The Invisibles: Finding the Citizen Voice in the Extractives Sector

Kenya has a vast array of natural resources. From Gold and Gemstones to soapstone and fluorspar to Titanium and Oil, Kenya is rich with natural minerals that have the potential to not only grow the economy exponentially but also to improve the well being of many ordinary citizens in all parts of the county.

Decisions around the management and growth of industries in the extractive sector are largely made by Government, large companies and Civil Society Organisations. These decisions are usually made in conferences and workshops in large high-end hotels – mostly in Nairobi. One key stakeholder that is usually left out is the ordinary citizen – the artisan miner, the villager living around the area of mining operations and the small scale traders as well as their communities. Most Kenyans are unaware of the activities in the mining sector, which tends to be opaque.

We call these citizens, the Invisibles (a play on the title Les Miserables). We call them so because they tend to be invisible in policy conversations.

How can these citizens be at the forefront of strategic conversations? How can citizen take centre stage in the decision-making process in the extractives industries? What we are interested in, is citizen engagement and action during the planning and implementation of development activities, i.e. do artisan miners participate in the development decisions of their counties? Does the government involve small scale traders etc in the planning of Extractives-related interventions in counties?

We often come across this concept of “public participation”. What does this actually mean for citizens with respect to natural resources? Is this how citizens get their seat at the table? Does public participation connote consultation only? Does it mean engagement? What’s the threshold of engagement? Does public participation actually effectively capture the views of the voiceless? Does public participation bring about tangible change for them with respect to natural resources?

Over the next few weeks, our extractives team, led by Jonah Mngola will be visiting several counties, including Lamu, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Migori and Kakamega. We shall be seeking to understand the issues surrounding citizens participations in the extractives industries. How are they involved and how do they see their role in the decision and policy-making process in their county.

We shall be sharing our experiences with you over the coming days and you will hear from the citizens themselves. We invite you to engage with us on what you see and hear.