Mubende Miners, Area leaders, MEMD officials engage in heated debate over gold mining and licensing
Artisanal miners want to retain their former mining areas that are richly endowed with gold, yet government plans to relocate them to less viable ones.
On 22nd February 2018, a meeting of stakeholders was held at Enro hotel in Mityana to discuss gold mining issues in Mubende. The participants included the artisanal miners (who were evicted from Mubende); Woman Member of Parliament, Mubende also Minister for Kampala City Authority (Hon. Nalongo Benny Bugembe Namugwanya); Member of Parliament, Kasanda (Hon. Patrick Nsamba); Minister of State for Mineral Development (Hon. Peter Lokeris); Officials from the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (led by the Commissioner, Zachary Baguma); district officials of Mubende including the District L.C V Chairperson; the Vice Chairperson, Mubende; Resident District Commissioner; the District Internal Security Officer; and the District Natural Resources Officer among others.
The meeting was organized by the artisanal miners’ associations in Mubende with the support of the Woman Member of Parliament for Mubende district (Hon. Nalongo Benny Bugembe Namugwanya) and ActionAid Uganda. The meeting resulted from an earlier conversation held between the miners and the district leadership plus discussions held on a social media group (whatsapp platform) formed with the support of ActionAid Uganda, as a way of promoting use of social media to attain social justice in the extractive sector of Uganda.
Presentation by Miners
Following their own assessment and understanding of gold mining in Mubende, the miners pointed out that there was limited gold value in Madudu and Kalwana sub-counties in Mubende district. Therefore, Bukya John Bosco, the Spokesperson of Ssingo Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association, presented a report demanding for an explanation about their fate in the mining industry.
Mr Bukya explained that, six months down the road, after a presentation to the President (H.E Y.K Museveni) of their concerns, he promised to look into the matter but till date, nothing has been done. This has left them wondering whether this is a deliberate move to frustrate them and to eliminate them from the mining industry totally.
He shared that, “the government has not provided proof of the mineralization in the proposed area of relocation and we are not sure whether it is suitable for artisanal and small scale mining”. He further explained that, “the rock in that area requires highly sophisticated technology which may involve blasting, excavation and use of chemicals which the evictees may not afford given their current state of income”. He thus wondered why they are being forced to take up areas with limited value and opportunities thereby causing more suffering to them.
“The 10 square kilometers area promised to us by the president in areas of Madudu and Kalwana sub-counties do not exist in reality as they are already occupied by the hardworking coffee and maize farmers, wetlands and a forest company. The government has not proved that they have compensated or got consent from the current occupants of the land”, he further elaborated.
Overall, the miners seriously faulted officials of the MEMD (specifically the Directorate of Geological Surveys and mines) for the unfair treatment towards artisanal gold miners in Mubende since the evictions in August last year.
Reactions to the Miners’ submission: Commissioner Zachary Baguma
The Commissioner from Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) labored to explain the circumstances under which the miners were evicted, which greatly angered them. He emphasized that, “the law is clear, the artisanal miners interfered with the work of the investor and we had to get rid of them to organize the industry”. He further explained that, “When the miners made applications for location licenses, their interests were on already licensed areas and this was the basis of our refusal to grant them the location licenses”.
None the less, he also revealed that the area being suggested to the evicted miners in Kalwana and Madudu sub-counties in Mubende district comprising of about 10 square kilometers is indeed not viable and the artisanal miners would not get much value from there.
The Commissioner explained that the results of the studies carried out by a team from the DGSM on the 10 square kilometers land, indicated that physical gold could not be seen but features associated with fine gold had been traced within this location. This implied that heavy and sophisticated machinery has to be used in drilling, brushing, and milling. He also pointed out that there would be use of a lot of chemicals to get the gold, which the government does not recommend to artisanal miners to apply in their operations.
The Commissioner also shared that another area has been identified but it is located in a forest reserve which is not free as well which means permission has to be sought from the National Forest Authority and that is what the DGSM is going to embark on as a next step strategy.
The above feedback riled the miners who shot back protesting against the information shared by the Commissioner. An irritated miner, one Mr Kiridawa Steven furiously shot back to the Commissioner and expressed deep disappointment over mistreatment by the officials who manage mining issues in Uganda and particularly those who are responsible for their un-ending suffering. Overall, the meeting turned somewhat rowdy but returned to normalcy following the intervention by the Hon. Nalongo Benny Bugembe Namugwanya (Woman Member of Parliament for Mubende district and also Minister for Kampala City Authority) and security agents who were around.
Final Reactions to the submissions of the Miners and the Commissioner: RDC Evelyn Kiiza; Ministers Benny Bugembe and Peter Lokeris
The RDC of Mubende, Ms. Evelyn Kizza Tinkamalirwe stressed that the area that has been earmarked for relocation of the evicted miners needed inspecting before resettling them, a process that would cost the government more money, yet the area is well not mineralized. She thus labelled the planned relocation as wastage of government’s limited resources.
Hon. Nalongo Benny Bugembe Namugwanya advised that there is need for the MEMD to provide an alternative location for these artisanal miners by liaising with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and National Forest Authority to ascertain whether there is an opportunity to de-gazette the forest reserves so that the artisanal miners are provided with opportunity to resume gold mining despite the government’s current initiative to protect the environment.
Finally, Hon. Benny Bugembe and Hon. Peter Lokeris promised to present the miners’ report to President Yoweri Museveni for high level intervention. They deeply regretted the suffering of the miners and promised to raise their issues with the higher office.
The reality on the ground
The evictions in Mubende left all the gold miners wondering around the areas of Bukuya, Kamusenene, Kyaliwolera, Kassanda, Lwebituuti, Lugongwe, Kalagala, and many other surrounding areas within Mubende. Many are suffering and do not have means of survival, and others are virtually homeless. Men ran away from their families out of fear and frustration, while many women were left with no option but to fend for their children in a hard to work area. Few have managed to cope with the change and they resorted to other means of survival like vending merchandise in the markets and roasting meat on the road sides among others coping mechanisms.
The forceful eviction of the artisanal miners followed a presidential directive to get rid of unregulated mining in Mubende district on grounds that the people in the mines were not registered and were operating illegally and costing government a lot of revenue through the sale of unaccounted for and unregistered gold.