There was tension in Ramisi area in Msambweni Sub-county, Kwale County after two groups that are in conflict over mineral exploration clashed.
The planned exploration by the Australian mining firm, Base Titanium has split into two, the residents from six villages Kidzumbani, Mchinjirini, Fahamuni, Darigube, Gongonda, and Mwendowa Bure.
Trouble started when a group led by Mr. Idd Masemo which is in support of the mining operations arrived in a hired school bus to hold a meeting at Kidzumbani Primary School, only for the opposing group to block the road with logs and stones.
The agitated rival group led by Mr. Ali Ng’azi armed itself with stones ready to attack saying they were not aware of the meeting.
However, police officers led by Mr. Rotich Sitienei quickly moved in to provide security owing to the rising tension as the members of the two groups exchanged bitter words.
Mr. Masemo said majority of the villagers were for the exploration and that only a few were against it.
“We have individual farm holdings with title deeds hence one can do whatever they deem right with their land without anybody’s consent,” said Mr. Masemo who owns a 15-acre-farm as the crowd cheered and flashed placards with messages inviting Base Titanium to the area.
He said there was nothing wrong with the company doing exploration in the area as it had already done so in other parts of the county.
Further, he noted all naturally occurring underground resources belong to the government and locals should support their exploitation for their benefit and the national economy at large.
“There is no point in sitting on a resource that is not benefitting us. For how long shall we continue sitting on our mineral resource potential?” he posed.
The group said if the survey finds the area has minerals, they will engage and negotiate with the company on the terms and conditions of mining them.
But the group led by Mr. Ng’azi could hear none of that saying mining would visit endless miseries on them including being dispossessed of their ancestral land and relocation.
Mr. Ng’azi called for government intervention lest the confrontation degenerates into violence in the area.
Another resident Ms. Asha Salim claimed that if allowed in the area, mining will lead to them being deprived of their land and into a state of wretchedness.
“Some of us are already too old to be displaced by mining and relocated elsewhere,” she added vowing that the exploration will take place over their dead bodies.
This comes a week after County Governor Mr. Salim Mvurya held a meeting in the area in a bid to quell the tension but his efforts seems to have not achieved much going by the confrontation witnessed between the two factions.
Mr. Mvurya warned mineral prospectors and miners to work ethically and always consult stakeholders and his government before starting work for consent and guidance to avert conflicts.
“I urge miners to follow the law and to engage in proper stakeholder consultations to avoid mining disputes with residents,” he said.
Base Titanium wants to extend its multibillion Kwale mineral sands project in Maumba-Nguluku fields to other areas in the region as its current mining life comes to an end in the next four years but the move has been met with resistance from some residents and leaders.
By Shaban Omar and James Muchai