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This exclusive interview with Antony Zagoritis, chief executive officer, Lapigems in Kenya looks at the potential for gemstones in the sector. At the upcoming Kenya Mining Forum, he is part of a panel discussion in the session on “Upgrading Kenya’s ASM sectors human capital, while glazing the upgrades of Kenyan gemstones.”  

“We are at a crossroads. Kenya has the potential to bestow upon itself the mantle of the Gem Hub of Africa. No African country has yet done this.”

Let's start with some background on your company's interests in the mining industry in Kenya and the region.
We are a gemstone cutter and jewelry manufacturer. We were incorporated in 1974 and in the first decade were involved in mining in the gemstone sector in Kenya, specifically Sapphire, Aquamarine and Ruby. Today we specialize in fine gemstones and buy from mines in the region.

How promising is the mining industry in Kenya?
The industry has enormous potential to be a significant contributor to Kenya’s GDP. Sitting on the Mozambique Belt, Kenya’s potential in terms of minerals waiting to be discovered is notable. However, mining is a capital intensive and knowledge intensive industry and Kenya needs to invest time and resources into positioning itself to be attractive to investors in this sector. Currently, it is not a business or investor friendly jurisdiction.

What in your view are the main challenges, the gemstone, artisanal and small-scale mining sector?
Licensing remains one of the most significant challenges. The process is slow, cumbersome and inefficient. 80% of licenses remain unissued to date which means no mining! Secondly, over regulation and bureaucracy has been intensified by the new mining act which came in last year. For small scale players to operate in the sector and be encouraged to join the formal economy, the systems in place need to easy to comply with. Lastly, there is a huge missing sector of the value chain which is crucial to its success – gemstone dealers, cutters and value addition. If there is no robust market within Kenya for Kenya’s minerals the black market and smuggling will continue to plague the country.

What is your vision for the industry?
A Gem Hub for Africa. A forward thinking government putting in place a regulatory framework that focuses on how to create a thriving value addition industry in the country. Investing in skills training which is sorely lacking right now. There are no courses for gem cutters, gemologists, or goldsmiths in Kenya. Even if we wanted to build such a hub, there would be nobody able to fill the skills gap or to provide the workforce required to drive this growth. Over regulation needs to be tempered so as not to overburden players.

Lastly, some benchmarking on the most successful gem hubs in the world like Thailand and Bangkok, with a combined annual turnover of $30 billion in the gem sector alone. These jurisdictions keep taxes low to nonexistent on imports of rough gems to fuel their huge value addition sectors which provide thousands of high paying skilled jobs, bring it foreign exchange and massive up stream taxes.

At the upcoming Kenya Mining Forum, you are part of a panel discussion in the session on “Upgrading Kenya’s ASM sectors human capital, while glazing the upgrades of Kenyan gemstones”. What will be your message at Kenya Mining Forum?
We are at a crossroads. Kenya has the potential to bestow upon itself the mantle of the Gem Hub of Africa. No African country has yet done this. If we fail to grasp the opportunity now, others will and we will lose out.

About Antony Zagoritis
Antony Zagoritis represents Gemstone and Mineral Dealers on the Board / Executive Council of Kenya Chamber of Mines. He is a Director of Lapigems Gem Company which specializes in top grade gemstones from all over Africa. He holds a Bsc in Business from Bath University in the UK and is a professional gemologist holding a GG from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). He currently holds the post of ICA Ambassador to Kenya for the International Colored Gemstone Association in New York.