Youth quit rustling, turn to gold mining

Pastoralists and small-scale farmers in the North Rift region have turned to gold mining in the hope of turning around their fortunes.

Many youths have now abandoned cattle rustling and banditry for the precious metal.
In West Pokot County, the activities are concentrated around Weiwei, River Muruny, Alale, Narwomoru, Nyangaita, Masol, Ortum and Turkwel. In neighbouring Turkana, most miners are at Naduat, Lomaguro, Atereka and Nakareareka.

Residents use hoes, axes, basins and other crude tools to extract the mineral, especially from rivers.
Speaking to Smart Company, gold miner Peter Kichana said the business is now a preferred economic venture that it is playing a critical role in poverty reduction and rural development.

“Both men and women engage in mining because they earn more than those working in agriculture alone. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) activities have been a significant source of employment for residents,” he said.

Kichana said a drop in the number of cattle in the region has seen residents turn to mining gold for their livelihood instead of stealing livestock.

“Many , especially reformed cattle rustlers in West Pokot and Turkana counties, are now cashing in on gold quite literally. We sell the gold at Ortum market after getting it from miners at Muruny River in Marich,” he said.

A gramme, Kichana says, goes for Sh5,300 after buying it at Sh4,800 from miners.
“Some gold is being bought by other nationalities from Juba, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Dubai, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda,” he adds.
“We may not be getting a lot of money from mining today, but we’re hopeful that one day huge quantities of gold will be found,” he says.
Ahmed Mesh, who sells gold to traders as far away as Tororo, Nakapiripiriti and Moroto in neighbouring Uganda says mining is a major economic activity.

Though they are benefiting, the venture has its ups and downs.
“Women spend the whole day in the river and at the end of the day, get gold, which they sell to middlemen at Sh200. This is a business of hope. You keep working hoping to find gold at some point. It’s not an easy venture,” Mesh says.

West Pokot Executive member for Trade, Industrialisation, Investment and Cooperative Development Francis Kitalawiyan urged residents to form cooperatives. Once organised, he said, the county will help them acquire equipment.

“I’m organising for a stakeholders forum to enable the miners to forge a way forward and borrow a leaf from other counties who have better practices and are getting value from the minerals. We will also help them [find] a market where they will sell the mineral at a better price and in a more organised manner,” Mr Kitalawiyan said.

He added that the middle men had exploited miners, and the county government is expected to told a meeting with the miners to sensitise them on the importance of forming cooperatives so that they get serious investors who will buy from them.

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