How firms are scrambling for Karamoja’s mineral wealth

Tuesday April 06 2021
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Luke Lokalei, an artisanal miner holds a marble stone at Loboneit mining site in Rupa Subcounty, Moroto District. PHOTO/PAUL MURUNGI

By Paul Murungi

At the foot of Mt Moroto lies a precious mineral - marble. The mineral spreads across the bedrock of Karamoja sub-region from Amudat district across Moroto, Kotido and Kaabong districts into South Sudan, according to the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.

In 2018, marble became a big business. Soon or later , attracting the into Moroto district.

President Museveni commissioned the multi billion marble mining factory in Rupa sub-county, Moroto District. The $13 million (Shs47.5 billion) Chinese mining company Sunbelt was commissioned by President Museveni with the hope of employing locals to produce a wide range of products from marble stone including; kitchen table and floor tiles, as well as balcony.

The company sitting on 3.3 square kilometers, according to Uganda Media Centre, turned to processing marble.  The move was informed by a moratorium that requires mining companies to process minerals before export. 

However, two years later, tensions have risen between mining communities and the company .

These tensions follow a “secretive” Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2018 between the communities, and mining company. The communities were represented by Rupa Community Development Trust (RUDCODET), a community trustee group created in 2017, representing over 35,000 beneficiaries in mining negotiation processes.

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The Trust was premised on the National Land Policy which calls on a provision for registering customary land held under trusteeship by traditional institutions or cultural leaders on behalf of communities in the names of trustees.  A Land Trust is a private agreement in which a party – the trustee – holds property for the benefit of another party – the beneficiary.

Information from officials in the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines shows that through negotiations with the mining company Sun Belt Ltd, RUCODET obtained Shs1.8 billion of compensation of surface rights on behalf of the trustees for the damages caused to the land surface by the company.

However, community members have allegedly accused the Trust of management and transparency issues for not revealing the details contained in the secretive MoU.

Many trustees complain of not having been consulted in either the process of payment of surface rights or the signature of agreements with investors.

According to a mediation report from Advocates for Natural Resources and Development (ANARDE), the community alleges that Sunbelt mining company has trespassed on the community members land from the initial 3.3Km and acquired more 4.1Km. This was done without consultations and consent from the community members.

However, Obed Kansiime, the company representative, says the company did not go beyond the boundary. Instead, part of the company’s land had been occupied by some community members who were compensated.  

He adds that he is not aware of the addendum or MoU which the community claims entered into with RUCODET and the company to acquire another 4.1Km of land.

The secretive MoU has also sucked in artisanal miners who accuse Sun Belt of pushing them to the fringes of the mining fields, a situation that has caused a lot of friction.

An affected artisanal miner in Lobonuit in Rupa Sub-County says when they find new minerals in their areas of operation, they are evicted by the company.

Daily Monitor’s could not reach John Logwe, the RUCODET publicity secretary, as he did not respond to calls by press time.

Gerald Eneku, the Inspector of Mines in Karamoja sub-region admits he has failed to have a meeting with RUCODET. But he affirms that the Trust signed the MoU to co-exist with Sunbelt and artisanal miners.

“There is a secret clause in the MoU saying in case they want an area where artisans are operating because it is good for them, they displace the artisans,” Eneku said.

He says artisans must form associations and acquire  location licences to continue operations.

These tensions resulted into clashes with artisanal miners who previously occupied the land, a situation that has stripped Karamoja of mining revenue in form of royalties.

No mining royalties

Karamoja has many mining companies holding both exploration and mining licences. Mining companies are required by the Mining Act to remit royalties to the government through the Uganda Revenue Authority.

However, Eneku, the Inspector of Mines in Karamoja, says many companies and mineral dealers are under declaring production and not paying royalties.

Eneku says when companies pay royalties, the government takes 80 per cent, the district where the mineral is mined takes 10 per cent while the  sub-county takes 7 per cent and 3 percent goes to the village.

URA records show some of the mining companies and mineral dealers in Karamoja include; Samta Mines and Minerals Uganda, Samta Mines and Minerals Uganda Limited, Sipa Exploration (U) Limited, Smartech Integrated Limited, Steel Rolling Mills Limited, Strategic Acquisitions Limited, Summit Group Limited, Sun Disk Limited, Sunbelt Mining Group Limited, Sunbird Resources Ltd, Tian Tang Group (U) Limited, Universal Granite and Mable Ltd, Tororo Cement, Peter Lokwang, Agro Mechanised, Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group Co. (U) Limited, GREENSTONE RESOURCES LIMITED, Eastern Mining Ltd, Building Majesties Limited, AUC Mining (U) Limited, Ascort Mining (U) Limited, 3T Mining Limited, Wynstock (U) Limited, Wood Machinery Limited , Weihai International Economic & Technical Cooperation Limited, Victoria Enviros Consult Limited, Victoria Best Limited.

Details obtained from URA show that few mining companies have paid royalties such as Tororo Cement Wynstock (U) Limited  and Great Lakes Iron and Steel Company. These have remited royalties to the tune of Shs900 million between 2019 and 2020.

Eneku says this has been worsened with mineral dealers in gold smuggling across the Kenyan border for a better sale.

Simon Naingiro, the chairperson of Karamoja Miners Association, says whereas some mining companies are paying royalties, the money does not reach communities.

But community trusts have also failed to account for the money.

Eneku says it is difficult to deal with mineral dealers in Karamoja sub region who sometimes transport minerals at night making it hard to track.

It is, therefore, difficult to ascertain the volume of minerals leaving the mineral rich areas since there is no weighbridge.

“The actual value of minerals leaving mining fields is high. The only thing that can prove the actual quantity of minerals is a weigh bridge,” he says.

Sun Belt, one of mining companies that is not remitting royalties has a curious relationship with artisanal miners.

Eneku says Sunbelt does not pay royalties, and the company claims that are artisans responsible for paying royalties while artisans in reciprocation argue that it is the company to pay. But once Sunbelt starts paying royalties, Eneku says artisanal miners will be forced to move out since the company is the licence holder.



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