Uganda: The Big Story Behind the Eviction of Mubende Gold Miners

In the aftermath of the ruthless eviction of Artisanal and Small-scale Miners (ASMs) from the gold mines in Mubende District on August 3, 2017, President Museveni said he had not given the directive but rather had only told the soldiers and other security agencies to be on standby.

Victims of that unforgettable day recount how security personnel had told them that the deployment was to support the process of registering the miners.

"However, when I awoke that morning I looked around the mines and it looked like a scene from a war movie. Tanks had been stationed on hill tops facing us. That day I thought there was war," recounted Emmanuel Kibirige, an artisanal gold miner who has been involved in the trade for the last about 12 years.

That and many more stories of pandemonium have severally been told by thousands of victims who were given a two-hour ultimatum by the operations Commander of the day to vacate the mines. In the ensuing chaos, property and cash worth billions of shillings were lost in a very short time.

Mubende vis a vis Other gold mining areas of Uganda

Artisanal gold mining in Uganda takes place majorly in areas of Mubende, Busia, Namayingo, Buhweju, Karamoja and Bugiri. Whereas the 2006 geophysical aerial survey was not carried out in Karamoja owing to insecurity, gold mining is mainly attributed to speculators. As such gold rushes are common in the sub-region as miners shift from place to place and, according to the Acting District Natural Resources Officer of Nakapiripirit, some mining companies that operate are not known whether they possess licenses or not.

Elsewhere, artisanal miners and big players such as mining companies have secured licenses to operate hence a semblance of order albeit a few cases of displacement and poor compensation of locals. In Busia for example, where the gold mining trade, that dates back to the 1930s, has run in families across generations, there are about 5 location licenses held by artisanal miners who are mostly natives.

Vincent Kedi, the Principal Mining Engineer at the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) noted that ASMs in Busia are more organized which helps to facilitate the process faster.

"Whereas we have sensitized miners across the country about existing mining procedures, people in Busia are the only ones that have taken heed. The moment they discover an area with gold they immediately embark on processing a location license," he said.

In comparison however, Mubende is challenging. Over 90% of the people that operated in the mines were not natives which explained the population of more than 50,000 people. These included foreigners from neighbouring countries mainly DR Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi.

Interestingly, artisanal gold mining in Mubende dates as far back as the 1980s, according the Kitumbi Sub-county Community Development Officer, Edward Ssenkusu, also a born of the area.

"Around 1989, I always heard my father one Ssemanda Edward say that he was going to the mines at Kamalange and on several occasions, while visiting my aunt Nankusu, I passed Kamalange wetland and saw men carrying sacks of sand which contained the gold deposits," Senkusu says.

However, Gertrude Njuba, a bush war heroine, claims she first acquired this gold mining area of Mubende in 1986, "without the slightest hint of what lay underneath," according to reference of an interview by the Daily Monitor. Her company first acquired a location license for the area measuring about 207 square kilometers in 1987, and subsequently a mining lease for the area in 1994.

Battle of licenses

During a handover ceremony of safety gears to members of Singo Artisanal & Small Scale Miners Association (SASSMA) miners by ActionAid Uganda in 2016, the spokesperson then John Bosco Bukya said they had applied for location licenses in 2013 but were yet to get a response.

However, records at the DGSM indicate that the area for which the miners had applied, having already been working there without a license, was licensed to AUC Mining (U) Limited on 20th February 2013, having applied on 22nd October, 2012. The area measures 144.7824 square kilometers.

The miners however argued that the original company, Gemstone International, originally had an exploration license for the area, whose duration was three years, of which upon expiration the company was expected to relinquish 50% of the area. Effectively, the company had not done any exploration because the miners occupied the area.

In a dossier by AUC Mining U) Limited presented to the President making their case as the rightful licensed party for the disputed area, they indicated that the miners had interfered with their work where they had marked sample sites from which they extracted data.

"The miners actually started invading the area after discovering the company had discovered samples of gold. The local people that were employed during these geophysical studies spread the word and people started flocking the area," Kedi said.

Anthony Kinene, the Natural Resources Officer of Mubende and borne of the area, says the first official report of artisanal gold miners in Mubende was in 2012 when the numbers became astronomical.

According to the dossier, the company had spent close to 57 billion shillings on geological activities and paid at least 100 million shillings in taxes.

Politics, security concerns

In the aftermath of the evictions, miners said the President had betrayed them and he occasionally made verbal pledges that Mubende miners were safe and would continue to work without interference.

John Bosco Bukya said that during the President's state of the nation address of 2016, he had given them assurance that they were safe and would continue working. Following the evictions, the desperate miners said the president had all along been using them as political capital. Word of impending evictions came in early 2017 when there was a reported directive from the President for the miners to vacate the mines.

On two occasions, the area Members of Parliament including Hon. Betty Namugwanya and Hon. Patrick Nsamba coordinated meetings to have the president visit the area and speak to miners but to no avail.

Legally however; the miners save for those belonging to Kayonza-Kitumbi Miners Association who were already licensed, were not supposed to be occupying the mines. The then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Dr. Stephen Isabalijja claimed during a stormy session before the committee on natural resources in parliament that the miners posed a security threat and government had to act fast. Claims of wrong elements posing as miners had been rife. Indeed among the over 70 people arrested during the evictions that were seen by a legal team assembled by ActionAid Uganda, nearly all were found to be foreign nationals from neighbouring countries.

Making a come back

The evictions sparked outrage countrywide but unsurprisingly the President would give the miners an ear. The first attempt to meet him during an address on radio in Mubende flopped when he promised them a meeting at a more appropriate time.

Indeed on September 26th 2017, the meeting happened at State House, Nakasero where security officials led by then Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura; energy ministry officials and miners' representatives convened at what turned out to be a heated affair between the miners and representatives of AUC Mining Company.

The company representatives were unrelenting and would not back down even when the President asked Moses Masagazi, a partner in AUC Mining company, to relinquish part of the area to the miners. It is reported that during the meeting, the company representatives claimed that they had to be compensated with Shs 2 billion for a 10 square kilometer area in Madudu Sub-county that had been proposed for relocation of the miners. As the technocrat on ground, Anthony Kinene disputed the claim, adducing proof that the proposed area was never part of that license.

Following protracted negotiations, the President directed Hon. Irene Muloni, the Energy Minister that AUC Mining relinquishes 30% of their area to the miners. There was however a hitch, when it turned out that the letter was addressed to an unknown group of miners posing as the Federation of Artisanal Miners of Uganda. On investigation it was discovered the federation was in fact headed by the late Stella Njuba, daughter to Gertrude Njuba.

Fresh Fight

The miners, under their umbrella association, Mubende United Miners Association (MUMA) which brings together 21 associations had to put up a fresh fight, which however culminated into fresh negotiations and later concessions to share just 10% of the 30% because by now they were running low in energy and desperate to return to work.

Gradually the miners started to make a breakthrough, with their major milestone being a meeting with the Operation Wealth Creation boss, and the president's young brother Gen. Salim Saleh at Serene Hotel in Mutundwe. According to Bukya John Bosco, the meeting was very cordial and Gen. Saleh pledged that the miners would soon resume work.

"We are now in advanced stages of receiving location licenses as members of MUMA; everything is in order now after we came to an understanding with the Federation," the MUMA Chairperson Bukya John Bosco said.

The negotiations through different power holders paid off as the miners were eventually granted permission to return to Kasanda district mining gold areas, specically in Katugo, Kitoma, and Nfuka all located in Kitumbi sub-county. They have secured 15 location licenses and expect about 15 more, which puts them in a safe position to resume mining legally.

By Robert B. Mwesigye

Edited by Nalubega Flavia

Edited by Didas Muhumuza

Oil.Uganda@actionaid.org

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