Black Chinese: A thorn in Karamoja’s mining business  

Tuesday March 30 2021
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Artisanal miners collect marble stones in Loboneit in Rupa Sub-county Moroto District. Very little work has been done for most minerals in Karamoja, with the exception of large scale mining of limestone marble and artisanal mining for gold. PHOTO/PAUL MURUNGI

By Paul Murungi

A winding stony murram road from Moroto town leads into Rupa Sub-County in Moroto District, one of the largest mining grounds in Karamoja sub region.

For long, the mining ground was a monopoly of artisanal and small scale miners in the district and other miners trekking in from outside the district.

But lately, the mining ground is changing after mining companies both foreign and domestic set foot in the area.  Inside the mining fields, are large swashes of land, that have been cordoned off by mining companies in their search for the precious minerals pushing artisanal and local miners to the fringes of the mining fields. 

Karamoja has at least 50 different economic minerals and precious stones that have been documented by the Department of Geological Survey and Mines with recorded prospects of gold, silver, copper, iron, titanium, manganese, niobium, tantalite, chrome, rare earth and radioactive minerals across the nine districts of Kaabong, Karenga, Kotido, Moroto, Napak, Nakapipirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk and Abim.   

Last week, Sarah Opendi, the State Minister for Minerals launched the airborne geophysical survey and mapping of Karamoja’s mineral resources assessment to complete national coverage of the remaining parts of Karamoja. 

The mapping is also expected to establish the mineral potential of Karamoja and improve monitoring and regulation of mining activities in the sub-region.

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Such efforts are expected to improve the competitiveness of Uganda’s mineral sector and this will increase private sector investment in the mineral sector, leading to improved livelihoods of mining communities in Karamoja region.  

Enter the black Chinese investors

So far, very little work has been done for most minerals in Karamoja, with the exception of large scale mining of limestone marble and artisanal mining for gold.

A look at Moroto district, the sub region’s centre as a case study shows what is panning in regards to mining activities to other neighbouring districts. 

Mining licence

Moroto alone as a district has four legally approved mining companies, at least, according to Gerald Eneku, the Inspector of Mines in Karamoja sub-region.

These include; Sunbelt – a Chinese owned company, Tororo Cement, Agro Mechanised and Peter Lokwang. Three of these hold mining leases, while only one holds a location licence. 

A deeper understanding of mining licences shows that a location licence is only given to Ugandan nationals exploring and mining minerals on a small scale, with the maximum area for location licence being 16 hectares for gold, eight hectares for base metals and industrial minerals and the maximum period is two years renewable every year. 

Meanwhile, the mining lease is provided to any prospective company that is given when the reserves for a mineral are enough for mining and for 21 years, renewable depending on the availability of the reserves.

Whereas Moroto has only four legally operating mining companies, locals in the mining communities have accused some speculators of acquiring exploration licences with the intent of marketing them to larger investors and potential joint venture partners.

‘Black Chinese’

John who prefers anonymity says, Karamoja has of late, had an influx of brief case mining companies or speculators, also known as ‘Black Chinese,’ a euphemistic term to mean groups largely formed among elite from Karamoja communities, who connive with mining companies to engage in land grabbing with prospective mineral resources.

Information obtained from Karamoja Development Forum (KDF), a local civil society group shows that a number of land grabs in the region have happened because of the increasing number of speculators claiming ownership of chunks of land.

Speculators claim communal property and acquire private title through bribery, political influence peddling, official corruption and manipulation of the local community.

“Some of the speculators have also taken advantage of the ignorance of the local communities and therefore bribe and manipulate them in a bid to acquire land,” the report reads in part.  

But the directorate of Geological survey and Mines, does not adequately monitor some of the mining companies holding licences. Some other companies have prospecting licences but do the actual exploration while companies just hold licences but are not feasible in the region.

Some of the companies include; Dao Marble Limited, Jinja Marble (U) Limited, Lomongin Zulhaq, Ndiwa Property Consultants Limited, Great Lakes Lime Limited, Sky Eagle International Investments, Victoria Best Limited, Benon Burora Kuteesa, BDI mining limited, and Remigius Kasibante. These companies are simply domiciled in the region, while others ceased operations.

Civil suit

One case is that of one Peter Amodoi, who is alleged to be working with the Office of the Prime Minister. Amodoi is said to have acquired and sold over 550 acres of communal land in Napak district and transferred it to Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) for construction of an industrial park.

However, elders interviewed for this article in the villages of Lotukokim and Lomutyia in Ngoleriet sub county in Napak district say the land was acquired without their consultation, and it is suspected to contain gold and diamonds.

 A civil suit against Amodoi and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) has since been filed in Soroti High Court. The suit was filed by Advocates for Natural Resources and Development (ANARDE), and the matter is currently at mediation. 

 Eneku says the full range of economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of large scale mining and artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) remains unclear in Karamoja. This is largely due to the limited data disclosure by mining companies and the lack of data from artisanal and small scale mining community sites.

With limited disclosure of data on mineral production and smuggling, Karamoja continues to lose a lot of mining revenue with more companies paying less royalties and land compensation for the benefit of communities.

Minerals in Karamoja

Mineral mapping

Karamoja has at least 50 different economic minerals and precious stones that have been documented by the Geological Survey and Mines with recorded prospects of gold, silver, copper, iron, titanium, manganese, niobium, tantalite, chrome, rare earth and radioactive minerals across the nine districts of Kaabong, Karenga, Kotido, Moroto, Napak, Nakapipirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, and Abim districts.

The next article will explore in detail how much Karamoja is losing from mining revenue, with companies flouting rules to maximise profits, and why land compensation for minerals is still a hurdle.

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