Is Kenya’s Service Sector Ready to Support a Potential Influx of Mining Activity?

With major investments in the mining industry expected, Kenya must gear up its service offering

By Catherine Howe

IMAGE: Base Titanium

There are a number of service companies operating in Kenya with an excellent reputation, strong capabilities and extensive local knowledge. Panafrican Group, for example, is a major player in East Africa, providing and supporting mining equipment, and distributes Komatsu and Wirtgen brands. “A large part is knowledge of the environment and having a clear understanding of what is really possible, how long it will take and what it is going to cost,” commented Gregory Jackson, regional manager at Panafrican Group. “There is a lot of excitement in Kenya and on top of that excitement there are a lot of resourceful people in this industry with a good problem-solving attitude. There is a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, so there are a lot of good partners to work with here.”

Another well-established company is Akili Mineral Services (AMS), a turnkey company set up in 2012, covering all aspects from assistance in the licensing process through to the prospecting and development phases, and mine planning. “We have a unique status here as the only company that knows Kenya from the prospecting point of view and at the same time is familiar with the intricacies of working in an African country,” asserted Tom James, AMS’ director. “We have a market lead and first mover status still, even after six years, which makes a huge difference to how we can go forward – we are still the only local multi-competence exploration services company.”

With 40 trained personnel across the disciplines of geophysics, drilling, geology and other areas, James and co-director Dr. Cedric Simonet have extensive local expertise and offer a highly scalable service.

Companies place an increasing emphasis on partnerships, customized solutions and ongoing support, which could be a challenge for foreign service companies without an extensive local network and knowledge. “Today, in this digital world, it is possible to source technology from anywhere, but the technology has to be promoted, installed and commissioned, plus training provided with adequate support – there is no advantage without the right implementation,” commented Subash Ambidy, general manager at Vision Scientific & Engineering, a company offering scientific and engineering services across cement, mining, soil science, and many other industrial segments. “There are also many foreign companies supplying the industry that then face challenges in providing timely solutions to unforeseen complications. Time and cost reduction are vital, as well as productivity, and we deliver in all these areas.”

The company also has a strategic partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Mines, and has supplied four handheld XRLs and a multi analyzer, providing training and aftersales support.

However, particularly because Kenya’s mining sector is relatively nascent, the country has not had time to develop some of the necessary skills, expertise and technology in country to support mining operations. Equally, the support required is often on too large a scale for local communities. Recognizing Kenya’s potential to be a regional hub for mining support services, the government intends to support the development of these capabilities. Hon. Dan Kazungu assured: “We are aware that we need to focus on developing human capacity and build our own educational and training institutions to support the mining sector as a whole. We are currently relying heavily on South African, Australian and Canadian professionals to take up the strategic roles within the sector. Naturally, we would like to see more Kenyans taking up important roles in the mining industry.”

Companies do, however, recognize the high calibre of the Kenyan workforce, and the excellent results achievable with investment into training. “Our training and skills transfer programs are designed to systematically address existing knowledge gaps and enhance skill levels of our employees,” said Joe Schwarz, Base Titanium’s general manager.

The company is aiming to replace expatriates with locals, with an increase in the percentage of Kenyan employees from 46% to 74% from February 2014 to the present. This includes an increase in the percentage of Kenyans in management positions from 14% in February 2014 to 36% today.

The government plans to focus on the Taita Taveta University College, with a move to offer specialized mining courses, and also plans to restructure the Institute of Geological Sciences, part of the University of Nairobi, into the National Institute of Mining.

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