Kenya: COVID-19 impacts on artisanal coral miners and updates on artisanal gold mining communities
Situational update provided by Jorden de Haan (Pact) and Kirsten Dales (independent ASM expert)
ASM Workforce: 140,000 miners, including appr. 40,000 ASGM miners1
COVID-19 Country Status: 281 COVID-19 cases total and 14 deaths (as of 20/04/2020)2
- Suspension of international flights in and out of Kenya extended for 30 days (as of 6 April)
- National curfews prohibiting non-essential movement between 7pm and 5am remain in place
- Cross-border movement into or out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area (as of 6 April), and Kilifi, Kwale, and Mombasa counties is limited for at least 21 days (as of 8 April)
- Nationally, schools and universities remain closed; people are encouraged to work from home
- No social gatherings with >15 people are allowed, social distancing and masks are mandatory for people visiting markets or using public transport
- National Government has extended shut down orders to ‘non-essential businesses’ to the County level, including industrial, artisanal and small-scale mining operations
- Excessive police force used in COVID-19 containment measures, sparking public criticism3,4
Impacts on coral miners
In the Lamu archipelago off Kenya’s Northern coast, artisanal coral mining is an important livelihood in Maweni village, Manda island. Open pit mines in Mangrove and ancient coral beds on the island are manually extracted with pickaxes where coral is then chiseled into bricks – ready to be used as a construction material (see picture above). Given that coral is light but relatively resilient, it is used in combination with cement and wood to construct houses on Manda and Lamu island, and on the mainland of Lamu county. Coral miners in Maweni village have reported the following impacts5:
- Communities continue coral mining as local authorities recognize it is an essential livelihood and no COVID-19 cases have been reported in Lamu county (as of 18 April).
- Buyers still come to Maweni to procure coral, but less regularly than before. At the village level, economic hardship caused by COVID-19 has limited people’s ability to construct new homes and, further limiting demand for coral since the pandemic.
- Due to decreased demand and perceived stable or over supply, prices have dropped from roughly Ksh25 ($0.23USD) before COVID-19 became a global pandemic to Ksh20 ($0.19USD) per brick of coral on 17 April – reflecting a 20% drop.
- Food security and access to clean water have become a serious concern as supply from Lamu island has become less consistent and transport, and trade with Mombasa halted.
- In response to food insecurity and loss of mining revenue, farming activity has increased.
- In general, rural men, women, boys and girls are suffering, they receive no support from the government, and there is widespread ignorance and misinformation around COVID-19.
- This vulnerability may be exacerbated by the proposed Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor Development Authority (LCDA), although its relative impacts remain poorly documented to date.6 Lamu county, specifically Lamu island, is a key node in the proposed LAPSSET corridor, with potentially negative impacts on the neighbouring community of Maweni miners who lack a voice.7
Impacts on gold miners (updates)
The below are updates on gold mining communities Mikei and Lolgorian
Mikei community, Migori county8
- Mining activity continues, despite enforcement:
- Police has forcibly shut down major mine sites such as Matanda in Osiri, however, selected shafts remain active and some return in the absence of alternative sources of income.
- In some of the mines, men descend into shafts at night so as not to be caught by patrolling police, leading to extended risk and more accidents.
- During the day, miners do not enter underground shafts, but miners (and especially women) crush and process ore to recover gold, while looking out for police forces .
- As one female miner explained, when asked if mining still continued: “Of course, it is the activity going on in this area. You cannot move [away from mining] because you have children who are going to need to eat… It is just a problem of money”.
- Local gold prices remain low:
- Gold prices in Migori town remain at around Ksh3,500 (33USD) per gram (of around 84% pure gold), in comparison to around Ksh4,300 (40USD) before COVID-19.
- This reflects a 17.5% drop, similar to what was reported here on 30 March.
- Gold buyers stack the acquired gold at home, waiting for local prices to increase before selling. ASGM miners lack the capital required to stack and have no choice but to sell at these low prices, despite the high international gold price.
- Women are disproportionately affected:
- Given women’s responsibilities in the household, including the responsibility to care for their children, they are disproportionately affected by the hardship caused under COVID-19.
- As a female miner explained: “The husband can decide to leave home for the entire day, leaving the woman with kids to take care of everything… The children, you need to educate them, feed them, [and for this] you just depend on gold. When it [the gold] is not there, you have to suffer”.
- This applies particularly to widows, who are the sole breadwinners in the household.
- In Mikei, female miners are further disadvantaged as their role is to crush ore, for which they depend – as per local gender norms – on men to dig ore in the shafts (now mostly at night). When men do not go into these shafts, there is nothing for these women to crush and no gold to recover.
Lolgorian community, Narok county9
- In late March, virtually all gold mines had shut down in Lolgorian, depriving around 3,000 people of their direct livelihood.
- Some miners have defied the mine closure order, because according to them, “if I don’t mine, I don’t eat”; “you are sending us home to die”; and “everyone [here] depends on mining”.
- The community-led and foreign-supported non-for profit Lolgorian Farmers of Gold wrote a letter to the government to plea for being be allowed to continue mining operations while implementing the necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus.
- Following this plea, the governor of Narok county made a visit to the mines sites to assess the status of precautionary measures taken. After confirming adherence to requisite measures and proactive engagements to prevent the spread COVID-19, the community was granted permission to proceed with ASGM operations.
- As of 16 April, local miners have returned to the mines wearing protective masks, making regular use of hand gels, and keeping appropriate distance between each other. Lolgorian Farmers of Gold is allowing no more than 10 miners per site
- Mining and Environment authorities have equally scheduled an inspection visit to determine whether this can be allowed to continue.
Miners’ needs (both coral and gold miners)
- Engaging in dialogue with authorities (specifically the State Department of Mining) to discuss exemption from forced closure of all activities and explore workable solutions, as ASM is in fact an essential business for their communities’ livelihoods and the local economy
- Supporting measures such as protective equipment (e.g. masks, goggles, hand sanitation gel) and support in formalization, so as to enable ASM activity to continue in a responsible manner (e.g. under the supervision of miners’ organizations maintaining social distancing and other policies)
- Emergency relief in terms of food, cash and clean drinking water
- Awareness raising and education about COVID-19 in ASM communities
- Increased health care services in rural areas, including for non-COVID-related health issues
- Stable buyers offering fairer prices
1 Economic Contributions of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Kenya: Gold and Gemstones
2 John Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Center. Accessed April 20, 2020
3 https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/kenya-police-kill-more-during-curfew-than-covid-19/1807930. Accessed April 17, 2020
4 https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/police-line-defence-covid-19-200410135620723.html. Accessed April 17, 2020
5 Information obtained from Ibrahim Ndungu, Treasurer with Manda Moweni Mining and Quarrying Cooperative in Maweni village, Manda island, on April 17, 2020
6 For more on LAPSSET, see: http://www.lapsset.go.ke/
7 For more information of the possible negative repercussions of LAPSSET on local communities, see: Chome, N. (2020). Land, livelihoods and belonging: negotiating change and anticipating LAPSSET in Kenya’s Lamu county. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 1-22.
8 Information, including quotes, obtained from Monica Aoko Opiyo, Vice Secretary with MOKA (a women’s self-help group from Mikei, Osiri and Kabobo) in Mikei,Migori; and from Julius Opiyo, Manager of MICA (Migori County Artisanal Miners Cooperative Society Ltd.) in Mikei, Migori, both on April 17, 2020
9 Information obtained from Matt Hales, Co-founder of FARMERS OF GOLD – LOLGORIAN, Kenya, & USA in Lolgorian, Narok, on April 17, 2020. Quotes provided by Matt Hales, citing the words of local gold miners in his community in March 2020