In March 2012, Kenya burst into international limelight with announcement that the country had struck significant oil deposits at the Ngamia-1 well in Turkana, raising hopes of a new dawn of mineral capital. A year later, more commercially viable oil dripping wells have been discovered in the north.
Kenya’s mineral resources however transcend oil deposits. Mui and Taru Basins in Ukambani and Kwale respectively are frothing with multibillion deposits of coal, promising to turn around energy deficits in the country. Additionally, pockets of gold are tucked in various parts of Migori County.
The country’s mineral fortunes have attracted a number of multinational companies including the British Tullow and US’s ERHC, which are currently undertaking oil prospecting in various parts of Kenya. In fact, the future looks so rosy that the World Bank now forecasts renewed growth prospects for the country.
Amid these exiting times for Kenya, yawning infrastructural and human capacity gaps remains a setback in the country’s attempts at oil and mineral exploration and exploitation. The requisite machinery and technology required for the exercise is very expensive. Equally, only a handful of Kenyans have trained in mining and related engineering fields.
How can Kenya overcome these challenges?
First, the government needs to build capacity by training more professionals in thematic fields mainly in geo sciences, mineral and process engineering, and petroleum engineering. This can be achieved locally through our universities where such programmes are offered or through targeted scholarships to train abroad.
Secondly, there is an urgent need to enact legislations that would ensure safe and beneficial exploitation of the bounty natural resources in order cushion the environment and to avert any unfair trade deals among involved parties.
Thirdly, the government should actively support local companies including boosting their infrastructural capacity in order to generate locally sustainable solutions as the country shifts economic priorities.
Luckily, the government has identified Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology as a high capacity institution with resident knowledge to undertake high level engineering training in relevant areas. The university has already developed twin syllabuses, benchmarked on global best practices to train mineral processing engineers and petroleum engineers.
“We have already submitted the syllabi to the Engineers Registration Board for approval, as stipulated in the Engineering Act 2011,” notes Prof. Mabel Imbuga, the Vice Chancellor JKUAT.
To learn from other established mineral exploiting countries, JKUAT is working closely with century old Curtin University of Australia. The two institutions have already consolidated an agreement to jointly mount the programmes. In the arrangement Prof. Imbuga reveals, students will take their studies both from JKUAT and Curtin University.
This move, according to Prof. David Wood of Curtin University, will stem influx of Africans and Kenyans in particular in western countries for similar training.
“We are ready to partner with JKUAT in training engineers to help Kenya meet mining needs,” contends Prof. Wood who was in JKUAT last week to operationalize the collaboration between the two institutions.
But more importantly, points Prof. Wood, Kenya should equally invest in water and hydrology research since mining has the potential of widespread pollution of underground and surface water with catastrophic ramifications.