Troubles Mount for Canadian Titanium Mine in Kenya

By Tom Osanjo

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 31, 3001 (ENS) - A Canadian mining company may lose its operating license to mine titanium if Kenyan members of parliament pass a motion seeking to establish whether it is operating according to international and local environmental standards.

If passed, this would be yet another obstacle on the path of Tiomin Kenya Limited since it was awarded a license to mine titanium at the Kenyan Coast. Tiomin Kenya is a wholly owned local subsidiary of Canadian mining firm, Tiomin Resources Inc.

Now the company will have to submit to an environmental impact assessment in addition to the one it completed for the Kenyan government last November. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has announced it will fund the assessment, after local groups raised concerns that Tiomin Kenya's proposed ship loading facility could threaten the marine habitat of Shimoni, the site of the new facility, and a recognized marine reserve.

drilling

Tiomin Kenya drills near Mombasa (Photos courtesy Tiomin Kenya)
A case is already in court in which some 205 farmers are asking that the mining firm be stopped from carrying out operations.

Opposition Member of Parliament Martha Karua tabled a motion asking that a 12 member parliamentary select committee appointed to investigate the Canadian firm. In the meantime, she proposes, the government should suspend Tiominís license until the select committee reports back to parliament its findings. The debate on the motion is likely to begin within six months.

MP Karua wants the parliamentary committee to investigate the issue of compensation to the farmers whose land is to be taken over by the company as it sets up base. Indications are already strong that the legislators will vote to adopt Karua's motion. The Kenyan parliament has recently been more forceful in its lawmaking, especially in defending the rights of the poor.

Tiomin Kenya has run into trouble mainly from environmentalist and community welfare groups seeking to stop it from prospecting and mining for titanium.

A local community group Coast Watch says that Tiomin Kenya was economical with the truth when it went public with the amount of metric tonnes of titanium to be mined and its value.

meeting

One of several public meetings held by Tiomin Kenya to address concerns about the mine.
The Kwale project is the most advanced of Tiomin's four mineral sands deposits in Kenya. The company says it contains a resource of 200 million tonnes of titanium bearing sands with economically recoverable heavy minerals including rutile, ilmenite and zircon.

Professor Katama Mkangi, a lecturer at the United States International Universityís Nairobi campus and a member of Coast Watch, says that the firm wants to rip off the peasant farmers whose land it is taking over for mining activities.

Tiomin offered the residents 2,000 Kenyan shillings (US$25) a year for each acre taken plus sh 9000 (US $150) as a relocation fee, figures Mkangi and his group say are a pittance.

A paper titled "The Truth of the Matter, Publication One" by the Coast Watch says that three districts at the Kenyan Coast of Kwale, Kilifi and Malindi had over 3000 million metric tonnes of titanium deposits, which the group says would take up to 230 years to exhaust. Quoting unnamed experts, the group claims that Tiomin could be earning astronomical figures from the titanium mined at the coast.

In his reaction to the criticisms raised by the document, Tiomin Kenya general manager Lan Schache said that they are doing nothing wrong in offering the compensations. "These rates were determined by Kenyan valuers, not Tiomin," he said in an article carried in the "East African Standard" newspaper.

The general manager denied that his company would reap a windfall from the venture. "The real value of the minerals represents a total value of approximately US$700 million over 14 years," he said.

Commenting in the same newspaper, environmentalist Professor Wangari Maathai warned that Tiomin presented a doctored Environmental Impact Assessment when applying for its license.

mining

Tiomin Kenya workers explore the titanium rich sands of Kwale (Photo courtesy Tiomin Kenya)
"I am inclined to agree with our environmentalists who have pointed out that titanium mining involves emission of acid, poisoning of underground water and the destruction of the coral reef which definitely bear negative consequences on the environment," Maathai said.

"The government and Kenyans are getting so little from the mining that it is going to be a rip-off from the country, while the slave labour will be provided by Kenyans," she said. Maathai said the Kenyan government should have been the one to invest in the production and processing of the minerals.

Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said his government is staying out of the conflict. At the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council meeting in Nairobi in February, Anderson said that the sovereign Kenyan government is the one to sort out the issue and that Canada believe it will take the best course of action.

Immediately after Anderson's remarks, the 205 farmers went to court challenging Tiominís operating license.

But late in April, 23 of the farmers withdrew from the case saying that they did not want to be part of those opposed to the prospecting and mining of titanium.

The next day the court was told of the existence of a bribery and intimidation plot that had led the farmers to withdraw from the suit. Detectives have launched investigations and have recorded statements from suspects. Mombasa High Court Judge Andrew Hayanga warned that his court would deal harshly with anybody out to defeat the course of justice.

Meanwhile, this summer three experts in the fields of environmental economics and natural resource management and marine ecology and biology will conduct the environmental impact assessment at Shimoni, a quiet coastal town about 50 miles from Mombasa. Their report is expected in August. Its findings will be made public, and IFAW hopes it will trigger "thorough and serious debate with stakeholders."

"While the economic value of this titanium mining project may be significant," said IFAW regional director for East Africa, Michael Wamithi, "many, including IFAW, are adamant that the economic benefits of this project should not come at the sacrifice of our valuable natural heritage. Our marine parks must be protected to ensure the continued survival of Kenya's unique marine ecosystems.