18 August 2017

Uganda: Mubende Miners Count Losses After Ruthless Eviction

Photo: Francis Mugerwa/Daily Monitor
Military police officers patrol mining sites in Mubende District after evicting artisanal miners recently.

Kawunde Patrick has been in the gold mining business for three years now. Previously he was a timber dealer and before that he traded in South Sudan until unrest broke out. On the fateful morning of the Mubende mines eviction, he watched in horror as his livelihood was swept right from under his feet.

The 35-year old father of five had a pit in the mines. On that fateful morning his boys were already in the pit working when he was ordered by angry soldiers to get them out and ensure no one stayed down. The miners had been given two hours - though most swear it was hardly an hour - to vacate the mines. Pandemonium reigned as over 50,000 people gathered whatever they could to flee.

Preoccupied with getting his boys out of the pit Kawunde had no time to pick anything from his house. By the time he got there the padlock was broken, his house ransacked.

"Soldiers stopped me from taking anything. I lost three generators; three blowers that supply oxygen down the pit and four drilling machines," Kawunde painfully narrated his ordeal.

He valued the generators at Shs3million each; two blowers at Shs2.2million each and a smaller one at Shs700,000. The drillers together cost Shs4.4million.

"I watched as Sh16million of my capital was snatched out of my hands," he said resignedly with tears welling up in his eyes. A week later he found out his Sh9million ball mill had been taken too.

"In my lifetime I have never seen anything like this," he said in a distant voice."

Mr Kawunde is just one of many artisanal miners that lost property and money during the eviction.

"People left money in their houses as they fled," said another miner who identified himself as just Alex. Alex was one of so many business people who fled off the gold value chain. He owned a lodge and bar. He had just spent Shs6million on iron sheets to construct more makeshift rooms. Like many others he left his iron sheets in the mines.

"If I had not bought those sheets I would at least have something to start with. I left everything of mine in the mines. I have not changed clothes since we were evicted," he said.

Another miner of Rwandese origin had his Toyota Premio confiscated by police when he was asked to produce his national ID which he had misplaced in the fracas.

Led by Ntare Sipriano, the LCI chairman Lujinji B, an angry group of miners still camped in the trading center just outside the mines said the military men told them they had orders to take over the place and confiscate everything.

"A few lucky ones had managed to get out some property before the place was put on lockdown," said one of them.

To the ordinary eye artisanal gold miners spend day in and out torturously excavating stone and go through strenuous means to extract gold from the ore. Yet in fact the clueless miners are counting losses since their eviction early this month. Clueless because every government stakeholder they believed had given them assurance of their continued operations right from the fountain of honour has betrayed them.

Mr Bukenya Michael, the Bukuya constituency MP, said they had 'done everything possible' to stop the evictions, lobbying in higher offices but were powerless to stop anything.

In his State of the Nation address of 2015 President Museveni assured the miners in Mubende their plight would be addressed. For five years now the miners have waited for a location license in vein. This year, with the eviction looming, negotiations were ongoing as politicians shuffled between State House and Mubende.

Mr Emmanuel Kibirige, the secretary Singo Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association said Benny Namugwanya, the Woman MP Mubende, was supposed to have given them feedback from a consultation meeting she had attended in Kampala over their plight. Other than what had transpired they were expressly evicted albeit earlier directives to vacate that they mostly took casually.

"We have lost our lives and livelihood. Our government has done it again to further marginalize the poor. Thanks NRM. Our property worth millions is in the hands of soldiers. Only two hours to shit items after working for ten years," Kibirige says bitterly.

Kibirige wondered what would become of people's property as there wasn't any sort of documentation taking place.

"I have an acre of land I bought in that place and have a land sale agreement for it. What has it got to do with the mines? We would not have refused to leave the mines but should have let us take our property," Kibirige, who sustained a broken leg in the fracas, says.

After years of toiling several of the miners own pits. Inclusive of paying rental fees to landlords, hiring generators and drilling tools, and labour, operating a pit cost up to Sh500,000 daily, according to Ivan Kawuma, another miner. Kawuma owned a pit more than 300 feet deep after working for more than five years.

What has however left several people baffled is their machinery that they were using in their operations. People were not allowed to take their machinery. Miners have also reported seeing a military police truck driving out of the miners with generators, blowers, and other equipment like drillers.

When asked about people losing property Mr Byaruhanga Patrick, the district police commander Mubende, said those were exhibits to adduce as evidence of illegal mining otherwise people had managed to carry out all their other belongings.

For now the miners are waiting and hoping that they will be allowed back to operate or at least seize opportunities if an investor starts operations.

By Robert Mwesigye and photos by Josephine Nabaale

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