Long-awaited Ortum cement plant now on course

Construction of the long-awaited multi-million cement factory in West Pokot is now on course after years of uncertainty.

The cement processing factory will be located at Sebit-Ortum along the Kitale –Lodwar highway in West Pokot County.

Construction of the Ortum Cement factory started last year, although it had been earmarked to begin in 2010. According to project timelines, it should have taken approximately 18 months to complete.

Originally Cemtech Shanghai Company had been issued with the license to construct the plant on 650 acres of freehold land 12 years ago for Sh 131m by the defunct local authority.

Cemtech had been awarded a 99 years lease contract after which the county government reviewed and approved 25 years based on the new Constitution on mining rights.

Simba Cement, later on, took over the project after several failed attempts by Cemtech Limited to start operations.

Handed over

Last year, Cemtech Company handed the job to a new investor Simba Cement.  In 2021, Simba Cement Company was issued six out of 11 licenses by the government that gives rights for mining to take place in the area.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) approved the acquisition of West Pokot-based cement business – Cemtech Limited by Simba Cement Limited in a move that was meant to give the factory a lifeline.

Raila groundbreaking

The regulator gave Simba Cement, a subsidiary of the Devki Group of Companies, the go-ahead to buy 100 percent of the business and assets of Cemtech owned by Indian conglomerate Sanghi Group.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched the groundbreaking ceremony of the factory. 

Residents have been waiting with anticipation for the building of the plant that is expected to create jobs for the locals. The cement plant is expected to directly employ over 3,000 people and benefit thousands of residents in the arid region indirectly.

Environment friendly

The company said it will put up an environmentally friendly cement factory, along with staff houses, schools, a medical centre, and other amenities.

As part of the project plan, the company will also put up a 64-megawatts (MW) power plant that will also produce extra power to be sold to the national grid.

According to the feasibility study for the project which was commissioned in 2010 by the Kerio Valley Development Authority, the area has large limestone deposits with the potential to produce 1.2 million tonnes of cement per year.

The region is endowed with more than 35 types of minerals, with some including gold, gemstone, and rubies yet to be exploited.

The county is expected to benefit from a modern, environment-friendly factory, staff houses, schools, a medical centre, a staff training centre, and other amenities.

Chairman of Sebit Limestone Management committee Augustine Loria said the dream of setting up the cement plant has become a reality.

Incorporate community

Mr Loria urged the new investor to be ready to work with the community and all leaders.

“The business people expect their businesses to improve and the entire economy of the county to grow,” said Mr Loria. He observed that the limestone in the area can serve the factor for 50 -200 years.

Local youth also hope that the plant will offer them job opportunities. “We expect more investors to stream in once the factory starts operating,” said James Lonangole, a jobless local.

“This is a goldmine. Our people expect to benefit from the riches of their ancestral land, as the cost of land among other assets will go up,” added Mr Lonangole.

Accusations and counter-accusations have in the past emerged among local leaders over the tender award for the set-up of the cement factory. It irked locals who have been raising concerns that the project has taken a long time to start.

Musa Lokeyo, a father of four who attended the groundbreaking exercise in 2010 told Nation his hopes were high. Two of his children dropped out of school, and he hopes to send them back if he finds a job at the factory. “I expect that there will be a lot of jobs. I hope I will be among those who will find employment,” he said.

“The company will earn us money and keep youth engaged and busy. People engage in cattle rustling because they are idle and unemployed,” Batei Member of County Assembly Yusuf Longiro said, rooting for the employment of locals on a priority basis.

“The presence of the plant has many benefits to the Pokot community. Apart from the improved image, it will improve the economy of this area,” he said. 

Operation areas

Areas that have been given rights to operate are Puseli, Chepkol, Sebiit, Ortun, Iyon, and Marich, within the Ortum belt. Annual production is projected at 24 million bags of cement.

West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin called on residents to give the new investor space and time to complete the project, noting that it will boost the housing and manufacturing agenda of the county and general development in the region.

The governor said the factory will help stimulate other infrastructure, health, water, and education projects. 

“We have convened a meeting with investors to share ideas on opportunities,” revealed Mr Kachapin.

Outsourced expertise

Simba Cement Communications officer Geoffrey Sangote said the contractor has a short period to complete the works. “We have been forced to take experts from outside because locals have no expertise,” he said, noting that works will be completed by July this year.

Chairman of Devki Group Narendra Raval known as Guru pointed out that the cement factory is expected to employ more people directly and indirectly.

Mr Guru said that the project will help change the lives of residents as the company will offer corporate social responsibility to locals.

“We shall initiate projects like Hospitals, water projects, schools, and scholarships. We want to change the image of West Pokot over being associated with guns,” he said.

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