes among the groups of the respective parties.
The miscellaneous case to determine the legitimacy of both permits is pending in court and the ruling is set to be made on March 3.
“But despite the initial court order, the company is still extracting gold from our land. The company’s management has never been concerned with the interest of the family and the community, and we are ready to lease the land to another company,” Kipkoech said.
He alleged that his mother died as a result of assault by the security officers deployed to the area, adding that the incident has sent his 86-year-old father into depression.
“Some family members who had secured employment opportunities in the company were sacked. This happened when we agitated for justice and even one of my brothers was forced to seek refuge after being threatened to be killed by a group of youths who sympathised with the company,” he added.
However Karebe mining administrator, Martin Albert Kiplimo, strongly refuted the claims by the family, noting that the management has acted within the agreement at all times even when they were wrongly censured by the authorities.
“We feel for the family that some people are using them so that they achieve their selfish interests. They have benefitted from the company through a welfare program, but our recent engagements with the family turned futile even after Mining CS interventions, which would have seen several standing issues solved,” he stated.
Following the fallout with the family in 2021, CS Munyes summoned family members, the company management and security team in a meeting that was to settle differences.
“The family members declined a Sh50 million offer from the company. The company was ready for anything but the sons of Mzee Cheseret stood their ground and adamantly said that they are not after the money, and that was the end of engagements to reach any amicable solutions,” he said.
Karebe mining company lost properties worth millions of shillings after the mining site was torched by unknown people last year.
Karebe management blamed the rival firm, claiming that the explosives were maliciously planted into the tunnel to malign the company’s reputation.
“We reported the matter to the police and nothing has been done about it. No arrest nor interrogation of any suspects linked to the criminal acts, and we are asking the government to provide a working environment for its investors,” he said.
However, Kipkoech distanced his family from the incident and claimed that the family had never conspired to commit such a heinous act that cost lives.
“The management knows what happened, and it cannot give a diversionary narrative to mislead the public over the explosion incident in the mining tunnel. We have not yet been licenced to operate the explosives, how could acquire them?” he posed.
He further added that security officers manning the site could easily intrude into the tunnel unnoticed.
The government has stopped both Karebe and another artisanal mining firm owned by Cheseret from mining in the area for 30 days to pave way for investigations into the incident.
Nandi county police commander, Joseph Kavoo, dismissed the claims of police laxity and stated that investigation is ongoing, and they are yet to get clear information from the company linking specific suspects.
“We have the detectives from Nairobi who have taken over the investigation process and the suspects will be arrested," he said.