What you need to know:
The government is working with the European Union (EU) to support efforts to formalise operations in the mining sector.
In Moroto District’s Kosiroi Village, workers, including children, spend 10 hours each day cracking stone boulders in atrocious conditions. Sometimes they slave away with no water. Food is a luxury.
For decades, cement makers have descended on the village that sprawls along Tapac Sub-county eager to extract limestones and marble. Heavy-duty trucks send up clouds of dust each day, hungry for components used to make, among others, tiles and utensils. With manufacturing companies having mining sites that span nearly six square kilometres, the trucks do not leave Kosiroi Village empty.
And so begins the process of cracking the stone boulders. The hard ones are put through the furnace before being split. Trucks laden with the disaggregated pieces then head off to cities where the appetite for construction is insatiable. In Kampala, where high-rise buildings keep mushrooming even in suburbs, one square of tiles were sold from anywhere between Shs18,000 and Shs31,000 in 2020. A bag of cement, meanwhile, knocks back between Shs28,000 and Shs30,000.
Back in Kosiroi, people who have dedicated their energies to mining in desperate hope for some rewards or struggle to make ends meet. Mr Francis Lotita, who joined the business eight years ago, has no hope of breaking even.
“Whatever I get goes into paying my employees,” he told Saturday Monitor, adding, “I use the balance to buy food.”
Workers are paid between Shs150,000 and Shs210,000 per truck depending on the size of the truck. A 10-wheeler truck carries between 30 and 35 tonnes of stone. A miner who fills it gets Shs210,000.
All that glitters…
Some 48km west of Moroto Municipality lies Nakabati Valley, an isolated gold mining village tucked in a remote corner hugging Kenya’s Turkana County. This is the home of the Tepeth community. A number of its inhabitants head to the bottom of the valley to mine gold. The scrappy valley, sitting among the ranges of Moroto, provides the most crucial income source not only to the people in Rupa Sub-county but other districts neighbouring Moroto. It is also home to approximately 3,500 artisanal miners, according to records at Rupa Sub-county headquarters.
“Competition between artisanal and small-scale miners and the industrial miners has frequently resulted in incidents of tension around gold mining in the area,” Ms Victoria Lokoru, who works at the site alongside her two children, revealed.
“Those rich companies come here with soldiers and drive us off nearly every day, even when this area is outside their concession boundaries,” Ms Lokoru, who is expecting another child in two months, added.
Ms Lokoru, who dropped out of school in Senior Three in 2018, said poor sanitation and risky sexual behaviours at the site continue to pose grave dangers. Evidently, the informal nature of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in Karamoja Sub-region is pregnant with problems.
The Mining and Minerals Act, 2022, defines artisanal mining operations as mining operations that do not exceed 10 metres in depth. The sub-sector has now turned into a major contributor to Uganda’s mining industry and plays an important role in local development, as well as job creation. In 2018, the sub-sector contributed nearly one million direct and indirect jobs. Its opaqueness, however, remains a spot of bother.
“The district only gets involved when the companies seek surface rights for mining while the rest of the processes are done by the Energy ministry,” Mr Sisto Lokiru, a local leader in Tapac Sub-county, said of the absence of laws and policies, adding, “The government officials back these companies. This attachment makes the companies dictate to local governments what and what not to do. When we question why they overlook local authorities, we are accused of sabotaging investment.”
A limping sub-sector
Per the Finance ministry, formal ASM operations have contributed Shs713.5m to national revenues from 2014 to 2021. The Uganda Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (UGEITI) ranks artisanal and small-scale miners at more than 80 percent of Uganda’s mining workforce.
In June, UGEITI published its first report on the status of ASM operations in Uganda. The report showed that illegal mining, facilitated by the use of mercury that harms the environment and the lives of the people; child labour; and child exploitation, including a lack of access to fair markets and financing mechanisms, were stubborn bottlenecks.
“There is the widespread use of inefficient and labour-intensive mining methods leading to low economic returns, environmental degradation, accidents and other occupational health and safety risks,” it said in part.
While HIV/Aids continues to scourge the artisanal mining communities, the report also laid bare that small-scale miners had been trapped in a vacuum due to multiple forms of exploitation.
“Tensions between legal and illegal miners concerning overlapping interests in land allocated under concession, whilst ongoing operations are underway on the land, exclusion of small-scale miners from local, regional and national economic development and poverty alleviation strategies,” it said.
The report also attributed the limping sub-sector to the exclusion of “building minerals” from the jurisdiction of authorities which are best equipped to support and monitor these activities. This includes, it adds, resource limitations of government authorities to monitor and enforce related legislation.
In 2021, the government, through the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines commenced the formalisation of artisanal and small-scale miners through the National Biometric Registration of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (BRASM). The initiative aims to build an updated register of all ASMs, service providers, dealers and agents. It also intends to create a database with all the bio-data of all miners, including names, sex, age, location, affiliations to registered ASM associations and National Identification Numbers (NIN) to establish numbers and categories of people involved in ASM operations. To date, the project has registered 6,211 artisanal miners within the districts of Busia, Namayingo, Buhweju, Kassanda, and Mubende.
The government is now working with the European Union (EU) under the auspices of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP-EU) development minerals programme to support efforts to formalise operations in the mining sector.
The programme seeks to formalise artisanal and small-scale mining, increase incomes of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Enterprises (ASMEs) and enhance business development, strengthen environmental and social safeguards in and around mining operations, as well as support women-owned and run ASMEs along the value chain.
“The programme has supported the development and implementation of a strategy to [ASMEs] to achieve better livelihoods through higher employment and incomes from their mining operations,” a source in the Energy ministry told Saturday Monitor.
On Tuesday, Ms Agnes Alaba, the commissioner of minerals at the Energy ministry, said in a telephone interview that the government has currently embarked on extensive sensitisation to discourage and outlaw the use of mercury in mining.
“Uganda is part of Minamata Convention on Mercury that seeks to reduce and ban the use of mercury in gold mining and in the law, we have provided for penalties on those using mercury and we are now actively conducting sensitisation against the use of mercury before applying the law,” Ms Alaba said.
She added that the ministry is also establishing training centres for artisanal and small-scale miners to learn the appropriate mining methods.
“You have the artisanal miners encroaching on licensed areas, the treatment of such illegalities is enforcement, whether artisanal or licensed companies, illegally operating outside their areas it is not allowed. When we do supervision and monitoring, we are able to handle that,” she said.
A new dawn?
Meanwhile, the new Mining and Minerals Act, 2022, aims to ensure Uganda benefits more from the mining sector. The Act demands technology transfer, research, recruitment, training, and promotion of Ugandans and prioritises the use of goods and services available in Uganda.
Whereas Uganda’s extractives industry is growing exponentially and attracting both foreign and domestic mining companies, Advocates for Natural Resources and Development (ANARDE), a non-governmental organisation, says too often, mineral-rich communities fail to benefit.
In November 2022, ANARDE published a report in which it detailed how community development agreements signed between the mining companies, the government and the communities turned out to be non-binding.
“Most dealings are only voluntary or optional arrangements and are treated as corporate social responsibility or certification requirements rather than obligations,” ANARDE says in the report.
With the Mining and Mineral Act, 2022, coming into force, these agreements become integral parts of the licensing process and a means to generate benefits for the community. Significant efforts are needed, experts contend, to build the capacity of all actors involved and to ensure consultation and negotiation processes protect community rights, it recommended.
“Engagements must be systematically institutionalised to ensure consistency, accountability and responsibility in company practice with corresponding repercussions for failure to fulfil their duties,” ANARDE’s report states.
In December 2021, the Energy ministry launched Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners (ASM) biometric registration to streamline operational inconsistencies, including royalty payments.
“The proposed initiatives may include production sharing, state-equity participation or a levy-tax structure. Other initiatives shall include zoning ASM areas, formalisation and regularisation, training and provision of extension services,” Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, the Energy minister, said in a statement recently.
The Mining and Mineral Act, 2022, which came into force on October 28, 2022, implements the objectives of the Mining and Mineral Policy 2018, according to Minister Nankabirwa.
“The new law is expected to address critical challenges and increase revenue from the mineral sector. It introduces a comprehensive, stable, transparent, efficient and effective legal and regulatory framework to govern the mining sub-sector,” Ms Nankabirwa said.
The law introduces the use of Community Development Agreements to enhance local community development and welfare while empowering communities to negotiate for more sustainable and beneficial arrangements. Whether workers in Kosiroi village will finally get their due, however, remains to be seen.
The new Mining and Minerals Act, 2022, aims to ensure Uganda benefits more from the mining sector. The Act demands technology transfer, research, recruitment, training, and promotion of Ugandans and prioritises the use of goods and services available in Uganda.
The Mining and Mineral Act, 2022, which came into force on October 28, 2022, implements the objectives of the Mining and Mineral Policy 2018, according to Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, the Energy minister.
The law introduces the use of Community Development Agreements to enhance local community development and welfare while empowering communities to negotiate for more sustainable and beneficial arrangements.