Coast region yet to realize full potential from its natural resources

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By Florence Gichoya

Kenya is the biggest non-mineral economy in Sub-Sahara Africa and soon the country might get a boost in its GDP. There have been numerous discoveries of minerals in the past few years, titanium in Kwale County, coal in Kitui, and oil and water aquifers in Turkana. The coastal region is endowed with various natural resources that are yet to be fully exploited by the local communities. That’s why Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) with funding from Ford Foundation organized a media training session for print and broadcast journalists from the coastal region.

The journalists didn’t have information on how to cover minerals and resources in the area. They also didn’t grasp their important role to sensitize communities on their rights and how they can be involved in mining. These are emerging issues that should be addressed in the right media channels.

There should be increased media coverage on mining issues; journalists should be well informed so that they can report balanced and objective stories on natural resources. For instance, in Kwale County the public is not aware if Titanium miners are still prospecting or whether actual mining has started. Journalists don’t have clear knowledge on how to report mining issues even as minerals are being discovered in the nation.

Najib Samshawi, the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) board member emphasized that journalists should cover the complete process of mining; these include: activities at the mine, destination of raw materials if exported and if they are processed locally. They should also cover the benefits of the minerals for example; titanium is used to make frames of aircrafts because it is resistant to heat. The public also needs to know the environmental implications of mining activities.

The minerals in Taita Taveta do not benefit the local communities. The miners who are licensed by the government don’t come from the area. Therefore there are high incidences of illegal mining by locals who end up selling the minerals at a throw away price. In Mwatate, the illegal miners are normally referred to as “zurura”.

Fishing is another economic activity whose full potential has not been exploited. Government and fisheries departments have not done much in empowering local communities. Local fishermen need to be taught on new fishing technologies and they should be open to new knowledge in order for them to be globally competitive.

One of the journalists highlighted that the biggest challenge for fishermen in the coastal region is ignorance and overconfidence. They assume that because they come from the region then they have inborn knowledge on fishing matters and coastal resources. Locals are not interested in receiving training on how to utilize their resources.

Coastal people should learn from other fishing communities in the country. When you compare the benefits of fishing in Lake Turkana, Lake Victoria and Indian Ocean, there is a great disparity. In Lake Turkana a lot of the fish rot because there is lack of infrastructure.  In Lake Victoria there is scarcity of fish because of high demand, the fish is supplied to wide a range of market including Nairobi and coastal regions. In contrast, fishing in the Indian Ocean has not been fully exploited. The fishermen use traditional methods to detect fish and do not have access to modern fishing equipment which can help increase yields and become competitive. A journalist said that there is a lot of self-centered activism and not community-centered activism. Local leaders normally give solutions in a reactive manner, only when there are incidences. The crisis on low level of fishing should compel the leaders to offer long lasting solutions.

The media in the region is challenged to cover on emerging issues in natural resources; it is unfortunate that politicians get the most coverage. This should be a wakeup call to all journalists to empower the society and show them that they can improve their lives and make a difference by earning a living through mining.

Are journalists up to the task?

Journalists in the coast region observed that there is lack of political goodwill to expose the illegal mining and unfair exploitation of resources. Sometimes the reporters face conflict with the mine owners who want to determine the content that will be broadcast and reported. Sometimes the reporters are caught up by warring communities who are fighting for resources. Journalists should report from all concerned parties so that they give a balanced story. The sources should be reliable and credible to avoid having a one sided story.

Investigative journalism should be applied when covering mining issues and reporters should be adequately facilitated by their media houses. Nevertheless, there are few people with expert knowledge on natural resources, for instance there are only four geologists in Kenya.

Media has a unique role of acting as a tool to inform, educate and sensitize the public on benefits of natural resources. Empowered residents of the coast region can generate more income through fishing and small scale mining. Media should therefore be proactive in coverage and setting the agenda that is good for the public. Relying on information from the government concerning natural resources is not enough.

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