In the Kirwa wolfram mine, located in the valleys of hilly Kisoro, the oldest and biggest of its kind in the country, only minimal artisanal mining is evident.
For some time, the mine has been at the centre of an ownership dispute. Gerald Eneku, the Inspector of Mines, Kigezi region, believes the conflict would have been avoided hadn't his advice to compensate the original licence holder not been ignored by his superiors.
"My bosses were ill-advised and forcefully reclaimed Kirwa. Now it's in limbo because the aggrieved party has since sued the state for hefty compensation," said Eneku.
Conflicts over mines, rickety transport networks, and poor electricity supply, are some of the challenges that Uganda's mining industry faces. These challenges have stifled the industry's potential and dampened prospects of attracting new capital from top investors. To turn around this situation, the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum (UCMP), which brings together investors and tries to lobby government, recently went on a fact-finding mission of the country's mining potential to figure out the best recommendations to hand to government.
"Our pleas to the government to have a workable road constructed and cheap electricity supplied have fallen on deaf ears over the years," says Rose Rugazzora, managing director of Krone (U) Ltd, which sources wolfram. "This has greatly hampered us especially seeing that affordable financing is also difficult to access."
Infrastructural bottleneck are also what Zhou Fei, the Operations Manager at Sino Minerals Investment decries as his company explores for iron ore in Buhara, Kabale. Water to be used during the drilling process is sourced 4km away; electricity is from expensive thermal generators, while their current rig can only be reached on foot.
"We have only drilled in three places on our 46 square kilometre exploration area as a result of these hindrances, which are worsened by a very hard rock that is difficult to drill," says Zhou Fei.
At Hima Cement in Kasese, a new eco-friendly plant shows the company's bright future. But reliance on road transport means Hima will not find it easy. "A working railway network linking western Uganda to the Indian coast like it was in the past would, of course, serve us and other mining firms in the area well," says Deis Twine, the production superintendent at Hima Cement.
As such, the most impressive establishment in terms of infrastructure is found at the defunct copper mines at Kilembe. Fully facilitated with its own electricity plant, workshops, housing and good roads, all Kilembe Mines Limited needs is to finally have an investor to resuscitate it. Five companies have been shortlisted to take up Kilembe.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though, for Uganda's mining industry. Acquisition of extensive geoscientific facts such as airborne geophysical survey data covering 80% of the country, geological and geochemical surveys data together with mineral resources assessment data, and the country's plan to embark on a serious exploration phase, are all part of a strategy to revive Uganda's mining industry.
Even in the face of all these hardships, mining companies say they are keen to support the communities they operate in. Krone, for example, employs at least 800 people directly and indirectly in the areas it operates.
"By employing these people, Krone is not only transforming their lives, but also indirectly curbing crime since it keeps the youth gainfully occupied," says Robert Nabimanya, the Kabale district internal security officer.
Hima Cement has built a health centre that offers free male circumcision. The company has also offered scholarships. Catherine Wabomba, the Geotechnical Officer at UCMP, says the fact-finding trip has proven to be a valuable eye-opener on how to boost the mining industry.
"We have on many occasions been approached with questions about mining operations in Uganda but have always had to rely on the operators for information. However, this information could not be relied upon independently because many of these companies are hardly supervised," she said.
More trips are slated for other regions in the country.