Hopes high for Kakamega peasants who have been sitting on a gold mine, literally

Boniface Andabwa outside his house in Ikolomani, Kakamega County. [PHOTO: CHRISPEN SECHERE/STANDARD]

The discovery of high-grade gold in Kakamega County has revived dreams of a better life among villagers, decades after collapse of gold mining in the region.

Soon after the announcement about the discovery was made, word spread like bush fire and residents are now hoping to be the biggest beneficiaries of the mines.

Boniface Andabwa, a peasant farmer from Isulu in Ikolomani, is optimistic the discovery will automatically change his life.

A UK company, Acacia Mining, is currently exploring the mineral in Andabwa's one-acre parcel.

Ainea Khakanga, also from Isulu, expressed his joy at the discovery and maintained hope that the firm will seek alternative land for those who will be affected by the find.

"Economically, this village is very poor but with discovery of gold, I think we are going to be empowered," said Mr Khakanga.

Andabwa hopes once excavation starts, the company will buy him a new piece of land and build him new a house.

"Discovery of gold has come as a pleasant surprise to the village and we hope we will be the biggest beneficiaries. When they came to start drilling, they gave me Sh53,800 as compensation for the crops destroyed and they also paid another Sh50,000 for the two holes they dug," said Andabwa.

The last large-scale mining in Kakamega County was conducted in 1952 and since then, residents have been digging in the abandoned mines hoping to strike it rich one day.

The lucky ones get a few grammes of the mineral but often end up being exploited by gold merchants mostly from Kisumu and Nairobi. The risks involved are also too high and many diggers have been buried alive in the mines.

Gold mining in the region started in 1935 when a company, Rosterman Gold Mines, was incorporated and licensed to prospect and mine the mineral a few kilometres from Kakamega town. Rosterman mined gold for 17 years, until 1952.

In that period, it had milled about 655,000 tonnes of ore and produced 259,142 ounces of gold, with an estimated value of Sh4 billion.

Since independence, Kenya exported its first gold bar in 2012, and while its rise to the league of gold producers has been slow, all signs are that the precious metal will soon become a critical commodity to the economy.

The latest discovery is estimated at 1.31 million ounces of gold in the Liranda Corridor estimated at Sh171 billion.

Exploration of the gold has taken four years and this year, the company has set aside Sh1.2 billion for the exercise.

The real mining of the gold is anticipated to start in the next four years, with the company currently spending at least Sh2 million per month to pay casual labourers, and on compensation.

"We use people's land with their consent and we always engage them to get their input. Any crop destroyed is compensated," said Washington Ogutu, the company's section leader.

Gold production is usually done on a small-scale in Western Kenya, with more than 100,000 miners producing about 500kg, or 17,637 ounces a month. One gold bar is about 12.4kg or 439 ounces. (Gold is usually measured in ounces).

In pre-independence times, British companies, including Rosterman Gold Mines, were licensed to prospect and mine gold, mostly in Western Kenya. Rosterman closed shop in the early 1950s, saying the gold resources found were not commercially viable.

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

The first gold bar commercially produced in the country since independence was from mines licensed to Goldplat, a UK firm that prospects in the Kilimapesa Gold Mines in Narok.

The two British firms, Acacia and Goldplat, are the major players in gold mining in Kenya. Acacia has licences to prospect for gold in Vihiga, Kakamega, Kisumu and Siaya counties. These licences can be converted into mining licences once the firm finds adequate gold deposits to sustain its operations.

Acacia, however, has taken a cautious approach around the latest find in the Liranda Corridor, saying it needed to undertake further drilling and testing of samples to determine if the mine is economically viable.

inferred resource

"At this stage, it is too early to assign value to the gold in the ground as this is an inferred resource," Blackham Giles, the company spokesman, told The Standard via email.

"We are also solely in the exploration phase at present, and so we will not be producing any gold in the next few years. It is only after we have drilled more and completed technical studies, which are all positive, that we may look to construct a mine and this will take a number of years. But as I said, it is too early to say at this stage."

Goldplat, on the other hand, has a licence to mine gold in Narok County, and recently said it has plans to start prospecting in the neighbouring Migori County.

But for residents of Kakamega County like Timothy Mukoshe, the hope of striking gold has never been too far off.

Mukoshe has been digging for gold for years and is looking forward to new opportunities when mining starts. Local miners have formed a group of 65 members, the Kakamega Minerals Mining Group in Roasterman, which they hope to use to chase their dreams.

The group has no modern equipment and has been mining gold manually.

But the Kakamega Minerals Mining Group has a word of advice to politicians: Keep off the whole exercise completely.

"The gold will not help the locals living within Kakamega only but the country as a whole," said Mr Mukoshe.

"We have been dealing with brokers. They come and buy from us at a relatively cheap price but sell at an exorbitant price," added Mukoshe.

There are about 1,500 artisans mining gold in Ikolomani.
Atanas Isoiolo, another gold digger in Ikolomani said they need to be recognised.

"We have been going through a lot of difficulties in search of gold. The little we got enables us to pay school fees for our children. We know we are going to reap big when real mining starts," he added.

Kakamega County Government through its Director of Communication Sumba Juma said it will ensure locals reap big from the discovery.

He said they will also adhere to 2016 Mining Act and form a committee to carry out environmental impact assessment test for the safety of locals.

The Standard
Subscribe for the KES1999 KES999 offer today!