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Friday, 18 November 2011

Battle for Coal: Who will benefit in Kitui?

Battle lines drawn over
Coal mining in Mui Basin
By Martin Masai
OVER 30,000 families face displacement in the Mui basin as the rush for 400 million tones of Coal in the Kitui County begins.
  Kitui DC Mr Chepchieng opens a Land Policy Reform workshop
For the people: Mr Kilonzo and Mrs Ngilu

A government survey has shown that the basin has 400 million tones of coal whose mining has the potential to transform fortunes for the country.

The families face uncertainty including loss of homes, shelter, livelihoods and inheritance coupled with long periods of untold suffering as there are no known plans of resettlement outside the mining belt of Mui Basin.

Ironically this uncertainty comes as the government pushes through a raft of measures under the Land Reform Program that seeks to put to rest, among other issues unequal land distribution, dispossession,. The reform principles entail among others: justice, equity, Participation in decision making, benefit sharing, proper administration, governance, transparency and simplicity.

A forum for Public Education on the Land Policy Reform heard that the minerals in Kitui were posing a threat to thousands of residents, yet no action had been put in place to safeguard citizens interst in the mining.

Already, resident are being asked to vacate lands they have owned for generations without an alternative being shown to them to settle. Human rights requirements demand that any one being relocated from ones land be resettled with sufficient food, water and  better standards of living.

Worse still, over one hundred truckloads of lime are being ferried from the Mui Basin to the National Cement Factory in Athi River with citizens who own the land getting virtually nothing for it.

Mui Basin is said to contain lime and coal deposits that can last hundreds of years of active mining and there are great fears that local politicians may be lining up to connive with investors and reap off local citizens.

.Evidence the there are bigger hands at play emerged recently when a local NGO’s  initiative to sensitize residents on their rights in the mining of coal in Mutito district hit a snag after the DC Mr James Kamau stopped the meeting and ordered the attendants to leave.

 Residents of seven locations  had gathered in Zombe market when the DC, living in the dark era of yesteryears sent administration police officers to disperse the crowd, claiming the meeting was illegal.

The coordinator of Regional Institute for Science and Environment Temi Mutia,  an NGO leading in educating  locals on their rights in coal mining, later stormed the DC’s office  for a face off over the stoppage.

Kamau claimed the NGO had not informed his office of their meeting. “Your meeting will not go on since you have not followed the right procedure. You should first contact the Ministry of Energy for clearance because we do not want duplication of activities that may end up confusing the locals. We want the activities of all NGOs to be harmonized for the smooth running of the affairs,” Kamau said. Kamau is forgetting that the Kenya Constitution requires community participation in the management of public resources and there is no law that requires the ministry of  Energy to mobilize citizens in an area where the ministry is an interesting party.

Even then, Three county MPs including David Musila(Mwingi South) Kiema Kilonzo(Mutito), Charity Ngilu(Kitui Central)  have vowed to mobilize the community to oppose any move by the government meant to shortchange them. Other MPs and civic leaders have remained non committal and it is suspected that some leaders in Kitui County as sitting on the fence to seek deals to finance their campaigns out of the proceeds of the minerals and leave the citizens poorer.

The DC claimed the ministry is coordinating all the coal mining activities. But  residents believe that anything allegedly being planned by the ministry may not be in the interest of the locals. He struck a familiar tone to that residents of Kitui heard from Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi telling the residents not to oppose coal mining in Kitui. Of course, no one is opposed to it. But residents will oppose any effort to sideline them in the decision making process of the coal and other minerals in Mui Basin. It does not matter how long it takes since they have remained poor for so long anyway. 

Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi’s told the Kitui County residents not to oppose the intended mining of coal in Mui basin. Kiraitu, addressing Kitui County delegates in Nairobi said fighting for the coal would turn the mineral resource into a curse that would haunt the local residents for many years to come. “You are sitting on black gold and we want this coal to be a blessing and not a curse. The mining of the coal would improve your welfare as well as the economy of the country,” Kiraitu said.

Temi wants the DC to name what section of the law he was using to bar the NGO from conducting civic education.  ”We will not allow dictators to dictate terms to us, it is either you are with us or with people who want to steal our wealth,” Temi told the DC.

Mr Mutia said his group was within the law in organizing and holding the botched Zombe meeting quoting Article 37 of the Bill of Right Chapter in the Kenyan constitution that states, “Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions to the public authorities.”

He added that his organization was keen to efficiently enlighten the residents of the Mui coal belt of their economic, developmental and social rights as enshrined in the constitution so that they are not short changed by investors when coal mining gets underway.

Area MP Kiema Kilonzo  backed efforts to unite the residents so as to seek their rights in coal mining in the area. “There is more than meets the eye, the DC is acting on somebody’s orders,” Temi told The Anchor and vowed to take up the matter with the Prime Minister’s office. The organization has held previous successful public sensitization meetings at Miambani, in Mui division of Mwingi East district, Mwingi town AIC church in Mwingi Central district and Migwani DEB Primary School in Migwani district.

Even as residents fought to have their say in the mining process, Vice President kalonzo Musyoka was striking a tune akin to that of the DC and Mr Murungi.

The Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was reported as saying that a Chinese contactor will soon set camp at the coal rich Mui Basin to commence mining. “A tender worth more than a billion US dollars has been won by a Chinese company and the mining of coal is set to commence sooner than later,” said the VP  was addressing a funds raiser in aid of Kalimbui secondary school in his constituency.

The VP expressed optimism that the huge investment would help in wealth creating through the provision of jobs to locals besides speeding the pace of infrastructural development in the area. Kalonzo’s announcement  comes in the wake of concerns by the people of Mui that they risked being exploited and  short changed  and their interests would be consigned to the periphery is the Coal mining kicks off without proper legislative framework being put in place.

That the Vice President did not seem to address the concerns of the locals is very telling indeed. Residents are questioning how a contractor will set foot in the Mui Basin to extract coals without having locals being compensated for their land. Statues guarantee citizens up to Six feet ownership of their land, with the rest belonging to the State. Citizens are only seeking compensation for what is legally theirs before a contractor tears beyond the six feet after cutting deals with the state and its actors.

Even as Kalonzo was expressing optimism, Kraitu seemed to contradict the VP. Kiraitu allayed fears that a Chinese company had been granted the contract to start mining coal in Mui basin. As such it remains to be seen who between Kiraitu and the VP is saying the truth.

Given accusations by  ministers  for Water and Medical Services- Mrs Ngilu and Prof Anyang Nyongo respectively- that kalonzo was interfering with their ministries by making curious statements, only time will tell if the case with his announcement about a Chinese firm winning a contract to mine the coal does not prove the two other ministers right.

Interest in coal mining activities has seen the formation of another lobby led by Malili Lawyer Eric Mutua. Mutua is reported to have been appointed Spokesman of the Stakeholders of the Mui Basin. Besides, he is said to have registered a company- now with over 3,000 members through which to articulate their concerns.

Mutua is calling on residents of coal-rich Mui area to join a registered company to enable them negotiate better terms with the government in mining the resource. He said the company would be the entity through which the residents will enter into a contract with the government. The lawyer noted that there was a possibility the matter could end up in court adding that the residents need to be prepared in case of compulsory acquisition of their land.

Mutua claimed that a registered company called Mui Mines and Minerals Ltd was the best entity to help the locals in compensation negotiations. Whether a Limited Liability Company is what residents need to fight for their rights remains to be seen although observers see it more an outfit out to do business than to champion the rights of the down trodden.

Mutua and other stakeholders registered the company in 2005 which now has over 3,000 members. “It is the duty of every residents of Mui to join this company so as to benefit. The company will partner with NGOs and Community Based Organizations in protecting the commercial and social interest of the Mui basin inhabitants,” he said. Local NGOs and CBOs are said to be setting out regulations upon which they will enter into MOUs with other like minded groups and integrity seems to be the bench mark.

Mutua’s outfit notwithstanding, it appears that locals residents know better. Some 20,000 residents of the coal-rich Mui basin have formed a pressure group  to fight against exploitation when mining of coal and other minerals begin.

 Mui community representatives met under  the Regional Institute for Social Enterprise (RISE), a Nairobi-based NGO and formed the Mui Environment Protection Initiative (MEPI) to take care of their interests. MEPI, it was unanimously agreed, will fight to safeguard the environment, compensation and proper resettlement of families that will be displaced. Mr Mutia and the Mui civic leader Councillor Musee Mulongo  are spearheading the process The two said the formation of the outfit will ensure that the locals reap the full benefit of huge coal deposits and make sure that they don’t get shortchanged by the State and the investors interested to mine the coal.

The formation of the groups and the stance of the VP, the Energy Minister, members of the Provincial Administration and MPs Ngilu, Musila and Kiema now seem to set the stage for a major war for coal mining in Kitui.

This war over coal may well inform how exploitation of other minerals in Kitui will be done. For instance, Mrs Ngilu has said that the County will seek that investing firms build factories in Kitui so that locals can get jobs and other benefits like infrastructure growth be realized in Kitui.

This radical approach is popular and may well be the agenda setting stance for the emerging war of resources in Kitui County. Stay Anchored!

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