By Karanja, David
NAIROBI -- Opposition is growing here to a $160 million deal allowing Tiomin Resources of Canada to mine titanium in Kenya. A leading opposition party says it will not honor the 1997 deal if it wins the presidential elections scheduled for December this year.
Tiomin inked the deal with Kenya after a two-year exploration period of deposits estimated to constitute 10 percent of the world's titanium resources.
The government suspended the project in 2000 after a public outcry over plans to relocate 3,500 peasant farmers. But in July this year, the government gave the company an environmental certificate, which sets the stage for the granting of a license to allow mining expected to begin in 2004.
The National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK), a coalition of 13 political parties seeking to form the next government, announced in October that it would not respect the deal. The party accuses the government of being too eager to give the company a go-ahead without contentious issues on the project being sorted out.
"We are asking the affected families not to sell their land until they are given shares in the project," Mwai Kibaki, NAX's presidential candidate said.
Tiomin is offering each family $126 per acre per year and $25 annually. The affected families say this is too little, and that relocation plans are inadequate.
The farmers are demanding five times the level of compensation offered by Tiomin. "We will also not agree to be moved from this district," says James Wambua, the farmers' spokesperson. "They will have to relocate us to an area that is equally fertile so that we can continue with our farming activities."
Experts have expressed concern that relocation of the peasant farmers from the fertile area will impoverish them. They grow food crops such as maize, cassava, beans and rice. Families earn an estimated average of $177 a year from farming.
Tiomin says its deal with the farmers is not exploitative. It adds that farmers were given three months in which to cancel the contracts if they wished, but none did.
But nongovernmental organizations say the company's deal is a steal. "If it was in developed countries, Tiomin would have paid a third of the value of the mineral to the government," says Harun Ndubi, executive director of Kituo Cha Sheria, an organization that is advising the farmers on their rights in the deal. …