GIA FE09 (GIA Laboratory Bangkok Field Expedition 09): Part 08: Oct. 18 - Oct. 27, 2009: Kenya:
Field Gemology is not all the time about success stories: Sometimes we do our best but it is not enough. If success stories are nice to tell, the others can also be useful to share and sadly the Oct. 2009 expedition was one of them. It was a waste of time for most of the people involved but sadly these are things that happen...
In Oct. 2009 despite the support of the different Tsavorite and ruby miners from the Tsavo area who were expecting our group to visit their mines, we were not allowed to visit the gem mines near Tsavo. I have the feeling that it had something to do with Campbell Bridges murder which was still under investigation in Tsavo area at the time we intended to visit the region. It is sad as we came with the idea to do some good work which could have been useful for the Kenyan miners.
Our group was composed of four people: Myself, Dr. Stephanos Karempelas, a research gemologist from the Gübelin Gem Lab and two of the world most famous geologists working on gemstone and their deposits: Dr. Gaston Giuliani and Dr. Daniel Ohnenstetter from Nancy University in France.
Our project was to visit the tsavorite mines in Tsavo area as Dr. Giuliani and Dr. Ohnenstetter have the project to organize in Nairobi in July 2010 a workshop about tsavorite. Something similar to the successful one they had in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) beginning Oct. 2009.
To prepare this workshop, as they did in Tanzania, they wanted to visit the different miners and tsavorite mines in Kenya to identify where to focus their studies and get some material to work on. As I already visited the area twice (in 2005 and 2007), I offered them to introduce them to the miners and organize this expedition in Kenya in Oct. 2009.
For that I was in contact with different miners and the current and former ICA Ambassador to Kenya for several months.
The main reason of failure was that two days before our arrival in Nairobi,
Dr. Bernard Rop, the Kenyan Commissioner of Mines, asked us to get first an official research permit from the Kenyan National Council for Science and Technology in order to get his support to visit the miners in Tsavo.
I was very surprised about this demand as while visiting Kenya in 2005 and 2007, the previous commissioner never asked me to get through such process. Even more: I've to say that this was the first time (in Africa, Europe or Asia) that while trying to visit gem mining areas at the invitation of local miners, I'm asked to go through such heavy administrative process... Even in countries like Burma, things were easier! I was not expecting that from Kenya.
It was also quite a bad surprise to be informed about this only two days before our arrival in Kenya as we could have probably do something if we were informed earlier, but under such a short notice, while all the team was already in East Africa, things turned to be very difficult.
To get a research permit in Kenya it is usually a 3 months long administrative process and you need to be in collaboration with a local university (see for details the form to fill on the Kenyan National Council for Science and Technology website).
Instead to go directly to the mines and try to do some good work there, we started to visit ministries in Nairobi and, of course, to disturb people there (and friends outside) in order to try to get through this process in 1 or 2 days instead of 3 months. During 4 days we did our best to get all the documents they were asking us. The people there were very nice, but well finally we found out that it could not be done in such a short time. We decided then that it was better to accept that it could not be done properly that time and postpone out project to visit the mines in Tsavo in 2010.
Of course we could have decided to go nevertheless to Tsavo like tourists and try to do our work without the support of the new commissioner for mines. But we were not willing to give a bad impression to the Kenyan authorities that could create problems on the long term for further collaboration, even if it was very frustrating, we decided to leave Kenya without having succeeded to visit the Tsavo mining area.
Nevertheless we did not give up on our projects to do some good work about Kenyan gemstones:
In July 2010, Dr. Giuliani and Dr. Ohnenstetter from Nancy University (France) will do their best to organize in Nairobi a workshop about Tsavorite as they did this year with a lot of success in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
For them this missed opportunity was nevertheless not a complete waste of time as they could meet in Nairobi several key people in order to start seriously working on that project. The workshop will cover tsavorite from Tanzania, Madagascar and also gems from Kenya, even if we could not visit the mines, as I've provided Dr. Giuliani many samples from my private reference collection that I collected on site in Tsavo when I visited the tsavorite mines in 2005 and 2007.
On my side I spent my remaining days in Nairobi with Dr. Cedric Simonet, one of the best field geologists I know currently working in East Africa. Cedric was the former Director of Rockland Kenya mining the "John Saul Ruby Mine" in Tsavo National Park. We had some good discussions about rubies, geology, gemmology and also conservation as beside a common interest for gemology, we also have a deep love for the places were gemstones are mined. It was useful to rest and brainstorm a little... Thanks to Cedric (and his lovely family) these few days in Nairobi were not for me only a "frustrating complete waste of time and energy"...
Finally I would like to thanks to all the Kenyan ruby and tsavorite miners who were ready to welcome us in Kenya and were expecting our visit and who were disappointed by the fact we could not visit them and help them. I would like also to apologize to the people from the Nairobi University and at the Kenyan National Council for Science and Technology we have bothered during these days trying to speed up our case. I have the feeling that it was a complete waste of time for all these people. And I'm sorry for that.
I just hope that in the future things will turn better and that the Kenyan authorities will not continue to ask people willing simply to visit gem mines to get through such heavy administrative process in order to try to do some good and useful work in collaboration with the miners who invite them to visit their mines.
All the best,