Uganda: Global COVID 19 Pandemic Exposes Vulnerability of ASM Actors Amidst Progress

The artisanal and small scale mining sub-sector has gained foothold in the world over years as countries design policies to integrate it into their development agenda owing to the millions (80 -100 million globally) who directly or indirectly depend on it as a source of livelihood.

There has been significant progress by a range of stakeholders to improve the governance and policy frameworks for the sub-sector right from defining ASM activities, developing legal plus regulatory frameworks and formalization, and trying to better understand ASM community dynamics, its contribution to sustainable livelihoods and rural communities and issues around conflict minerals among others.

Most recently focus has been put on understanding how to formalize ASM activities to benefit miners and integrate them into national development agendas as well as promote safe mining practices.

Amidst the numerous sustained global and regional initiatives to support realization of the efforts towards formalizing ASM activities, however, the coronavirus pandemic that manifested from September 2019 in Wuhan city of China, threatens this diverse sub-sector as the impacts are already being felt among the communities.

Governments worldwide have instituted extreme containment measures to stem the spread of and infections by practically shutting down economies thereby seriously impacting livelihoods of ASMs (like other groups of people) as well as posing threats to formalization efforts aimed at making the ASM sub-sector better.

An excerpt from a Levin Sources report reads: "In recent years there has been a growth of investment in ASM formalization programmes worldwide. These programmes have been predicated on fostering mutual benefits for governments and their citizens. There is a risk that increased public debt and a redirection of resources to manage the acute public health crisis, as well as targeting the sub-sector as a way of generating revenue for this could result in a reversal of this trend. This would likely undermine the long-term development of the sector, encourage greater informality and break down of community trust in public institutions that cannot be easily restored."

ASMs in Uganda have equally made progress in as far as formalization is concerned with licensing of various registered associations gaining traction. The process to formalize was launched in March 2019 with the Biometric Registration of ASMs (BRASM) project being implemented by the Directorate of Geological Survey and mins (DGSM) in partnership with Africa Center for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP). Don Binyina, the executive director of ACEMP, said last year they had so far progressed at 50%.

"Our assignment was to support the government by setting up a biometric registration system to capture data on ASMs and the system design has been completed. It was supposed to be tested in January 2020 and actual registration was to start later in March and probably be completed in June 2020," he said. Most of last year there were ongoing clinics to build capacity among ASMs in different regions in preparation for the biometric registration.

The containment measures however started exactly in March as countries worldwide shut down economies and constrained movement of people to contain the transmission of the virus. Those plans have been shelved with measures of social (or physical) distancing which is not compatible to the requirements of key processes owing to the nature of ASM operations.

Isabella Acomai, the programmes and communications manager of ACEMP, says the sensitization workshops were mostly done but the lockdown had interrupted their engagement with the National Information Technology Authority (NITA) to give them access to the database so they can match the national identity cards with the NITA system. She however says they have resumed talks with the Ministry of Energy and Minerals Development and NITA so that the developer can complete building the software for the registration. She noted that however, "even when the lockdown ends and we resume work, owing to the social distancing measures we shall not be able to interact with the ASMs in large gatherings but we will have to use brochures and fliers to disseminate information on the exercise." She puts the actual registration to resume in August 2020.

Recently, over 70 civil society organisations and community-based associations rallied a global call for "immediate and concerted action from governments, financing institutions, international organizations, the private sector and others to support artisanal and small-scale mining communities and to shore up their resilience during the Covid-19 crisis."

World Bank's conservative ASM estimates are over 41 million people in the sub-sector globally, at least 30% of which are women. The number of women grows exponentially when secondary activities are factored in. It is estimated that over 150 million people are dependent on the artisanal and small-scale gold sub-sector alone in over 80 countries.

The CSOs recognize that the vast majority of those who work directly and indirectly in artisanal and small-scale mining, do so informally and they are amongst some of the world's poorest. ASMs' activities in Uganda (and largely all over the world) have always been un-bankable and that means they will also miss out on most stimulus packages that are destined to be delivered through the banking systems. The ASM sub-sector was already in dire straits (financially) and the Covid 19 just came around the same time just to make an already bad situation worse. It is thus crucial to seriously think about financial support to the sub-sector, as has always been the advocacy message since time immemorial.

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