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Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 13:34 UK

Deadly game of Kenya's gem trade

A farmer holds gemstones

The murder of a British-born gem-mine owner in Kenya has revealed the dark underside of the country's precious stones trade. As the BBC Swahili service's Kenneth Mungai reports, the death of Campbell Bridges was far from an isolated incident.

The landscape is dotted by scenic hills covered by dried shrubs and dense vegetation.

The hills and the ground underfoot hold unimaginable wealth - gemstones like green, red, rose and almandine garnet, tsavorite and ruby.

Luka Kitimbi
I've had many problems since I dug up my own mine
Farmer Luka Kitimbi

On Tuesday renowned gemmologist Campbell Bridges was murdered - apparently by illegal miners known locally as "zururazururas" meaning layabouts.

This tragedy is painfully familiar to Luka Kitimbi, a farmer who discovered deposits of blue alexandrite while digging a toilet in his farm.

He has been miserable ever since.

A string of unknown people have been arriving at his farm, claiming ownership of the land - despite Mr Kitimbi having been there for 27 years.

Firstly he says more than 400 illegal miners invaded his farm and stole vast amounts of the mineral.

And in April a gang attacked his family - killing his 17-year-old daughter and seriously injuring his wife.

"My home was attacked by four gunmen. They killed my child and shot my wife but she did not die," he says.

Map of Kenya

Mr Kitimbi was not at home during the attack, but he believes he would have been killed.

His house and furniture are pockmarked by bullet holes, and he now needs to defend his land from people claiming it on a daily basis.

"I've had many problems since I dug up my own mine, I have had people saying this land belongs to them, that I have pegged my mine on my neighbour's land, so they own it," he says.

He now speaks of sleepless nights, strange phone calls and rumours about his impending murder.

Gemstone cartels

While minerals in these areas were discovered in the 1970s, little has been done by the government to regulate the industry.

Many of the miners who have been in the area for more than 30 years are badly paid and dirt poor - visibly haggard and malnourished.

Luka Kitimbi shows bullet holes in his wall
Luka Kitimbi's walls are pockmarked by bullet holes

Many have turned to illegal mining, and often go back to the mineshafts at night to steal from the mines.

They live hand to mouth and would sell the gemstones just to eat a meal.

They end up taking the gemstones to market every Sunday morning in the dusty villages of Mkuki and Kamtonga.

They sell minerals worth more than $1,000 on the world market for as little as 150 Kenyan shillings ($2) on the black market.

Cartels control the gemstone markets - and their agents buy up the gems and take them to Nairobi, making a huge profit.

About 12 mining companies are legally registered to mine in the area.

But miners are poorly paid, and locals often feel cheated of their land and resources.

Peter Kilelo Muindi, a local miner, says few Kenyans benefit from the gemstone trade.

"We have Asian businessmen who have invested here, bringing prices down," he says.

"If you want Kenyan gemstones, you go and buy them in Bombay (Mumbai). This should be happening in Nairobi or here in Voi."



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SEE ALSO
Murdered gems expert's son speaks
13 Aug 09 |  Africa
Mob kills UK gems expert in Kenya
13 Aug 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Kenya
07 May 11 |  Country profiles

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