6 September 2017

Uganda: Tears, Misery Define Mubende Following Gold Diggers' Eviction

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

About three weeks ago, a joint force comprising Uganda Police and Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) stormed mining camps in Kitumbi, Mubende district, to evict what the government termed as illegal miners.

The miners were given a two-hour ultimatum to carry their belongings and leave the area. On August 30, CHRISTOPHER TUSIIME went back to the district to assess the impact of the eviction.

It's a cold Wednesday morning and I am travelling back to Mubende gold mines, about 30km off Kampala-Mubende highway.

The only slippery and potholed murram road that connects the main road to the mines is less busy. We drive through without much traffic as the case was during my maiden visit, two months ago.

However, a stopover at Lujinji trading centre reveals something new: the place is more congested but with no serious business taking place. People seated on verandahs in groups of about five to 10 can be heard telling stories.

Policemen clad in their heavy navy blue jackets, wielding fire-arms, can be seen almost in every corner of the place. I am forced to inquire what is taking place. Realising I am a journalist, many people surround me, with each trying to describe their predicament.

"We no longer have anything to do," Sylvia Nakiyira, one of those people who used to sell water in the mines, says.

"All my 200 jerrycans were confiscated. I wasn't allowed to take any out of the mines because the time they gave us was too little to collect our belongings," Nakiyira said as she struggled to stay calm.

Nakiyira's only source of income was from selling water to the people working in the mines. Each jerrycan, she says, could go for Shs 1,000. However, after the eviction, that was the end of her business.

To prove how life has turned out to be miserable, Nakiyira takes me to an incomplete structure without a roof where she sleeps with several other people who were evicted.

"I currently sleep here with my daughter. We have nowhere to go. All these people you are seeing here sleep with us in this roofless church. Others sleep on the verandah of those houses you are seeing outside," Nakiyira adds before she breaks down into tears.

Abdul Hakim is more worried than Nakiyira. He had bought land from where he could carry out farming and rent the remaining lot to miners. All that is now gone.

"I had bought a plot of land of 11 hectares near the mines there. But they chased me out. I had also bought several other plots between Shs 3m and Shs 4m but I don't have access to them now. The soldiers told us to leave immediately," a visibly sad Hakim says.

Hakim, who is currently living in his small house which he had constructed with the money he had acquired from the tenants on his land, is worried he may fail to look after his family.

"My nine children are there. Very soon they will be out of school because there is no money. The bricks you see behind that house were for constructing a bigger house but I won't manage that now," Hakim says.

Hakim says before the eviction, he had more than 20 goats. Currently, only three are remaining. In his view, they could have been stolen by the several unemployed youths who have since remained in the area.

Bernard Ssemuyaba is equally stranded. Aged 34, Ssemuyaba is now considering taking back the land he had offered for the construction of a church because he is afraid his large family may soon become too expensive to look after.

He says he was born in the area even before the mining firms got the mining leases and exploration licenses. But he is shocked he is being evicted without any compensation.

For Abel (not real name), who had come from Kampala to exploit the golden opportunities Mubende offered, life will never be the same.

"I can't move anywhere at this time of the day. In July, someone lent me about Shs 50m, which I immediately invested in the mining pits. A few days later, we were evicted. Now, the man wants me arrested because he wants his money yet I don't have it," Abel said.

As a result of the misery, a number of stories are flying around Mubende. One of the severally told stories in all areas around the mines is that bulldozers covering the pits have buried many miners inside.

BURIED ALIVE?

Joseph Kibira, a landlord in a gold mine called Kampala, said he has information some people were buried alive. He says on August 25, at around 2pm, one of the bulldozers tried to cover a pit that belonged to a one Caleb.

Kibira says some people had thought that this pit could not be covered that day and had stealthy entered to continue with their mining.

"It is one of the oldest pits... As the second bulldozer was being brought, one person was seen running out of the pit," Kibira recounts.

He says a few minutes after the incident, another miner ran out of the pit.

"It is those two who later told me that there were between 10 and 20 people inside."

We could not independently verify this information. However, Colonel Joseph Balikuddembe, the commander of the operation to evict the miners, who had declined to discuss the matter, said such an incident of burying miners alive could not have happened.

"But how can me a human being bury another human being when he or she is still alive? That's impossible," Balikuddembe said.

Pressed for more information about the issue and the whole operation, Col Balikuddembe who is also the UPDF first division commander, simply drove away.

Now that Col Balikuddembewas leaving the mines for a meeting in Kampala, his colleague, a one Col James Kasule, remained.

DEMOLISHED STRUCTURES

After a long stay at the blocked and well-guarded entrance, since no one, including journalists, is allowed to enter, I am finally let inside. Here, tattered blue tarpaulins and shiny corrugated iron sheets covered the mines. Several bulldozers can be seen bringing down a few remaining structures.

"We are simply enforcing an eviction by government, and not UPDF," says Kasule. "People shouldn't hate us... when we came, we didn't slap anyone. We didn't beat anyone. We simply told people to vacate."

Kasule says they are currently working around the clock to en- sure the property that was left behind can be picked by rightful owners. He adds that this process is easy as one only needs an LC-I letter with receipts of the property in question.

He argues that many people have already picked their properties even though some that I interviewed say they couldn't pick them because they even lost the receipts they were given at the time of buying.

According to an August 4 letter from the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development that was issued by the then permanent secretary, Stephen Isabalija, the eviction was meant to eliminate non-Ugandans from the business.

He argued that Ugandan artisanal miners would be called back after three months from the time the eviction started.

However, to many miners, this isn't possible because one can't call back people who were not registered. The miners want government to reconsider its position and allow them back into their business because it was their only source of income.

They also blame President Museveni for all their woes because they say it's him who, during the 2011 and 2016 presidential campaigns, asked them to go on with their business before promising a gold refinery too.

More on This

District Authorities Decry Cost of Mubende Eviction

After the eviction of artisanal miners in Mubende district about three weeks ago, the leaders of the area have estimated… Read more »

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