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ANALYSIS: Mubende’s gold evictions

An abandoned gold mining camp in Lujinji, Kitumbi Sub-County in Mubende District. INDEPENDENT PHOTO/RONALD MUSOKE

Museveni’s aide Gertrude Njuba named

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | On Aug.10, artisanal gold miners in Bukuya and Kitumbi subcounties in the central Uganda district of Mubende were left in tears after soldiers acting on orders of President Yoweri Museveni kicked them off their patches.

The two-day operation under the command of Col. Joseph Balikuddembe, the UPDF 1st Division commander, followed an order by then-Energy ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Stephen Isabalija.

Don Bwesigye Binyina, the executive director of the African Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP) who has spent the last three years working with many of the artisanal miners in Mubende helping them to formalise their mining activities told The Independent that the actions of the government were high-handed and were based on misinformation.

“It is yet another clear case that demonstrates that the government is yet to appreciate what it needs to do to streamline the mining sector,” Binyina said, “Economic wars are not fought with guns; they are fought by constantly engaging the people because it is through people that economies are built.”

Binyina said the government has failed to follow up with its commitments in regards to helping these artisanal miners to formalise their activities yet most of these miners went ahead and started associations and cooperatives.

He said the government’s deployment of the military in the mining sector may in the long run backfire because no credible investor would invest in the industry knowing that the government displaced people.

Officially, Isabalija was stopping the illegal mining on grounds of environmental degradation, rising crime, and the need to restore order in Uganda’s mining industry.

But Isabalija’s directive followed an ultimatum of one week given by President Museveni to have all the artisanal miners off the mines to allegedly pave way for a mining entity, Gemstone International, to start mining and exploration under a recently re-issued license.

Gertrude Njuba, a former minister in Museveni’s cabinet who works at Statehouse on land matters, is alleged to be connected to the land under contention.

In a recent interview on NBS Television, Njuba said she has had gold mining interests in the area as way back as 1987. In 1994, she got a mining lease for up to 207 sq. km in an area which straddles two sub-counties.

According to an expert who is conversant with Uganda’s mining sector, it is difficult to understand how she has come to renew it on several occasions yet technically she has never been compliant with the mining law.

The expert said Njuba’s lease expired two years ago and the owner declared having mined only 2kgs of gold but the lease was renewed for another 15 years.

“It is not clear how these mining leases have been renewed yet there is no clear demonstration of mining activities,” the expert added. He says this is one clear case of speculation that has dogged Uganda’s mining sector for decades.

The expert says the government reinforces the speculation when it sends soldiers to evict local entrepreneurs who have demonstrated that they can mine this gold.

According to Energy Ministry officials, up to 2,249 artisanal and small scale miners had so far been registered in Mubende, 1,614 in Namayingo and Busia districts and 600 in the Karamoja region in addition to registering close to 20 mining associations.

However, experts in Uganda’s mining sector say the number of Ugandans directly involved in artisanal and small scale mining has doubled in the last five years to an estimated 400,000 people with another 1.5 million indirectly benefitting from the sector.

The expert said the evictions in Mubende have rendered over 50,000 people unemployed overnight.

“Does the government understand what this means?” he said, “These people have been consuming fuel, food, beverages and other consumables in these camps.

“Has the government also thought about where these people are going next; yet the same government says it is working around the clock to find work for the over 60% of youths who are unemployed.”

The ownership of the acreage under contention has tended to alternate between business partners who are at the forefront of Gemstone International and AUC Mining.

The controversy in Mubende links directly to a Global Witness report released in June, 2017 entitled, `Undermined: How corruption, mismanagement and political influence is undermining investment in Uganda’s mining sector and threatening people and environment,’ which put prominent names in the government at the centre of the mess in Uganda’s mining sector

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