Chinese Company Accused of Environmental Degradation at Quarry in Kenya

By Dominic Kirui, Special to The Epoch Times
April 16, 2019 Updated: April 24, 2019

MAI MAHIU, Kenya—When Peter Muchiri bought his 5-acre piece of land in 1969 in Kanairobi village in the settlement of Mai Mahiu, Kenya, it was completely forested with a cool climate and frequent rains.

Muchiri built a permanent house on his plot, but says it is no longer conducive for him to live in it with his family, who have opted instead to live in Banana Hill in the neighboring Kiambu County.

The reason is because of the constant dust, noise, and vibrations caused by China Wu Yi, a Chinese state-owned construction company that is quarrying nearby. The rocks are to be used for ballast in the major expansion of the Waiyaki Way highway from Nairobi.

Peter Muchiri looks into an active quarry at Kanairobi village in Nakuru County, Kenya, on March 28, 2019. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

Muchiri says that in addition to the company digging up most parts of the village, leaving open holes in the ground that pose a danger to children and livestock, it also uses excessive explosives that cause ground vibrations that destroy houses and other infrastructure, as well as create a lot of dust.

“We have witnessed a deterioration of the [environment], thanks to mining companies that have set up base to mine ballast here,” the 84-year-old father of eight and former military scientist told The Epoch Times.

“My plot has literally been surrounded by these companies that have created the dusty and noisy atmosphere in the village. The explosives they use have destroyed our property,” Muchiri said, pointing at cracks in the walls of his house.

Two mining companies surround Muchiri’s land, one owned by a local whom the residents refer to as Mwangi and the other by China Wu Yi, with several other sites spreading throughout the village.

An aerial view of the quarry at Kanairobi village, Kenya, on March 28, 2019. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

“Mwangi buys land and mines from there, but the Chinese will lease land and have massive machinery, meaning that they are able to mine a large piece of land within a short time,” Muchiri said.

Ceasing Operations

In early March, after complaints from residents, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) suspended the extraction of ballast from the quarries in the area, causing concerns that the expansion of the Waiyaki Way would stall due to a shortage of materials.

This was the second attempt by NEMA to close down the quarrying after the Nakuru County government announced a suspension in late February.

Peter Muchiri shows a crack on the wall of his house that he says resulted after blasts at the quarry near Kanairobi village in Mai Mahiu, Kenya, on March 28, 2019. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

County Director of Environment Mureithi Kiogora told journalists on Feb. 27, after visiting the quarries and affected homes, that there was evidence the residents’ complaints were valid, according to local newspaper The Standard.

“It’s true that the blasts from these quarries have affected many homes and we have suspended for one week any operations until we get the way forward,” he said.

Kiogora accused the two companies involved in quarrying of disregarding the law, thus putting the lives of residents in “great danger.”

Gathariki Kamanu, chairman of the environmental committee of Nakuru County Assembly, told reporters that there was no public consultation before the quarries were opened. He added that authorities would make sure environmental regulations were adhered to before operations at the quarries recommenced.

He said they did not want to take chances after the Solai dam in the same county collapsed in May 2018, claiming 48 lives.

But visiting the quarry on March 28, operations were ongoing at China Wu Yi’s site, with dust clouds evident on the drive down the Kamandura escarpment toward Mai Mahiu.

“My cry to the government is to stop completely the mining taking place in our village. It is no longer safe for kids here since there are open mines that could pose a danger to them. Life is also disturbed, since sometimes I am told to get out of my house in the morning when they want to start using the explosives to blast the rocks,” Muchiri said.

A section of the Waiyaki Way that is under construction in Nairobi, Kenya. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

The efforts of Muchiri and other residents to seek compensation from the Chinese company so far have been futile.

“On several occasions, I have tried to confront them to compensate me for the loss I have incurred but to no avail,” he said.

Residents have also accused local leadership of being bribed by China Wu Yi officials to stay quiet while the quarrying takes place.

“Our leaders no longer care about the well-being of the people, only what gain they get from the kickbacks the company gives them,” alleged Anthony Kamau, a farmer and resident of Kanairobi village.

China Wu Yi didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

Chinese Influence

In 2016, the Kenya National Highways Authority awarded the tender to expand a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) section of the Waiyaki Way highway to China Wu Yi, which is an international arm of the Fujian Construction Engineering Group Company.

A truck ferries ballast to the Waiyaki Way construction site in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 28, 2019. (Dominic Kirui for The Epoch Times)

According to a July 13, 2016, press release, the project was to be funded by the World Bank and the government of Kenya under the National Urban Transport Improvement Project and was scheduled to be completed in 36 months.

Chinese companies have previously been accused of breaking the law and getting away with it during their operations in Africa. However, to complicate matters, Beijing is exerting influence over Kenya and other African countries through loans for major projects, making it difficult for leaders to question the Chinese operations within their countries.