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Exclusive interview with Joe Schwarz – General Manager External Affairs at Base Titanium

Base completed construction of the Kwale Project infrastructure at the end of 2013 and the first bulk shipment of ilmenite was despatched from its privately owned and operated storage and ship loading facility in Mombasa in February 2014. The mine is currently producing 455,000 tonnes of ilmenite; 85,000 tonnes rutile and 32,000 tonnes of zircon each year.

2) What has been a highlight in terms of projects for the company thus far?
There have been many stand out highlights since acquiring and developing the Kwale project – the rapid and successful development of Kenya’s first large-scale, modern mining project, plant commissioning and ramp up, a justifiably proud safety record, upskilling and developing our Kenyan workforce and our community development programmes.

Ensuring a safe workplace always comes first. Creating, maintaining and continuously improving a safe and healthy working environment for our employees and communities forms a cornerstone of our corporate culture. The last lost time injury was recorded 30 months ago and 7 million injury-free man hours have been worked since. This impressive safety record is not left to chance. It is testament to continuous training, hazard identification and elimination and awareness – a culture that is deeply ingrained and continually reinforced.

Located in Kwale County, the mine is Kenya’s first large-scale mining operation and the county’s first industrial development. Despite limited skills availability, through Base’s prioritised employment system and heavy investment in training, 63% of employees working at the sites are local. To further ensure transfer of skills and develop manpower for the mining sector, Base works closely with local educational and training institutions to implement a number of external training opportunities including graduate, apprenticeship and internship programmes. Through these we are exposing Kenya’s youth to skills needed for employment in a new sector in Kenya and equipping them with the skills necessary to drive its growth.

Also strongly highlighted are our community programmes, which include provision of social infrastructure, investing in sustainable livelihood programmes centred on agriculture and a variety of health and education programmes.

3) Which projects that you are involved in are you most excited about at the moment?
The Kwale Mine is currently Base Titanium’s primary focus. The company was recently granted additional exploration tenure and intends to carry out an extensive exploration drilling programme in the hope of making additional resource discoveries to extend the life of mine.

4) How promising is the mining industry in Kenya?
Kenya’s mining industry is very much in its infancy. However, recent initiatives spearheaded by Cabinet Secretary Dan Kazungu, including the enactment of new mining legislation and release of a draft Mining Policy point to a concerted effort by the Government of Kenya to promote the industry as a new growth sector. Kenya is a relatively under explored mining jurisdiction with unknown potential. However, the government has taken a visionary decision to invest in an extensive airborne geophysical survey aimed at encouraging future exploration.

5) What in your view are the main challenges?
The major challenge currently facing the mining sector is depressed global commodity price environment. With continued poor mineral prices and ongoing uncertainty in the global economy, the appetite by investors for greenfield exploration is limited. The biggest challenge for Kenya is, therefore, to create a competitive, stable and predictable investment climate capable of attracting serious investment interest.

6) How important is the updated Mining Act in your opinion?
The new Mining Act is a strong signal that the Government of Kenya is serious about developing the sector and increasing its contribution to the national economy. Provisions in the Act to ensure stability and predictability are reassuring to investors. It is also encouraging to see an Act that legislates the sharing of royalty revenue with local communities and county governments.

7) What will be you message at Kenya Mining Forum?
Base’s key message is to show the world what is possible to achieve in Kenya. By showcasing the successful development and operation of the Kwale Mine and the strong cooperation and commitment received from the Government of Kenya, we hope to be viewed as a catalyst for further investment in the country’s mining sector. Another key message is to demonstrate to potential investors the efforts being undertaken by the government to facilitate growth of the mining sector. Central to this is the Mining Act 2016, but other initiatives are equally important; for example the plan to conduct the aerial geophysical survey, the huge investments being made in infrastructure and the drive to lower the cost of energy through increased production and improved delivery.