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State finalizing historic framework to grant Kenya’s artisanal miners access to mine in national parks

The government is finalizing a joint operational framework that will provide guidelines on how miners in Kenya’s artisanal mining subsector will be granted controlled access to start mining operations inside national parks.

Principal Secretary (PS) State Department for Mining Elijah Mwangi said selected teams picked to draft the framework were harmonizing the requirements and after putting the final touches on this historic document, it will be ready to be subjected to public participation.

The creation of this historic framework came after a presidential directive that required the mining state department to provide a roadmap on how artisanal miners could access national parks and other protected areas set aside for conservation to engage in exploration and exploitation of minerals.

Experts drawn from departments of mining, wildlife and forestry were picked to work on the modalities of the framework that will allow artisanal miners, for the first time in Kenya’s history, to mine in protected areas.

The PS was speaking during a meeting with three legislators from Taita-Taveta County who had paid him a courtesy call.

“This revolutionary document is being finalized and is set to undergo public participation before it is implemented,” he said.

The PS added that this framework formed part of extensive reforms undertaken by the department to empower the artisanal miners and transform the sub-sector into a vibrant economic system that supports growth and job creation.

The looming completion of this framework marks a significant milestone in artisanal miners’ decades-long efforts of petitioning the state to be allowed to exploit precious stones in the mineral-rich national parks.

Mr. David Zowe, the chairperson of Taita-Taveta Artisanal Miners’ Association, noted that granting controlled access to artisanal miners in the region to mine in Tsavo National Park will be the most progressive move by the government towards promoting artisanal miners.

He explains that desperation and the allure of untouched minerals in Tsavo park has pushed a section of miners to sneak into the wild-animal infested parks in total disregard of their safety to mine gemstones.

“This is a very welcome move and the operationalization of this document has been long overdue. We will now get access to the protected areas without putting our lives in danger,” he said.

Exploitation of minerals in national parks has been a sensitive topic in many circles owing mainly to the fact that mining activities were seen as disruptive and hostile to environmental integrity and were therefore incompatible with sound conservation practices.

Additionally, conservationists expressed concerns over the fate of delicate biodiversity of the national parks should human activities be allowed to take over.

However, the need to strike a balance between promoting conservation and supporting social-economic growth for communities living adjacent to the national parks has driven the issue of minerals in the park to become a central discourse in Kenya’s mining sector.

The proponents of park mining argue that vast swathes of protected areas are practically bare and have little or no vegetation. As such miners assigned to such areas would also be used to rehabilitate them and restore the green cover.

Mr. Zowe disclosed that allowing artisanal miners to benefit from the park would be a masterstroke in alleviating the community’s negative outlook of the park as an entity that was of no value to them. He added that the communities neighboring the protected areas only knew the park as the source of their tribulations and the genesis of their troubles in human-wildlife conflict.

“There is no love lost between the community and the national park because of the human wildlife conflict issues. The absence of timely compensation has made things worse. The only way to change such perspectives is to make the community benefit directly from the park. That is through mining,” he said.

The framework will also address amongst other key issues the delineating of mining zones, details on access of the park and post-mining rehabilitation operations once the mines are exhausted.

One of the key conditions issued by the government was to formalize the miners’ activities through the formation of artisanal miners’ cooperative societies. With defined structures, registered members and officials, the cooperatives will be channels for miners to access the protected areas. Already, over 200 such cooperatives have been formed across Kenya.

By Wagema Mwangi

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