Karamoja- John Aleper, 30, a resident of Chepkarap Parish, Karita Sub-county in Amudat District, speaks with anger when narrating how he was evicted from his land by private mining companies without an explanation.
“Life has become a struggle since I was evicted from my land,” Mr Aleper says amid tears.
He says on the fateful day early this year, a group of people raided their village, Lokales, and forced them out.
“We were told to leave. We told them this is our home but they could not listen to us,” he says.
They were later told that they were evicted to allow gold mining by an unidentified company.
His story is a reflection of the current evictions going on in the region. Unfortunately, the evicted people are never compensated.
More than 4,000 people have reportedly been evicted from their land to allow exploration and mining in the region, which is a key source of income for many communities in Karamoja.
In recent years, there is a scramble for Karamoja land after studies showed that the region is endowed with gold, limestone and uranium, among other minerals.
The government has permitted private investment in mining as a way of promoting the area and has issued private miners licences.
But civil society organisations have warned that the Karimojong could end up as squatters if mining companies are not restrained.
Mr Samwel Psorich, the district information officer, says more than 1,000 locals have been evicted by the artisanal miners.
“They are evicted on their land without their consent to allow companies to extract minerals like gold,” he says.
Mr Psorich accuses the local council leadership of allocating illegally.
“It is the local leaders who allocate the sites to the companies without the knowledge of the district leadership,” he says.
The companies that were licensed to explore minerals in the district come from as far as Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Congo and Kenya.
“As a district, we have only intervened and cautioned the companies against mistreating the locals,” he says.
Mr Michael Omara, the project coordinator for Natural Resources and Development (ANARDE), observes that the trend is worrying since the Karimojong have been excluded from the entire process and cannot negotiate for their land.
“They don’t see their lives improve but instead, they are witnessing material dispossession and secrecy surrounding the exploitation of these resources,” he says.
He says ignorance of their basic rights and entitlement have made matters worse.
Ms Florence Bako, the environmental officer for Nakapiripirit District, observes that each time they intervene to prevail over the situation, the companies claim to have been cleared by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
“We are told they are licensed by government. As local government, we only do sensitisation before the companies carry on with their work,” he says.
He says in Morisa and Kakomongi Sub-county where there is mining, locals have been sensitised to allow big companies to take over.
However, Mr Joseph Yoyo, the vice chairperson for Nakapiripirit District, says there is looming eviction of residents without compensation.
“More than 3,000 small scale miners who have been mining in groups in the area face looming eviction without compensation,” he says.
Mr Yoyo says the government should intervene and force the companies that would want to do mining to compensate residents.
“The companies come in with machines to extract minerals without signing memorandum of understanding with us. This is wrong,” he says.
Mr Andrew Napaja, the Nakapiripirit LC5 chairperson, says there is need for the companies to involve residents before mining takes place.
“The land belongs to the people. Companies are not rebels to use force. They should harmonise with residents before mining,” he says.
He explains that companies that are mining limestone, marble mainly in Rupu and Katikekere in Moroto District include Tororo Cement, Hoima Cement, Kampala Cement and Dao Mining Company.
Dr George Oming, the natural resource officer, Kotido District, says the ambitious struggle for precious mineral resource in the region is being instigated by leaders in government.
“Local governments have been left out. We only see companies extracting minerals in our areas of jurisdiction but we have no say,” he says.
According to 2011 survey by the Uganda department of Geological Survey and Mines in the ministry of Energy found that Karamoja has gold, limestone, uranium, marble, graphite, gypsum, iron, wolfram, nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium and tin. Other mineral deposits in Karamoja are mica, green and red gannets, beryl, cuprite, hematite, talc, columbite, magnetite, platinum and zircon.
Mr Jimmy Ochero, the Abim District chairperson, says there is urgent need to streamline mining and exploration natural mineral resources in the region.
“The region will fall into trouble if the industry is not streamlined,” he says.
Mr Ochero says there is also need by the companies mining minerals to respect the rights of the land owners is also paramount.
“The government and companies have to respect the human rights of the owners in decision making before allocating their land,” he says.
Dr Oming, says due to presence of cross border mineral deposits, there is also looming conflict among inter-Karamoja boundaries.
“Several sub-counties are now fighting over mineral deposits with the latest being in Panyangara Sub-county where Kotido and Abim districts are fighting over boundaries,” he said.
He explained that the soaring demand for minerals is seen as the most promising path to development in the area.
“However, this expectation has already been replaced by an overwhelming sense of injustice and displacement,” Dr Oming says.
Ms Shallon Asiimire, the project coordinator (ANARDE) says it’s unfair for government to allow companies to extract minerals illegally.
“There should be communication between the central government and local governments in the respective districts. Right procedures should be followed in acquisition of such mineral deposits,” she says.
However, Mr Gagran Morghan, the managing director of Tororo Cement, one of the companies extracting limestone in the region, denied the allegations of evicting residents.
But he acknowledged that they are yet compensate them.
“When time reaches, we will adequately compensate land owners using government rates,” he says.
Efforts to get a comment from Energy ministry officials were futile as our repeated calls on the official line were not answered.