By Jeckonia Otieno
28th September 2020
Activities at a gold mine at Chemase on the edge of Nandi Escarpment, Nandi County, have ground to a halt as politics and economic interests take centre stage.
Karebe Gold Mining Limited, which revived the mine after a 45-year lull, finds itself at a crossroads due to a barrage of court cases after the expiry of its lease last year. This, as the county government reiterates it will not issue a business permit until land matters are resolved.
While the mining company has moved to an adjacent parcel of land from the one they leased from Mzee Cheseret arap Korir for 10 years, the battle has followed them. In March this year, Karebe signed a sale agreement with Barnabas Kiplimo.
David May, the managing director of Karebe, questions “how coincidental that for over 30 years nobody showed interest in this piece land but suddenly court cases are emerging after we bought it.”
On June 30 this year, Geoffrey Kipkorir and Gilbert Kipsang moved to court over the new parcel which Karebe had started fencing off for mining operations. The duo sought to have the certificate of confirmation of grant declared illegal. But the owner, Kiplimo, rebuffed these attempts.
An affidavit sworn by Kiplimo states that he bought the land from their father Pius Kiptanui Kogo on August 13, 2008, with a title deed issued on April 16, 2013. He stated that a magistrate’s court sitting in Kapsabet confirmed his right to ownership for the parcel in October 28, 2008.
“That I have enjoyed peaceful ownership, possession, occupation and use of the subject parcel of land until April 2020 when I heard rumours that the plaintiffs/respondents were alleging that they want to take the land back,” stated Kiplimo in his affidavit.
He further argued that Kipkorir and Kipsang were purporting to speak on behalf of their grandfather who was the original owner yet their father Kogo, was still alive and has the authority to transact any business about the land – hence they have no locus standi to speak on the same.
He noted, “the plaintiffs/respondents are maliciously and mischievously seeking through the instant suit to invalidate a certificate of confirmation issued by a competent court oblivious of the fact that this honourable court is divested of the requisite jurisdiction to intervene in such a manner.”
In her ruling on the matter, on September 11, Senior Resident Magistrate Christine Menya dismissed the suit which sought to invalidate the certificate of confirmation of the grant.
With one hurdle overcome, the miner is still awaiting a business permit to start operations after paying for it. On September 1, Karebe’s lawyer wrote a letter to the country government stating that despite submitting a plan on April 17 and an amended on May 28, the county is yet to issue the permit.
“It is important to note that at some point our clients were informed verbally that the delay in granting the approvals was occasioned by the disputes with respect to the subject parcels of land. We hereby formally communicate to your office that the honourable court itself in setting the record straight with respect to our clients’ rights on the subject parcels of land,” read the letter.
The county is yet to respond to the letter.
According to the firm, an environmental disaster looms at the old mining site due to a tailing dam full of cyanide that has been left unattended due to a court order barring any activities.
On August 7, the miner wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Mines over the state of the dam.
“I refer to the above and bring to your attention that Karebe Gold Mining/ Equatorial Land Holdings no longer have access to the land where Karebe Gold Mining tailing dam is situated,” read the letter.
The letter notes, “Therefore, Karebe Gold Mining and Equatorial Land Holdings can no longer be held responsible for any disaster that may result. The responsibility now falls on the Ministry of Mines and the government.”
The mine lies on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the village below with a dispensary, schools, a shopping centre and several homesteads. With the back and forth over the land whose lease expired, there are fears that with the onset of the rains and without any maintenance, the sides of the tailing dams might break and send about 100,000 cubic metres of water and mud-laden with cyanide into the village; this could affect the sugarcane farms.
Like every hillside, Chemase has gullies, which carry rainwater to the rivers that straddle the plain below. In the event that the dam breaks, the cyanide will most likely find its way to the rivers which join up to form Nyando which flows way down to Lake Victoria. ?
But beyond the court cases, Karebe mining sees a bigger hand which they claim has vested interests and is keen on kicking them out. May accuses certain politicians of inciting the family to reject a lease renewal and preparing ground for takeover by some Japanese and Chinese investors.
A few weeks ago, two Asian nationals are said to have been welcomed with fanfare to Korir’s home, a move that is seen as a sign for the impending takeover.
The standoff is a matter that not even the ministry wants to get involved in as a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity intimated that the matter is a hot potato which nobody wants to touch lest “it goes with someone’s head.”
Attempts to reach Mines Cabinet Secretary John Munyes have been futile with only junior officers from his office responding but anonymously.
May says the turmoil faced by Karebe since the run-up to the 2017 General Election until now are not ordinary but well-orchestrated to frustrate the mining company and eventually drive it out.
He laments, “It started with us getting bashed in every political rally by political figures and some have even taken our issue to Parliament but each time agencies are sent here, they leave without finding any fault.”
He adds that over 400 jobs have been lost with the closure of the mine which has earned the government over Sh1.5 billion in revenue since its inception. On December 3, 2019, for instance, the State Department for Mines received Sh7.9 million as royalty on gold.
On January 25, a convoy snaked its way into the Karebe offices. Among the visitors were Nandi Lands Executive Philemon Bureti, area MCA Hillary Serem, a Mr Leonard Keuto, three Japanese nationals and a host of security officers.
Two of the Japanese officials – who were introduced as consultants from the Ministry of Mines – gave the same name Yoichito Tanaka; the last one did not enter details in the visitors’ book. The three of them only gave one business card belonging to a Mr Masaki Chida, project manager Strengthening Resilience in Cyclone Idai Affected Area.
Following the visit, the investor wrote a letter to the Japanese Embassy to confirm if indeed they knew the three.
“Mr Leonard Keuto claimed that this team was consulting for the ministry and yet he did not know their names. Further, he indicated that they were conducting a “feasibility/suitability study around Kenya,” read the letter.
May, however, says the visit seemed suspicious since Keuto, who had been introduced by Bureti as an official from the ministry could not confirm this. Contacted by The Standard, Keuto admitted he does not work for the ministry but has contacts there.
But Bureti maintains the three Japanese were sent by the Ministry of Mines in the company of Keuto and that is why he accompanied them.
The Standard has confirmed that the three Japanese are heavily involved in gold leaching in Bondo.
What is not clear is their involvement with the county government even as Bureti denies any wrongdoing. He says that since the landowners have failed to agree with the investor, the company has no recourse but to leave the land where it has mined for ten years. He further clarifies that the county government has no vested interest in the issue and will issue a license once the issue of land is solved.
“Since they bought a new parcel of land we are in the process of looking at the plans before we give a licence and we have even given them a permit to erect a fence,” said Bureti.
A letter signed by Nandi County Secretary Francis Sang, stopping operations noted, “The County Government of Nandi has not issued you with necessary clearance including a business permit. Despite being in receipt of your application for the said business permit, the county government is not in a position to issue you with the permit in the absence of the land owner’s consent.”
How the visitors got to hobnob with senior county officials despite so many unanswered questions about them is a matter that could not be answered by even county officials.