Extraction of mineral resources has risen markedly in recent years and will continue to grow to serve the needs of a growing population.
A recent geological, geochemical and airborne geophysical data covering 80 percent of Uganda discovered a total of 18 new mineral targets, 10 new uranium priority anomalies, 300 million tonnes of proven iron ore deposits in the country.
There was also increase in vermiculite reserves from five million tonnes to 54.9 million tonnes, increase in limestone and marble reserves from 30 million tonnes to more than 500 million tonnes, 7.8 million ounces of gold in Busia, Kamalenge, Mashonga, Kampano and Alupe, 1.7 billion tonnes of graphite Orom, Kitgum, 230Mt of Phophate and Iron for the Sukulu phosphates, among others.
The sector has also over the years registered an increased mineral rights (licenses) issued from 100 mineral licences in 2003 to more than 732 by the end of 2019. As such, the National Development Plan (NDP III) highlighted mining as one of the major sectors that will propel Uganda to greater heights, especially with its vast potential for employment. According to the same plan, about 80 per cent of the sub-sector is dominated by artisanal miners, who use obsolete methods of mining mostly due to lack of capital to invest in the requisite equipment to carryout activities on a large scale.
Of recent, the sector has become highly gendered in terms of the growing number of women joining it, and then, the deeply gendered nature of the tasks involved. Publish What You Pay – Uganda with support from the Finland Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Publish What You Pay International Secretariat in their implementation of a project: ‘Promoting the equitable and transparent generation and allocation of extractives revenues for sustainable development’ under took a study to assess the role and level of women participation in allocation of extractives revenue in Karamoja region. The study found out that there are more women joining the mining sector than any other time in recent history. Another study by Institute for Development Impact Awareness found out that the ratio of women and children to men in mines in Kitgum District was about 7:3. This is a clear indication of an increasing role of women in the mining sub-sector.
Despite the increasing number of women participating in the sector, women still face major challenges that have hindered their participation in the sub-sector. Women’s contributions to the sector remain mostly invisible mainly because the sector puts emphasis on the miner and excludes women who are mostly engaged in non-digging activities such as crashing, sluicing, washing, panning, sieving, sorting, transporting, mercury-gold amalgamation, amalgam decomposition, cleaning and food vending . Women involved in artisanal mining perform some of these processing activities while attending to domestic chores, thus their involvement in mining sites is limited, contributing to their invisibility and failure to attain their full potential.
Majority of the women working in mines work with no protective gears and face numerous human rights violations, including non-payment, extortion from intermediaries, traditional norms that limit women from owning land, among others. The women in the mines also have limited knowledge about human rights yet government agencies are not enforcing any sanitation or labour standards in this part of the sub-sector.
The sub-sector is fragmented by powerful well-placed artisanal and small minor entrepreneurs, frugal, yet curious but mostly steady intermediaries and a poverty-stricken workforce all driven by different interests and motivations. Given the sheer size of artisanal and small minors in terms of commodities produced and traded and numbers of people involved (men, women and children), more investment needs to be made to improve artisanal miners profiling and the targeting of support programmes by both government and non-governmental actors. The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled many children into the mining sub-sector, many of whom will not be able to return to school. Such development need to be researched and solutions debated to ensure that the children are not abused while in such environments and measures put in place to ensure that these children are able to go back to school when studies resume.
Notwithstanding the challenges facing the sector, there is growing recognition that the extraction sector, if well-managed, can play a positive role in promoting broad-based development and structural transformation of the country. Increasing women’s effective participation in budgeting processes, decision making processes, allocation of extractive revenues evenly, strengthening coordination, etc, will go a long way in improving their wellbeing.
Mr Gideon Atukwase Nshambire is the Secretary, Publish What You Pay Uganda.