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Uncertainty weighs on evicted miners six months on

 

Mubende artisanal miners that had come to attend the meeting with the President's advisor on Land. Photo by Josephine Nabbaale

Mubende artisanal miners that had come to attend the meeting with the President’s advisor on Land. Photo by Josephine Nabbaale

It is six months now since miners were evicted from the gold mines in Kitumbi Sub county in Mubende district. The evictions came following a presidential directive after protracted negotiations by the miners to secure their stay hit a dead end.

At the heart of the saga is AUC Mining that is legally licensed to operate on thousands of Square km of explorable area. However the miners had over the years grown in number- 60,000 strong by eviction time- to operate in the same area, albeit illegally. Consequently the miners faced off with  Ms Gertrude Njuba and Mr Masagazi,  the investors behind AUC Mining.

Mr Edward Senkusu,  the community development officer Kitumbi sub County who is also in the gold trade,  says much as they operated in the mines some of them were aware of their illegal status.  There were however efforts by some of the miners under a duly registered association Ssingo Artisan and Small Scale Miners Association(SASSMA), to secure location licences and operate legally although their efforts were in vain.

Mr Bosco Bukya,  the spokesperson of SASSMA,says these efforts have been frustrated overtime. “We applied for three location licenses in 2013 but to-date we are being frustrated,” Bosco said during an interview with Oil in Uganda.

Mr Edwards Katto, the outgoing Director Diretorate of Geological Survey and Mines however clarified in a phone interview that the miners were applying for licences in an area that was already licensed. He however noted that these were Ugandans etching a livelihood therefore government was in the process of organizing them so that they could operate legally.

The miners were therefore taken by surprise following the eviction directive.

It’s been a frustrating and agonizing process that was always clouded in uncertainty and intrigue. At a SASSMA meeting held at Kyato hotel in Kassanda a week ago under the facilitation of AAU,  the mood among the miners was telling; uncertainty and misery. Many had gotten in a lifeline in the gold trade. But now they don’t know how they move on.

“All I have known is gold ; whatever else I try doesn’t work; in fact, I don’t know anything else to do, ” says Mr Mark Jjombwe, the SASSMA chairperson. This all is compounded by the losses the miners incurred during the evictions. An unrealistic two -hour ultimatum soldiers gave the miners that horrific morning in August 2017 to leave the mines meant those with machinery they couldn’t carry them.

It was a day of untold pandemonium that saw livelihoods destroyed in just hours; people who had worked for years saw all their efforts worth turn into anguish and heartbreak. Counsel Gawaya Tegulle,  a lawyer who worked with ActionAid Uganda  to secure the release of some of the miners who had been arrested for lack of identification documents recounts what he witnessed.

“The cells were full to capacity; I actually saw a man suffocate to near death. I confronted the police and told them to be human. The man was convulsing as the policemen just looked on, ” said Mr Tegulle.

Witnesses recount the biblical exodus-like masses of people ladden with luggage trekking 20km from the mines to the trading centres, leaving their livelihoods behind.

“When the soldiers came, armed to the teeth, pandemonium broke out. Children were abandoned as men and women gathered whatever they could to flee. They were scenes akin to a war ravaged country, ” recounts Mr Ivan Kawuma,  also a leader in SASSMA.

These were some of the experiences the miners painfully reflected on during a meeting organized by ActionAid Uganda to plan ahead for alternative livelihood amdist the evictions.

Forging a way forward

Officials at DGSM say a top priority for them is to settle the miners as soon as possible as directed by the president. The miners have been allocated 10 sq. km in Kabweyakiza village, Madudu Sub County in Mubende where they’ll be granted licences to operate. Mr Senkusu says a team from the  energy ministry took soil samples to test for gold deposits. Ms Violet Namata, a councillor at the district says the area has been severally visited by government officials. All these activities are a testimony of the urgency with which the issue of the artisan miners reallocation is being handled. Mr Senkusu told the meeting that the president had even pledged to facilitate them with machinery once they commence work.

For now however,  the miners have been urged to diversify and venture in other enterprises. Mr Jjombwe said at the meeting that they cannot keep mourning about the evictions. Kawuma said before gold they were all doing something so that they cannot keep crying over spilled milk. “Personally I went back job hunting. I went to school and have my papers, ” said the electrical engineering graduate.

Didas Muhumuza, the extractives governance project manager, making his remarks, told the miners the unfortunate events should serve as a learning point from which they can draw lessons. “You people had money to splash around; most of you wasted the money you made from gold. This should be a critical time for reflection. There are big lessons to pick from this, “he said.

He urged them to position themselves for opportunities. “You people now have some experience and saw the opportunities abound. Where we’re headed big investors are going to come in and will want to hire you, require services and the like. You need to be alert,” he said.

Robert Ben Mwesigye

Oil.Uganda@actionaid.org