As far as the eye can see – earthworks, dozers, deep gashes in a disappeared hill. Or was it a mountain? It might have been a mountain for all I knew. Three forlorn palm trees stand along the far rim of the excavation, and a lone baobab is preserved elsewhere on a pedestal of sand.
Why such destruction by the hand of man?
I am so proud of him – my son – born over fifty years ago, pushing out one minute before his twin sister and twice her size. Throughout his life he’s seized the moment. He started with nothing. We could give him nothing … except the best education there was for what he wanted to do.
Now look at him, the spearhead of the largest, most modern and environmentally friendly mine in the country. Winner of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Corporate Citizenship Award, 2015.
Base Titanium is the name, and titanium the main end product – the stuff of which hip replacements are made. Other products are rutile (more concentrated titanium) and zircon (used in ceramics). Water is the conduit of the vast tonnage of sand from which this valuable mineral is extracted.
Everything on this site in Kwale district on the south coast of Kenya has been built from scratch. A tarmac access road causes a flourish of local businesses, sponsored schools and pilot agricultural projects. A dam spills out for downstream farmers, with several boreholes for back up in times of drought.
A towering processing plant works by centrifugal force, magnetism, high voltage electricity and other things I can’t understand. There are on-site training programs for local Kenyans, groomed to take over from expatriate expertise, and already this is starting to happen.
But the crowning glory is an enormous ring of residual sand fortified with bitumen, destined to rise out of its own sludge and dominate the surrounding land. It will be topped by trees, already growing into saplings in preparation for the transplant into carefully preserved topsoil. The sludge drains away into man-made wetlands, which attracts exotic birds; and to complete the cycle, the wetlands filter back into the original dam. On the horizon behind that bush at centre-right stands the processing plant. Sludge from the new growing mountain of sand drains into the wetlands in the middle of the picture. This filters back into the dam, from where water is pumped to carry the mineral-rich sand up to the processing plant.
And the whole area will be rehabilitated after consultation with local communities and stakeholders, once the thirteen year life span of the project expires.