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Closure of fluorspar mining firm leaves locals wallowing in misery

NATIONAL
By Stephen Rutto | October 5th 2021

An abandoned lorry at Kimwarer Trading Centre, a booming business hub during the time of the Kenya Fluorspar Mining Company, in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Until seven years ago, Kimwarer Trading Centre in Kerio Valley, was booming with business thanks to fluorspar mining.

Kenya Fluorspar Company, which had a mining site in the area, had employed many people who kept the trading centre alive.

However, things took a devastating twist in 2016 when the company wound up its operations.

The company had mined fluorspar for 40 years, producing between 120,000 and 125,000 tonnes each year.

Further, the firm used to maintain the 10-kilometre Nyaru-Kimwarer road that connects the mining site in Kerio Valley to Eldoret town. The road is now in a deplorable state, raising transport costs.

To residents and former workers, the closure of the company is like a bad dream. The machines have since gone silent, and no smoke billows from the site anymore.

The site is now a thicket. Outside the gate of the defunct company is a shell of a petrol station that fuelled some 120 lorries and about 50 cars daily and employed people.

Two security guards manning the gates to the premises are the only workers remaining. They say they have been employed by the Ministry of Mining to guard the remaining rusty metals of what was left of the company and staff houses that are rotting away.

Some two kilometres away is Kimwarer trading centre, which was a business hub when mining was booming. The centre is now a pale shadow of its former self.

Kenya Fluorspar Company mining site is now a thicket. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

The closure of the firm that consequently meant the end of mining heralded a new chapter.

More than 3,000 workers, mainly from Keiyo South were plunged into hard times.

The firm had also employed people from outside Elgeyo Marakwet, including transporters.

Kenya Fluorspar Company Managing Director Nico Spangenberg, who spoke in 2016 as the firm closed down, said it ceased its operations due to a fall in the global demand for fluorspar.

A former welder at the mining site, Ben Kosgei, recalls the good old days with nostalgia. He says life was good before the company closed down. 

“Kenya Fluorspar Company started scaling down operations in 2015 which saw 100 transporters lose their lucrative contracts,” says Kosgei.

He witnessed some of the most agonizing times in 2016 when workers, including himself, were laid off.

Kosgei, who runs a welding workshop at Kimwarer trading centre, says he had started the business as a side hustle while still working for the fluorspar mining firm and he would make up to Sh300,000 in a month.

“But after the fluorspar mining closed down, all the transporters who were my main clients also left. My business crumbled as I was making no money,” he says.

His office at the workshop is abandoned. A pick-up vehicle he used to transport metals and other materials stalled and is also rotting outside the workshop.

Gideon Kandie, who was an ambulance driver at the company, says everything crumbled after the company ended its operations.

After looking for a new job for three years without success, Kandie now works as a cook at a local eatery. He says his wife took off after he lost his job, leaving him with their two children. 

The closure of the firm consequently meant the end of mining. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

He started off by selling mandazi before he took up the job of a cook at the eatery.

“Things were better when the company was up and running,” says Kandie.

Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono says local leaders have petitioned the Ministry of Mining to revive fluorspar mining, but the process has been slow.

Rono says Petroleum and Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes had promised to advertise and pave the way for mining firms to bid, but this has not happened.

Apart from the lack of jobs, about 4,000 residents who surrendered land for fluorspar mining are yet to receive compensation.

Local politician Micah Kigen, who has been fighting for the compensation of residents, accuses the State of remaining silent despite starting the process in 2016.

“Residents surrendered 9,700 acres of land to the government. Mining took place for nearly 50 years and there was no compensation. We want the process hastened,” says Kigen. 

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