7 Unfiltered, uninhibited…just the gruesome truth ISSUE 112, September 1-30, 2015 Women remain biggest losers in the Taita-Taveta mines By Anthony Kitimo In the scorching sun in the middle of the forest, next to Tsavo West National Park, a group of women in midst men are busy digging up soil in search of precious stones. The beehive of activities is in Kasighau, Taita-Taveta County, in an area that is inhabited by wild animals posing a risk to miners who are ready to do anything to survive. However, in January, this year, the Taita Taveta County Government barred one mining company from prospecting gemstones in Kasighau. According to Senator Dan Mwazo, the land in which the company wanted to mine belonged to the community. He noted that unless the people of the area were going to benefit, there was no way that the mining company would not be granted its license. The miners in Kasighau are both from within and without of Taita Taveta County. However, they all have one agenda, the search for precious gemstones. However, for the miners the animals and politics are a side show. Although the possibility of a hitting precious mineral remains high, due to the rudimentary methods of extraction, little will be achieved due to various challenges faced by the miners. Taita Taveta County is home to some of the most precious and rare gemstones. There are no women who own the mines. However, a number of women have found their way into the mines as excavators in a job that is often described as dangerous, dirty and difficult. Despite the environmental and health risks involved, the women found in these mines never think of giving up. The men tend to have greater access to benefits and opportunities in the mines while women bear the social, environmental and economic impacts of the mining. Some of the major challenges besides the harsh weather, dangerous, dirty and difficult work that the women have to bear, they are also faced with sexual harassment, gender discrimination and inferiority complex. Indeed, the mining industry is not for the weak and lazy and that is why it’s often referred to a dirty, dangerous and difficult job. Says Mary Mwaluma: “Most of the mining zones are owned by men. To get a chance to work in the quarry, we have to bribe them.” She explains: “Due to high poverty levels, we sometimes have to sleep with them so as to get opportunity to get the precious stones”. Mwaluma notes: “We have no option since we have children to take care of and mining seems to be the only way to earn a living here.” The deplorable working conditions are just a tip of the iceberg of what the female miners have to go through. Mwaluma says: “After we are done Untold stories of extractive industry Senate Adhoc Committee on Natural Resources members led by Senator Agnes Zani during a visit to Kasighau mines, Taita-Taveta County, to see and hear how mine workers, especially women, are treated by their employers. with our day mining, we are sometimes frisked in our private parts to ensure that we do not hide any precious stones in our genitalia. This really affects most women psychologically”. Another frustration for the women is that even their male colleagues are always seeking sexual favours from them. “We are worried we might be infected with sexually transmitted diseases including HIV or even become pregnant, since most of the men do not use any protection,” she says. Apart from sexual harassment, women in the mines are discriminated and considered the weaker sex. Due to this perception, women are not paid as well as their male counterparts. “It is a pity that despite undergoing a number of abuses we are paid half the salary compared to that of men. We are also considered second class whenever mining blocks are being allocated, men are usually allocated first then women are considered whenever blocks remain,” said one of the women miners. Though the complaints have been tabled to the Kenyan Senate Adhoc Committee on Natural Resources led by Senator Agnes Zani, very little has changed as women continue being discriminated against. They hope that one day they will strengthen their union and champion for their rights. Natural Resources Alliance of Kenya, (KeNRA) has been working with women in the area in trying to address their issues through sharing of the challenges with various groups and networks. In the mining zones, the exercise is done manually, with very little investment in mining techniques as they try to excavate various precious gemstones ranging from Tsavorite, red and green garnets, ruby as well as blue sapphire, pink sapphire, green tourmalines, yellow tourmalines, rhodolites and kyanites. Rich iron in Taveta fails to benefit residents By BENSON MWANGA For Mwandawiro Mbela, mining for precious minerals in Taita Taveta County is a thankless job. Mbela, who is one of the hundreds of miners in the vast county in Coast region, has very little to show for his many years excavating in the mines because of the high level of exploitation by investors. Mbela stares at a bleak future where his dream of becoming rich has all but vanished despite hailing from the iron-ore rich Kishushe Location, Wundanyi Division of the vast county. He is among thousands of residents who have been protesting about exploitation of miners by wealthy gemstone dealers. “We are not happy with the way tonnes of iron-ore worth millions of shillings are being transported daily from our county to Mombasa for export,” laments Mbela. According to Mbela, tycoons have turned out to be like ‘ticks sucking blood’ from the residents as they are reaping maximum benefits from the vast mineral resources with impunity while residents remain poor. An estimated 70 per cent of mining activities take place in the mineral rich region and prospects of striking it rich quickly from gemstone or mineral deposits has continued to draw many people from across the country. The gems have attracted thousands of job seekers from all over the country since the commercial exploration of gemstones started in the region in the 1970s. According to Mbela, for the past 40 years investors have been harvesting iron ore in the area, but there is little to show for it in terms of development. The victims have included children, especially orphans, who have been forced to drop out of school due to lack of fees. “We had signed an MOU earlier with the investors on how to share profits accrued from iron ore, but it is yet to be implemented. The investors are being protected by a senior politician in this area,” claims Mbela. Residents have been protesting and demanding that the investors consult them more whenever they are prospecting and extracting minerals in the area. In Kishushe area, residents are opposed to a multi-million shilling ironore mining project by Wanjala Mining Company Limited, saying they want their demands to be heard and addressed first. “We welcome investors, but they have to be accountable to the local community who are custodians of the resources that should benefit them under a sound revenue sharing programme,” says Edith Lewela, a local gemstone dealer. She notes: “Anything short of this will be rejected since the community has been short-changed by investors.” Experts say Taita is ranked as the second region with the highest potential of iron-ore in the country; other areas are Kakamega and Kitui counties which also have gold and coal reserves. However, despite the fact that the region is endowed with vast natural resources, residents lack water, health facilities and schools as well as a good road network. “There are too many hurdles and discrimination against the locals in acquiring mining licenses. Lack of credit facilities has also impacted negatively on the local community,” says Mbela. The residents expect that under devolution the county government will have greater say in the utilisation and management of the resources that have not been fully exploited to benefit residents. “If exploited more efficiently, the mineral wealth could generate substantive income,” said a senior government official. He noted: “The miners’ code of secrecy is responsible for lack of data on gemstone that have been mined and sold. It is estimated that earnings from gemstones alone could run into billions of shillings annually.” On the other hand Mbela called for the immediate revocation of a mining license issued to a mining company extracting iron ore in the area. He claims the firm is harvesting iron ore illegally having been issued a license without consent of the land owners. “The plot in which mining is taking place belongs to Kishushe Ranching Cooperative Society. The management of the society was not consulted hence the need to revoke the license,” says Mbela, who is chairman of Kishushe Ranching Cooperative Society Limited. The mining company has been dogged by controversies over the manner in which it was given consent to mine iron ore in a 64.4 square kilometre plot in the ranch. The ranch members claim the company was being protected by an MP and unscrupulous provincial administration officials. Official government records show that Taita-Taveta County is ranked third in terms of natural resources, but is the third poorest in the country. According to a geological survey conducted by the mining company, the mine has about four million metric tonnes of iron ore. The company’s Managing Director, Mahmood Miyanji, says they spent more than KSh20 million on Corporate Social Responsibility in the community over the past three years. “We’ve already implemented water, health and education projects in the area and residents have started reaping the benefits of the mining resources in their midst,” explains Miyanji. Unconfirmed reports, however, indicate that the company has been collecting between 16,000-20,000 tonnes of iron ore monthly but residents claim the figure could be higher. Recently, 21 Kenyan ambassadors and high commissioners visited the area and decried the high poverty levels in the region. They called for a lasting solution to the problem. The envoys came face to face with the poverty levels and poor infrastructure in the region that is endowed with a wide range of mineral deposits. They were on a familiarisation tour of the mining areas so that they could help in marketing and promoting available investment opportunities in their respective countries where they had been accredited to. Speaking after inspecting the Wanjala Mining Company, the envoys said resources like minerals, water and wildlife have not been tapped to effectively benefit the local community in addressing poverty.
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