Victoria Wahu, Project Manager at the Kenya Gem & Jewellery Fair: « Africa is the world’s main source of precious stones »

Long dominated by a few Latin American (Colombia, Brazil) and Asian (Myanmar, Sri Lanka) countries, the gemstone industry has recently seen new African players emerge. Mainly located in East Africa, these gemstone mining areas now have a dedicated event, the Kenya Gem & Jewellery Fair (KGJF). Exclusively for Resources, Victoria Wahu, project manager at the Association of Women in the Extractives Industry in Kenya (AWEIK) – the KGJF’s organizing structure – explains the challenges of the third edition, to be held on July 11 and 12 in Nairobi.

Interview by Patrick Ndungidi

Resources: What is the Kenya Gem & Jewellery Fair?

Victoria Wahu: The KGJF is an annual event organized by the Association of Women in Extractive Industries in Kenya, in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Petroleum and Mines. It is the first African event of its kind in the gemstone and jewellery sector, the KGJF, bringing together industry players from all over the world. Most of the participants are gem dealers, jewellers, artisanal miners, bankers and financial and investment institutions. A wide range of speakers who explain that the KGJF plays a decisive role in Kenya’s influence, not only as a hub for the gem trade, but also as a promotional showcase for Africa’s precious, semi-precious and organic stones.

A. : How do you view the gemstone sector in Africa?

V. W. The sector, driven by rising global demand, has grown rapidly in recent years and the continent is now the world’s main source of gemstones. However, the sector faces several challenges. In artisanal mining, low productivity de facto limits supply while the potential for mineral extraction is considerable. Another obstacle is inadequate regulations, which have hampered a number of major investments in Africa. However, Kenya has made significant efforts to improve the situation. The new mining law, signed on 6 May 2016 by President Uhuru Kenyatta (replacing the old legislation, in force since… 1940, editor’s note), has thus made several positive changes possible (see insert below). Applied on a larger scale, such measures and provisions could undoubtedly significantly boost the sector and, in turn, stimulate the continent’s growth.

A. : According to the Natural Resource Governance Institute, the global market for rough gems (including diamonds) is estimated at $17-23 billion per year. But small-scale mining, which is the majority in Africa, benefits from very little of the benefits of this market. How can we improve things?

V. W. In addition to the establishment of appropriate laws and regulations, as already mentioned, capacity building and improved access to finance could significantly change the situation for the minors concerned. It is this gap that our association, in partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Petroleum and Mines, is trying to fill. We hope that through the KGJF, the gemstone market in Kenya will grow significantly, as this event will provide an opportunity for artisanal miners to directly expose and sell their production to potential buyers. Our event also aims to provide a platform to connect the various players in the sector. For example, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mines has already sponsored several small operators from remote areas of the country to travel to the KGJF, where they can find a market for their gems.

African precious stones (Ruby, Tanzanite, Sapphire, Emerald):
the main producing countries
Source: Gemologicical Institute of America

A.: What is Kenya’s place in this African gemstone industry?

V. W. Located along the Mozambique belt, rich in mineral resources, Kenya is one of the countries with the greatest variety of precious and semi-precious stones: Rubies, Sapphire, Tsavorite, Tourmaline, Garnet, Aquamarine, Amethyst… Its potential is therefore considerable. But, like elsewhere on the continent, the Kenyan gemstone industry is primarily dominated by small-scale, low-income miners. By allowing small-scale mining, the new 2016 Mining Act has provided a legal framework for all these operators, particularly in remote areas where many of the country’s precious and semi-precious stones are mined. The government has also established a separate licensing regime for small- and large-scale mining operations (see box). Finally, it should be noted that this formalization of the sector does not only affect mining operators: gemstone traders must also hold a licence from now on.