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Exploited soapstone carvers of Kisii cry out for help

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Exploited soapstone carvers of Kisii cry out for help by Kenyans247(1): Tue 27, October, 2020 12:13pm
For years, most soapstone carvers in Tabaka in South Mugirango constituency, Kisii County, have lived in abject poverty, despite the abundance of a natural resource which people the world over consider a gem.

Exploited by middlemen and hit hard by failing international markets for their products, the stone carvers of Kisii are a frustrated lot.
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The carvers endure hardship to mine, carve, and clean to the final detail before seeking a dwindling market for their sculptures.

Frustrated stone carvers narrated tales of exploitation as they struggle to eke out a living.

They struggle in the quarries mining the white stone before a backbreaking process of preparing the carvings that sell at throw-away prices. The carvers say they have had it all.

The worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of international markets has compounded an already bad situation.


Despite the industry being hard hit by the pandemic, the soapstone carvers have had little financial relief either from the national or county governments.

Last year, Mining Cabinet Secretary John Munyes promised to help the soapstone carvers by installing a processing industry and enhance the international market for the products, but that was just that – a promise.


Mr Moses Ong'esa, the chairman of Smolart self help group in Tabaka, which deals in soapstone carvings. The group has brought together locals who carve and export soapstone products.

Ruth Mbula | Nation Media Group
Middlemen, some of them politicians, have monopolised the market, making it difficult for new entrants without strong connections and financial muscle to survive in the market.

The rich divert tourists to their shops which are strategically located on the main road in Tabaka town, which connects to the international road that leads to Tanzania and Southern Africa.

Economic base
Residents told the Nation in Tabaka -- a robust small town with booming businesses -- that political forces on the strategic Kisii-Tanzania highway convince the tourists that Tabaka is insecure so they should not go where the miners are.

"We spend considerable time and resources but we have no market here," said a local carver.

The government, he said, can create a strategic market for the carvers to improve their economic base.

Since the carvers have had to face all manner of exploitation, the government plans to intervene and streamline marketing of the products.

The recently-released Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report calls for policies that impact on the environment, natural resources and biological diversity, particularly those that guide economic development.


Some of the final products by Smolart self help group in Tabaka, Kisii County. Nation/Ruth Mbula

Ruth Mbula | Nation Media Group
The report discusses, in great detail, initiatives that promote sustainable utilisation and management of these resources.

After receiving the report at the Kisii State Lodge, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his ''handshake'' partner Raila Odinga spoke extensively about how those in the soapstone industry will benefit from the implementation of the report.

They said the national and county governments will team up to ensure that proper marketing, pricing and general business conduct in the industry favour the locals.
This, they said, will apply to all other resources in the country.

https://nation.africa/kenya/counties/kisii/exploited-soapstone-carvers-of-kisii-cry-out-for-help-2723168

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