The late Jonah Mngola’s report on finding and hearing Artisanal Small Scale Miners in Kenya, making them visible to policy-makers.

Artisanal Small Scale gold miners in Vihiga county


Artisanal and Small scale Mining (ASM) is an activity that has garnered significant recognition and momentum throughout Africa and in Kenya, as seen in various policy documents and revised country mining codes. For many countries, It is considered part of the informal sector, limited insofar as the production, information, revenues and operations are concerned.


The ASM sector, however, provides a livelihood for millions of people in different countries. This activity has been viewed as a major source of economic development for many rural and regional communities. 


The definition of ASMs is often controversial, with negative associations attributed to them. ASM is tainted with its association to smuggling, tax evasion, health and safety risks, environmental risks, socio-cultural dislocations, unregulated and varied illicit activities.


Artisanal mining is often characterized by persons in rural settings, with little or no machinery seeking to eke out or supplement a livelihood, to small-scale formal commercial mining activities that can responsibly produce minerals.


Small scale mining can fall under two categories; the mining and quarrying of industrial minerals and construction materials on a small scale; and the mining of high-value minerals, such as gold and gemstones of which the latter will be the focus of this report. It is largely practised in rural areas. 


Kenya’s Rift Valley is marked with mineral occurrences of soda ash, gemstones, gypsum, fluorspar, gold, manganese, diatomite, marble and granite amongst other minerals. Western Kenya and Nyanza are known to have mineral occurrences of gold, iron ore and copper. Whilst Central Kenya has mineral deposits of iron ore, gemstones, coal, gypsum, diatomite, manganese, carbon dioxide and limestone amongst other minerals.


The Coastal part of Kenya is known to have mineral occurrences of iron ore, gemstones, graphite, rare earth elements, titanium, gypsum, manganese, niobium amongst other minerals.


The North-Eastern part of Kenya is known for its gypsum. Kenya had historically been mapped as an agricultural zone, this resulted in the reduced exploration of minerals, as such there still is an early exploration of its mineral potential. Metallic minerals produced in Kenya include titanium, gold and iron ore. The country recently made announcements of having world-class deposits of rare earth elements in the coastal part of Kenya estimated to be worth USD 62.4 Billion. 


Whilst the focus has long been on large scale mining (LSM), little data exists with respect to the ASM field. The sustainable extraction of these mineral resources is expected to provide significant resources which can greatly boost economic performance, contributing towards poverty reduction.


All this while globally, demand for minerals globally is growing and provides great opportunities for the prosperity of communities in Kenya, better management of the mining industries  – particularly the artisanal small scale mining sector – will improve the livelihoods of miners and help eliminate poverty and there need to be a deliberate effort to include Women and Youth in the decision making processes in the mining industries will strengthen the mining industry in Kenya. 

The project area’s focus is Western Kenya; Migori County and Kakamega County which are both known for gold. The project also focuses on Coastal Kenya, specifically Taita-Taveta County which is known for its gemstones. 


It is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa’s small scale mining produces gold and gemstones worth about  USD 1 Billion. Nevertheless, statistics from this sub-sector are difficult to ascertain, and so the economic impact in Kenya is difficult to determine.


More of the report

Authors & Contributors

  1. Jonah Mngola
  2. Mark Irura
  3. Benjamin Charagu
  4. Eng. Peter Sholo, Taita Taveta
  5. George Otieno, Migori & Vihiga
  6. Mary Alwangi, Kakamega
  7. Ivy Gathu
  8. Esther Njagi
  9. Prolyne Nancy

“Artisanal mining” connotes the traditional and customary mining operations using traditional or customary ways and means.


Kenya’s Mining Act has been harmonized with existing environmental legislation, as it requires mineral rights holders to comply with the requirements of the Environmental  Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999 (EMCA). For Artisanal miners, it provides that holders are to observe good mining practices, health and safety rules and pay due regard to the protection of the environment and the Cabinet Secretary is to prescribe regulations for the protection, health and safety of ASM operations. 

Kenya’s Mining laws emanate from the Constitution of Kenya (2010) which is the supreme law of the land and binds all persons and all state organs at both levels of Government. In Kenya, the land belongs to the people as a nation, communities and individuals.  Land in Kenya is classified as public, community or private land and minerals and mineral oils fall under public land. The minerals vest in and are held by the Government in trust for the people. 

Several rights are emanating from Chapter 4 of the Constitution that apply to ASMs, these include the right to freedom and security which connotes persons not being deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause or to be treated in a cruel or inhuman or degrading manner; human dignity; right to access to information; freedom of assembly, peaceable demonstration and petition; economic and social rights which include the right to access adequate housing and reasonable standards of sanitation, freedom from hunger, social security and education. The definition of ASMs is controversial, with negative associations attributed to them. It is tainted with its association to smuggling, tax evasion, health and safety risks, socio-cultural dislocations, unregulated and varied illicit activities. 

Kenya’s Mining and Minerals Policy Sessional Paper No. 7 of 2016 recognised the potential of the ASM sector and its strategy called upon the National Government to mainstream and formalize ASM mining operations to support livelihoods and entrepreneurship. The policy provided that the Government would remove barriers holding back the development of ASMs, this is with regards to the lack of access to finance, recognition of gender and prohibitions on the exploitation of child labour, recognized mineral rights, inadequate technical capacities and provision of incentives to operate legally. 

The policy complements the Mining Act No. 12 of 2016, which provides for the recognition of “artisanal mining” which connotes the traditional and customary mining operations using traditional or customary ways and means. The Mining Act guides as to who qualifies to be an artisanal miner: individuals have to be citizens of Kenya, have attained the age of majority and may be members of an artisanal mining cooperative association or group. 

Mining permits grant the holder the authority to carry out small scale mining operations. The absence of mining permits for persons carrying out mining operations, using customary or traditional means, infers that they are carrying out such activities without authority being given and such actions can be categorised as unlawful or an illegal act. 

Despite the recognition of ASMs within the law, our engagements with ASMs informed us that they were not pleased with the negative associations that come with it including discrimination The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded their challenges as with all sectors. The pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems.