3 years ago



6 Unfiltered,

6 Unfiltered, uninhibited…just the gruesome truth ISSUE 112, September 1-30, 2015 Cartels of impunity reap from Makueni’s ‘black gold’ despite ban By Melissa Mueni Residents of Makueni County have decided to stand up for their rights for the love of their ‘black gold’. That is the nickname given to the precious mineral scoped from the banks of the many rivers crisscrossing the area. Despite the ban by Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, a cartel led by barons have been working round the clock to circumvent the law and ferry the precious mineral to neighbouring counties including Nairobi for construction purposes. Indeed, commercial sand harvesting in lower Eastern is raising tension in some parts of the county as a group of rowdy youth are used to scare away those who protect the mineral from being scooped by some sand barons. Armed with poisoned arrows, the primary and secondary school dropouts are now ready to take the law into their own hands. Sand harvesting was officially banned in Makueni by the Governor Kibwana until a policy to regulate the sand harvesting is passed by the County Assembly. Since then, Kibwana has reported receiving several death threats, but has vowed to soldier on. Makueni County Assembly after a long delay passed the regulation which is now a law. However, the sand controlling cartels will not hear any of it and the commodity is being ferried day and night. Meanwhile a frustrated Kibwana has criticised the police and National Environment Management authority (NEMA) officials for allowing impunity to thrive, as the ‘county’s gold’ is pocketed by rich and powerful heads of the cartels. In Kasikeu Ward, for example, residents are a worried lot because their children are being used in the standoff between the barons and sand harvesters. Musau Mweu, a parent in one of the local day schools in the area, says he has Women break sweat in previously male dominated mines By Gladys Moraa It is midday on Friday and she is busy hammering on the heavy rocks at Soweto Quarry in Njoro, Nakuru County. Lucy Kemunto is one of the many women who work in quarries that are situated within the County. Her concentration is so high as she is focused on filling two wheelbarrows with ballast by the end of her working day at 4 pm. For Kemunto, there is nothing like a man’s job when she has to put food on the table. She is one of the many women who are not choosey about the job they want to do as long as it helps feed and educate their children. The 30 year old mother of five looks much older than her age. This could be because of the harsh terrain she is exposed to on a daily basis. For the past two years, the quarry has been her station of duty and source of making a living. Kemunto starts her work at 8am and endures the dust and scorching heat all day had sleepless nights since he admitted his two sons to the school. ‘’Every time my two boys, both in Form Three do not show up early from school, I get worried as I do not know what they are doing out there. Some children ignore our advice. Some of my neighbours have lost their children in this business,” says Mweu. Some of the students are lured by financial attraction which leads others to alcoholism and drug abuse as well as commercial sex among other vices. Another parent who only identifies herself as ‘Mama Mutheu’, and did not wish for her names to be published, said that unwanted pregnancies and rape were starting to be common in the area, adding that her daughter was impregnated by a lorry driver whom she referred to as ’mkora’ and left her behind with the heavy burden. “I’m raising the two children because my daughter was in Form Two by the time she got pregnant. Life has not been the same since then. I cannot locate the man and force him to take up his responsibility as the child’s father, says Mama Mutheu with bitterness.” It is an ordeal in the area as parents go through the pain of losing their children and they are helpless about the whole situation. The police have been accused of misusing their mandate by turning their roadblocks into illegal tax stations for each lorry driver who passes ferrying the ‘black gold’ of County. Recently, distressed residents of Kasikeu said enough was in enough to blocked sand harvesters from using the banks of River Enguli and Kaluku for the illegal business conducted in the wee hours of the night. During the showdown, they burned down two lorries that had been filled with the precious mineral. By the time reporters arrived at the scene, smoke was still bellowing from the ashes. Youth who work hand in hand with the cartels could be seen hovering around in a manner that suggested a revenge mission was in side by side with her male colleagues. Her husband works as a herdsman in one of the farms in the area. His monthly earnings can barely meet their basic needs like clothing, meals and education for their children. Says Kemunto: “There is no way I can ignore this work and let my children sleep hungry no matter how strenuous it is to.” She adds: “My husband earns only KSh2,200 a month, which is not even enough to feed us for a month.” Kemunto notes: “The pain of letting our children sleep hungry is more than the pain I can endure in this quarry.” Even after crushing a tonne of ballast used for building, equivalent to seven wheelbarrows and which she sells for KSh200, getting buyers is another challenge and takes weeks if not a month. In order to survive, Kemunto is forced to split her time between fetching water and washing clothes for the willing residents within the location. the offing. Similar clashes have been reported along the banks of other rivers in Kasikeu. These are Enguli, Kayata, Mbitini, Mangala, Kiungwani and Kwa Nditi. On his part, Kilome Deputy Commissioner Fredrick Ouma, is on record warning lorry owners to distance themselves from the controversy by refusing to hire their vehicles to be used in the banned business. “They will not be compensated by authorities or insurance firms for being part of an illegal activity,” says Ouma. At the same time Ouma warned residents not to take the law into their own hands. He denied claims that some of the drivers have been tipping him in his office at Malili so that he can turn a blind eye to their activities. “We also have lorries from other counties that have been licensed for She has some worries. One of which is that her 16 year-old daughter who scored 275 marks in last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education could not join high school due to lack of school fees. “My husband does not have any savings and neither do I. We live from hand to mouth. I have pleaded with my relatives to assist me raise the school fees to no avail,” says Kemunto. She adds: “I want my daughter to be in school and not in this quarry with me,” says Kemunto. She is among millions of women in Kenya in poverty and has to take up traditional male tasks in order to feed her family. Their plight is worsened because her husband is semiilliterate and lacks special skills, making life even harder. The wages they earn from casual jobs can hardly meet the family’s needs. Experts argue that pressures to meet family needs have contributed to rapid erosion of men’s role as sole providers as women fill in the gaps. “Men are no longer the traditional providers of families and women are Untold stories of extractive industry Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE) Executive Director Rhoda Musyoka (left) hands over the public charter to Kitui County Chief Officer for coordination of county affairs Mwende Katusya to empower communities in mineral zones to bargain for their rights in mineral exploration process. Picture: Charles Muasya the business but I will not deny that the corruption bit is not there. We only need to strengthen the police unit to serve the people better,” reiterated Ouma. Similarly, Muchiri Mbogo, Mukaa police boss, conceded that some police officers were involved in sand business and promised to take stern action against those who will be caught. However, Kilome MP Regina Ndambuki is on record on several occasions accusing the police along Mombasa Road of misusing their powers and letting the sand scoopers tip them before passing through roadblocks. Ndambuki, who claims to have a finding themselves in awkward positions. They are pushed to the corners such that they are willing to take up heavy manual jobs to survive, feed their children and take them to school, “says Dr Damaris Parsitau, Director Institute of Gender, Women and Development Studies at Egerton University. Official records show that by 2014, about 32 per cent of the households in the country were headed by a female which means she took care of the shelter, clothing, food, medical and education expenses among other needs. More specifically, the female headed households were predominant in the rural settings as reported in the Socio-Economic Atlas of Kenya by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Overtime, women in rural areas have transformed from labourers in the farms into technicians working in factories and mining industries such as stone crushing and carving, jobs that were previously a male preserve. list of shame of corrupt police officers, plans to take the matter up and have the officers named and shamed before being transferred out of Makueni County. “Sometimes I wonder what happened to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA). They should be protecting our environment,” said Ndambuki when she toured the affected areas. She intoned: “Our youth are failing too for being used by rich people who do not care about their well-being as our school girls are at risk too.” Ndambuki says: “This is too much for us and no one is helping us out.’’ However, there is danger in women gaining confidence in ability to head families as pointed out by Parsitau. She argues, for wives to give up on their husbands who have been socialised to be head of families, deeply injures their masculinity pushing them to resort to other deconstructive ways to affirm their manhood. “When most men (husbands) see a woman (wife) struggling to put food on the table, they feel no obligation to work,” says Parsitau. She adds: “They become frustrated and wonder what to do with their masculinity, a feeling that would drive them to alcoholism.” In her opinion, such men who face social and economic insecurity also require empowerment to adapt to new developments in the society. In the Global Gender Gap Index, 2014 where Kenya ranked 37 out of the 142 countries, the ability of women to rise to enterprise leadership is rated at 4.8 per cent which gives an indication of how far the country is in bridging the gap on economic participation.

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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