Mineral exploitation is very secretive, highly profitable

Thursday June 25 2020

 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Four years ago, Uganda launched a commercial grade gold refinery in Entebbe. Entebbe hosts the Directorate of Geological Surveys and Mines.
Uganda conducted major scoping work in 1920, 1959 and 1985. During recent times it conducted additional surveys to develop a detailed map which captured most of the minerals.

The highlights of this survey have valuable hard rocks (slate, granite) in Karamoja, glass deposits in the Lake Victoria region, gold in Ankole, rarer minerals like tungsten and wolfram in Kigezi. Gold shows up in more places.
In 2017, major conflict broke up in Bukuya District over access to gold mines with a lot of mayhem because the diggers were scouring the entire top soil to detect valuable minerals.

Artisanal mining that produces 90 per cent of metallic minerals has about 3,000 trained artisans.

At its initial stages, the mining activity did not draw a lot of attention although different donors such as the World Bank and African Development Bank provided capacity building support.

By 2015, Uganda’s attention had shifted to oil production. Oil is a much bigger commodity and has attracted much higher levels of capitalisation from government and holders of production licences.

The Speaker of Parliament made an interesting observation in Parliament, stating in response to the Minister of Lands Sarah Opendi, that the police unit manning the minerals sector had never been officially set up and deployed rather it was on an ad hoc method.

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These specialised units availed with training tend to perform better. Examples of these units include Tourism Police, Wildlife Police, Utilities Police and Prevention of Trafficking among others. These units are many.

It may be easier to have a policy implemented by the Inspector General Police to discourage rank inflation and insubordination. To make it more transparent, these special postings should last two years at a time and effort should be made that postings reflect a national character.

Between Uganda Police and other security organs are paramilitaries who are kept in transition as local administration officers if opportunities come up for training.

After the Bukuya incident of unregulated mining, courts have also played an active role although this in regulating the sector.

Many of these mineral-rich areas have attracted huge compensation claims in courts as contractors dig up murram and accidentally land on mineral fortunes.

Uganda’s mineral coverage while vast is nothing compared with neighbours DR Congo and Tanzania. Kenya has a fully- fledged department of minerals. All exploitation permits are issued at one central office and movement of foreigners in Kenya is strictly regulated.

Uganda has a more open unregulated approach; the foreigner can set up shop and wait to buy small amounts of minerals from artisans.

The minister’s statement did not mention what kind of harassment she was facing but it appears she was blocked from accessing private mines guarded by paramilitaries.

The minister’s district in terms of minerals is a high value district, its home to phosphates from the famous Tororo rock and limestone. But allocations at this level normally require Cabinet minutes and involvement of the Uganda Lands Commission.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate.