Technology and Access to Formal Finance in the Mining Sector: Insights from the Mining Week

Published on 26th July 2023

Following the consequential 2023 Kenya Mining Week, unresolved inquiries persistently loom regarding the prospective trajectory of Kenya’s mining sector. From the penned prose on paper to the profound perspectives of panelists, the consequent questions are weightier than ever: Will the sector’s contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product escalate from the currently reported, and occasionally disputed, 1% to the projected benchmark of 10% by 2030?

Furthermore, the matter becomes even more urgent when one considers the rising number of mining graduates from Kenyan institutions of higher learning. Spearheaded by Taita Taveta University (TTU) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), will these graduates secure fruitful opportunities for career advancement within a thriving investment climate and well-regulated business environment?

Kenya’s Mining Sector Reforms

When the story of transforming the mining sector in Kenya will be fully told, the spotlight will not be on the origin and progression of the reforms – such as the restrictive 1940 mining legislation, the Vision 2030’s 2nd Medium Term Plan, which prioritised the mining sector under its Economic Pillar, or the recent 2016 Mining Act typifying a new wave we can refer to as the 4th generation of mining law reforms in Africa – aimed at improving environmental and social responsibility, inclusivity, transparency, and predictability in the mining sector. Neither will it be about how many cabinet ministers and presidents have talked about reforming the sector.

Instead, the spotlight will be on the final tangible outcomes of the reforms. Will Kenya have improved her economic reporting to include the entire portfolio of activities, stocks and flows encompassing the diverse products in the mining and quarrying value chain? Again, will we have attained sustainable mining practices while ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion and incorporating innovations for artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM)? Even more weighty, will the mining sector’s contribution to the GDP have risen from the currently reported and occasionally contested 1% to at least 10% by 2030 as anticipated? And now, even more critical, will the increasing number of mining graduates from Kenyan universities, led by Taita Taveta University (TTU) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), find meaningful placement for career advancement within a thriving investment climate and well-regulated business environment?

As a mining educator in Kenya, and a moderator of a panel on technology and access to formal finance in the mining sector during the 2023 Kenya Mining Week, I will be genuinely curious to know if what I refer to as the 8Ds that plague the African mining sector will have been overturned: (land) dispossession and disputes; (environmental) degradation; (societal) deprivation and destitution; and the disease, death and deformity afflicting mine workers due to deplorable safety standards, further aggravated by the absence of technologically leveraged deformation monitoring and search-and-rescue measures, and sub-optimal de-risking mechanisms. If the active engagements witnessed during the 2023 Kenya Mining Week are any indication, where Kenyan youth, academia, policymakers, miners and mining communities, investors, civil society organisations, and industry experts were actively involved in reimagining the aspirational future of the mining sector, then a promising sunrise for the mining sector could be on the horizon.

The Mining Week in Kenya

The 2023 Kenya Mining Week theme was “Promoting an Inclusive Approach in Kenya’s Mining Sector to Drive Economic Growth”. As a signature annual event for the mining sector, only comparable to the international Biennial CEMEREM Conference on mining and natural resource management, the epic gathering highlighted key challenges and opportunities in this promising sector. This time, it was held at Radisson Blu Hotel, Nairobi, 17-18 July 2023. The participants included youth from universities and experts as well as decision makers drawn from government, private sector, civil society organisations, and academia.

Winning Essays on the Aspirational Mining Sector in Kenya

The youth got enough space to be heard through essays and a roundtable discussion graced by the Principal Secretary for Mining, Kenya. The essay by university students was on a topic exploring the youth’s aspirations for Kenya’s mining sector. The three winning essays were written by two students from Taita Taveta University (TTU) and one student from Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).

Moderating the Panel Discussion

Panel discussions on various topics added depth to the deliberations. Nashon Adero, the Founder of IBD and a lecturer at Taita Taveta University, moderated the panel discussion on Technology and Access to Formal Finance, which brought together five panelists who are experts in engineering, strategy, business innovations, and finance. The moderator directed the course of discussion to pay a keen attention to the following key result areas, borrowing lessons from the 2018 International Mine Water Association (IMWA) Conference held in Pretoria, South Africa:

  1. Minimising risks associated with mining enterprises and related activities
  2. Managing tradeoffs given different interventions or approaches
  3. Optimising operations by utilising available tools, data, and technologies in the entire value chain

Technology was understood here to encompass the application-specific hardware/machines/instruments, data and software systems that aid in spatio-temporal mapping and enhancing operational efficiencies. Financial technologies (Fintechs) were also highlighted, because financial management and equity research are increasingly dependent on technological innovations, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data.

The panel of experts explored the challenges and opportunities related to the adoption of technology and access to formal finance by the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) communities.

The panel discussion exposed the following trouble spots and high-leverage intervention points:

  • Technology is indispensable, and it can only increase its importance for the future of mining, which advances the urgency of formalisation of business operations; decision support in favour of policies promotive of efficient enforcement and compliance monitoring; fighting corruption with traceability and end-to-end transparency; predictability in the operating environment; safety, including search and rescue operations; and de-risking mechanisms, among others.
  • Financial literacy among the small-scale miners and mining communities is crucial, hence the need for targeted training in this area to empower them to be candidates for receiving formal finance. The points of sale (POS) are important entry points for keeping financial records.
  • Guarantee systems must be strengthened (hence collateral and expedited formalisation) to enable the miners to be eligible for accessing capital from the formal financial institutions.
  • Risk modelling towards robust de-risking mechanisms is critical, hence the urgency of targeted, data-driven, and evidence-based research addressing this important aspect.
  • Quality data and statistics must be given priority for effective policy decision support, including data security measures in a world experiencing increasing digitalisation and automation.

The compelling message of the panel was unequivocal: We need a governance model that can facilitate and expedite licensing, formalisation, transparency, safety, risk mitigation, efficiency, and predictability in the operating environment of artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM). Finally, information on accessing project finance was shared, specifically on the grants available from the World Bank (Delve) to support ASM. As an outlook due to the reality of non-homogeneity across mining communities, participatory technology development will be critical to adapting innovations to be responsive to the immediate needs of the ASM workers – hence the priority of repurposing training and retooling interventions towards achieving fit-for-purpose solutions.

Courtesy: Impact Borderless Network

This is the product of more than a decade of dedicated experience in research, skills development, training, and mentorship. Through mentorship and career development fora, IBD empowers youth with the knowledge, international exposure, and digital fluency they need to be emancipated global citizens with borderless influence for sustainable development.

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