residents of Nyari Village, Kilifi County oppose mining project

Over 15,000 residents of Gaze constituency in Kilifi county are opposed to a proposed titanium mining project allegedly set to be established very close to the endangered Arabuko Sokoke forest. The residents composing of opinion leaders, religious leaders, political environmentalists and forest association members said the company called Valencia Titanium limited did not do any public participation regarding the project. They said they came to learn about the project online and it was in its final stages before National Environmental Management Authority issued a license for them to start mining.

The Chairman of Arabuko Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (ASFADA) Charo Ngumbao said Arabuko Sokoke forest has a stretch of 420 kilometers and surrounded by 52 villages. Speaking at Nyari village in Sokoke sub location he said Arabuko Sokoke forest is a national reserve and renowned the largest in East Africa with 20 percent of Kenya’s bird species, 30% butterfly species and at least 24 rare and endemic bird, mammal and butterfly species. He said they have been in the forefront in conserving the forest environment for years as per the forest act of 2006 that community must be involved in conservation.

However, he said it was strange that the county government of Kilifi approved the Valencia Titanium company to prospect for minerals in the county without involving the community. “It is outright clear that there is a hidden agenda here because the process used to approve the company is illegal. Meetings were held at the chief’s office and only 47 people were present leaving out the larger community,” he said. Ngumbao also said community leaders, elders together with Area Member of county Assembly and Member of parliament in the areas were not involved.

He said they were shocked to get the document of the project online and government institutions and NGOS such as KFS, KEFRI, KWS, Nature Kenya Arocha Kenya were not aware about it. He said they no project ca be d0one without involving the community and that’s why they will reject the project of mining as it has negative effects. The chairman said the dust and particles of the minerals normally cover the trees which attract rain and when they get in touch with the human skin, they produce skin diseases which is untreatable and tuberculosis. Further he said water sources will be affected and they are the ones used by the community locally and was not addressed.

“The area has over 15,000 people but the report indicated that there is between 5000 to 8000 people who are the ones with voters’ cards, but it’s not true as the numbers including the children and those not registered is more,” he said. He said they suspect the population was minimized so as to be seen easier to relocate them and pave way for the project. Ngumbao said, ”The area has five schools including two secondary and three primary schools which will be affected if the project is approved. Mining cannot be done within community level as the effects are serious and many effects including miscarriages among expectant, children born blind or abnormal births.”

“We do not want this project and are telling our Governor Amason Kingi to reject the project too and ensure Valencia Titanium company does not do any mining activities in Kilifi county due to the side effects of the project,” he said. Ngumbao said locals were misled by being given Sh. 1,800 to sign documents without being interpreted to by experts. Area Member of County Assembly Benson Chengo said they were against Valencia mining company which got a permit from the county government to do mining in his ward without involving the community. Chengo said he also learnt about the project from ASFADA which is a big mistake for any project to be approved without his knowledge as an elected leader representing the people.

“I was not involved personally or my office, the office of the MP was also not involved because the other day I called him and he was not aware only a few people were involved through the chief and were given small money about Sh. 1800,” he said. ”As per the constitution, there has to be public participation for any project that is supposed to be implemented in an area for them to know the benefits and effects of the project. Together with the community they are opposed to the project because it will have negative effects including on health, and environment adding that the governor should not approve the project as it did not involve the public.” He added.

James Katama a local conservationist from Nyari who is the chairman of Sokoke community Forest Association (CFA) said, when they saw the Environmental Impact Assessment report, they questioned so many things which went wrong including lack of involvement of the key stakeholders. Katama said the document did not address the remedy of the agricultural land which will be taken and used for mining prospect, water usage and food security. “We are under threat of losing so many things and are not in agreement with the project because where it was placed online none of the locals have such gadgets to go online, many locals were not aware about it and those who signed also never knew what they were signing,” he said.

He said if the project will affect conservation, he would not support it because the mining would be done 40 meters deep from the forest edge. Katama said they have written t0o NEMA asking not to facilitate the approval of the project as it will have diverse effects. Pastor Daniel Thoya a local religious leader said they will not allow the company to do mining in the area because the locals were not involved. He said, ”The 7 have been seeing visitors coming with big vehicles and at times want to evict them because what they are doing is not clear adding that,”The investors claim they were given documents by land owners to begin the project which is wrong.”

“The effects that are expected to be caused by the Mining are many but, in their document, they placed just a few even if there will be jobs, we want the project stopped completely. There is no amount of money that will make us move,” he said. Thoya said the project reportedly begun early this year but he learnt about it last month despite the fact that the residents are required to submit their documents even before the days. Agnes Lugho from Dzunguni said they learnt the project very late and found it was done deliberately so as not to involve the community. She also said, ”They have learnt that there are so many negative repercussions which will be brought by the project and called for cooperation among the locals so as to ensure the project do not sail through.”

The NEMA Director in charge of Kilifi county George Oyoo confirmed that there was a company that is awaiting approval from NEMA to prospect for minerals. He however dismissed claims that the company is already coming to begin mining saying they were out to seek the availability of minerals in the county. Further he said,”People should understand that minerals belong to the government and if at all the area is found to be having minerals, it would be mined.” Efforts to get a comment from the county government regarding the project proved futile as the CEC Member for Environment Mwachitu Kiringi did not respond to messages regarding the project.