Kenya has its first PhD graduate in mining, after Joseph Muchiri Githiria graduated at the end of last year from Wits University’s School of Mining Engineering.
Dr Githiria has returned to his post as a lecturer at Kenya’s Taita Taveta University that is located between the capital Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa, where he looks forward to helping build the country’s nascent mining sector.
His PhD in mine planning focused on developing a stochastic approach to cut-off grade optimisation aimed at maximising net present value (NPV) by concurrently varying metal price and grade-tonnage distribution in an algorithm.
According to Professor Cuthbert Musingwini, Head of the Wits School of Mining Engineering and supervisor of Dr Githiria’s doctoral thesis, his graduation is a highlight in the school’s history of engagement with students from all over Africa.
“As one of the most highly ranked mining schools globally, we are pleased to regularly attract talent from around the continent,” says Professor Musingwini. “We are proud to contribute to mineral development throughout Africa, while pursuing our broader strategic goal of being a leading research-intensive university by 2022.”
Dr Githiria’s graduation comes only a few years after Kenya formally established a stand-alone Ministry of Mining in 2013. He was a student in the ‘pioneer’ Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering (MMPE) course in 2006 at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. However, there was still not much activity in local mining when he completed this five-year course in 2010.
After a short spell in the quarrying works of a cement producer in Kenya, he enrolled at Curtin University in Western Australia for an 18-month Master of Engineering Science (Mining) degree. Specialising in mine planning, he graduated in 2013.
“Some significant oil discoveries in the north of Kenya around 2012 changed the government’s attitude towards mining,” he says. “Suddenly everyone started talking about the extractive industries.”
He emphasises that Kenya now needs to learn from countries like South Africa and Australia when developing its mining sector – and to address the challenge of engaging all stakeholders in charting the country’s mining future. Dr Githiria is a member of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) and the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM).
“It is encouraging to see the Kenyan government’s involvement in promoting mining, as well as the emergence of a Kenya Chamber of Mines and the growth of academia in mining,” says Dr Githiria. “We still need to collaborate more closely, however, as cooperation is the only way of building a strong minerals sector. I am also a firm believer in the value that academia can bring to industry, with our strong research focus.”
Local capacity – in terms of mining skills – is steadily being built in Kenya, he says, aided by partnerships with other countries and organisations.
“The support that I received from the Wits School of Mining Engineering and particularly from Professor Musingwini, is indicative of the expertise and goodwill that we can draw from partners around the world,” he adds.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), for instance, is facilitating collaboration between Taita Taveta University and two German universities – the Technical University of Freiberg and the University of Applied Sciences in Dresden. This will establish a centre of excellence at the Kenyan university to offer postgraduate-level qualifications in mining engineering, mineral processing and environmental engineering.