Uganda: Mineral Police Evicted From Gold Mine in Kassanda As Nakalema Arrests Officers

(file photo).

Tables were turned this time round when officers of the dreaded Minerals Police Protection Unit (MPPU) were evicted from Kisita gold mines in Kassanda district following wrangles between its officers, the Uganda Revenue Authority and investors.

In a rather astonishing turn of events of the hunter getting hunted, State Minister for Minerals Development, Sarah Opendi, ordered the MPPU out of the mines in Kisita where officers had camped and taken over a licensed gold mining site.

The order followed complaints of harassment and extortion by the investors of Kisita Mining Company levelled against officers of the MPPU led by the unit commandant Jessica Keigomba.

During a meeting held on 13th March, 2020 and called by Edith Nakalema, the head of the State House Anticorruption Unit and Minister Opendi, Keigomba was put to task to explain how her officer Caleb Tashobya was mired in cases of extortion and harassment. Stammering before the panel, Tashobya attempted to deny that he had in fact arrested the Kisita Mining Company directors but was pinned by Agnes Alaba, commissioner of mines at DGSM that he had actually locked up a director and a staff at Entebbe Police. Nakalema consequently placed Tashobya under arrest.

Investors of Kisita Mining Company had forwarded their complaints to Nakalema after the MPPU took over their mines and denied them access following ugly scenes that almost saw army men deployed by the resident district commissioner at Kisita exchange fire with Keigomba's officers.

"Madame Nakalema and honorable minister, these people said that I and the RDC robbed phones from the local people. Can you imagine? That is why they opened criminal charges against us," Mustafa Semih Gecgil, the manager of Kisita Mining Company, said to the disbelief of Nakalema and Opendi.

Stanley Kabyemera, the debt collection manager at the Uganda Revenue Authority also noted that the MPPU had denied them to access the mines even though the officers had identified themselves.

The company owes the government up to Shs1.26 billion in taxes.

Nakalema noted that the director of CID had also voiced her disappointment that Keigomba was not taking lawful orders yet they are supposed to work closely. She consequently directed a humbled Keigomba to produce a statement on the issue.

During a visit to the mining site, Minister Opendi said: "I have directed that the MPPU vacates this place and the regional police commander with the entire team in the district takes over this place working with URA which is by law the one supposed to be holding this place. Meanwhile all the mining will not take place until we have agreed with the shareholders that they have put in place the management team and the employees should be able to work under them."

The formation and deployment of the Minerals Police Protection Unit in 2017 has never gone down well with stakeholders in the mining sub-sector in light of the exact nature of their mandate and how they execute their duties.

The high profile arrest of Zackary Baguma, the then Commissioner at the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines as the first course of action by the unit commandant Jessica Keigomba spelt doom and cast a shadow over the sub-sector in light of the eviction of artisanal and small scale gold miners on 4th August, 2017 from their operational areas in Mubende/Kassanda.

The MPPU operations gained momentum drawing ire and awe from stakeholders including miners, mining communities, civil society and businesspeople. The emotions always played out at mining conferences and in the field during operations to "straighten the sub-sector and put it in order," according to Keigomba.

An investigative documentary that was aired on television showing illegal mining activities taking place under the cover of darkness in the trenches of gold mines from where the miners had been evicted further raised eyebrows as to the mandate of the Unit increasingly became questionable. Word had it that the members of the Unit were actually engaged in the mining operations, accusations that were of course severally denied.

Gold miners in different regions of the country cried out for help as they accused MPPU of harassment and extortion. However, the bubble seems to have burst for them following the entry of Nakalema.

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