A corporate mining site at Kuranze
Local small scale miners claim they are being exploited by management of established companies

Once a promising mineral rich area, the mining sites in Kuranze, Kwale County are steadily becoming a source of conflicts which have in the recent past, forced the locals from relying on extractives as a source of livelihood to charcoal burning as an alternative trade. There is a fierce competition between small scale miners who are mainly from neighbouring Taita-Taveta County and those managing corporate mining. The latter have offices in Voi, Taita-Taveta and Nairobi.

‘Whenever we discover the minerals, the rich men come to push us out of the sites and take over the mining activities,” says a middle aged man who chooses to remain anonymous for fear of victimization.

Kuranze, a home of extractive sector companies situated about 200 kilometers away from Kinango town, boasts a variety of gemstones including the precious tsavorite, red, yellow,blue, green, black and orange tourmaline.

There are no proper records as to when the minerals were first discovered in Kuranze, but one of the pioneer companies- Nadan Company has extracted minerals in Kuranze since 1995. Reports available indicate that by 2005, up to five mining companies were operating in the area. However, a recent visit by staff of Kwale Youth and Governance Consortium (KYGC) reveal the existence of numerous small scale mining operators. Though it was not easy to access the large scale mining sites nor secure audience with their management staff, KYGC managed to talk to several small scale miners, some of who parted with damning information on the goings on at the sites.

If minerals are supposed to be a source of wealth, the local miners tell a contrary tale-that of a dejected lot. “The trade has been taken over by brokers and rich people who have done everything within their means to ensure we don’t benefit as locals by paying us very little for our products,” says one of the miners.

The rich do not only use the administration police providing security in the camps to intimidate the small scale miners, they are alleged to be hiring goons to physically evict them from areas believed to be rich in minerals. “To survive the wrath of the police, we have to engage in endless bribery.”

The communities living around Kuranze have only known two occupations-mining and livestock keeping. But the challenges miners face has prompted them to seek an optional means of survival in charcoal burning. But this too has resulted in another conflict between them and the owners of larger companies who have accused the locals of destroying the environment.

There are intermittent disagreements between the pastoralists and the miners though not as a result of pasture and grazing space as is often the case in some areas. Contrary to the general climate of the rest of semi-arid Kinango Sub-county, Kuranze receives rains quite regularly and the county government has put up a water pan which serves as the main source of water for the communities around the mining sites. However, the pastoralist Maasai community have often reported cases of livestock theft which they accuse the non-pastoralists communities of perpetrating. Such conflicts according to the locals, have resulted in physical fights and even loss of lives. Four ethnic communities namely Duruma, Taita, Kamba and Maasai live within the mining area.

Another cause of conflict lies in the relationship between the county government guards and the local miners who have accused the latter of harassment. “Whenever they visit, they demand to be paid but they don’t give us receipts,” alleges one miner.

The miners now want the county government to develop a policy to govern small scale miners. They have also called on the county government to complete the borehole project it began but left midway.

Despite the relatively good road from Nyango to Kuranze, we did not come across any public transport vehicle. The only vehicles plying the route are trucks ferrying charcoal to Samburu and Voi. The workers in the mining sites live in camps and only visit their villages occasionally to visit their families.

There is a challenge in accessing health as the nearest equipped facility is in Kinango town-about two hundred kilometers away. This is risky as the workers lack safety gadgets recommended for workers in the extractive sector. Another important social amenity which is conspicuously missing in Kuranze is school. The nearest school, according to the residents, is about 100 km away.

Another booming business in the area is that of illicit brew. This couple with a prominent presence of female workers and men whose families stay away in the villages tempts one to suspect that Kuranze may be bedrock of illicit sex.