President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni at the launch of African Gold Refinery Limited in Entebbe on Monday
President Yoweri Museveni on Monday commissioned African Gold Refinery Limited; the first State of the Art refinery in Uganda and East Africa region.
The facility, located in Entebbe, Wakiso District is 45 kilometres from Kampala and estimated to be worth $20m (about 72 billion Shillings) has been operational since 2014.
Speaking at the launch of the refinery, President Museveni urged government officials to get rid of wrong policies such as taxes on prospective investors if the mineral sector industry is to get a shot in the arm.
"I highly commend the management of AGR limited for bringing the company to Uganda. Africa produces a lot of gold but has so far attracted less of the same industries. I am calling on Africans to wake up and utilize the untapped potential," President Museveni said.
The refinery will have a capacity to refine raw gold to 99.9% pure gold and the raw material is expected to come from different countries across the region.
According to Global Witness, an International transparency watchdog, some of the raw gold exports are likely to be from Congo and South Sudan, raising concerns over conflict minerals.
"Uganda's gold sector is shrouded in mystery. You have to ask who is really benefiting. The gold trade was worth $200 million to the Ugandan economy last year but there are no official figures on where the gold came from or where it is going," said George Boden, a campaigner at Global Witness.
"This raises serious questions about whether gold that may have funded conflict and human rights abuses in (eastern Congo) and South Sudan could be entering the international supply chain and whether the right taxes are being paid."
According to Tony Goetz, a Belgian gold trader and AGRL's main investor, the gold refinery will serve a critical role in the mining industry across the region and will employ about 75 Ugandans and with a capacity of 300kg of pure refined gold in a week and ability to increase it to 500kg.
"The refinery contains a geo chemical laboratory with high sophisticated equipment like an atmoic absorption unit. This is very vital since it traces most of the elements in the soil samples," he said.
However, the chairman of the gold miners in Mubende District, Mr. Mark Jombwe, said the news of a gold refinery does not exactly excite them unless their operations are legalized.
"As artisanal miners, all we care about is licenses to operate legally and because of uncertainties, we cannot invest much in our operations as we are not sure of what lies ahead," he told Oil in Uganda.
Though gold mining in Uganda is largely on small scale, the country serves as a transit point for gold exports from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has large reserves.
Uganda has been keen to attract investors to its mining sector after government surveys established the existence of minerals including gold, base metals, uranium, rare earths, iron, titanium, vermiculite and diamond in various locations.
Report by by Robert Mwesigye and Collins Hinamundi