"The unfortunate and heartless evictions from the Mudende gold mines on August 4, 2017 taught us an unforgettable lesson. And that was our motivation to come together as artisanal and small scale miners to speak with one voice," John Bosco Bukya, the chairperson Uganda Artisanal and Small scale Miners Association (UGAASM), explains their journey thus far.
In the aftermath of the evictions, an aura of uncertainty hovered over the fate of nearly 200,000 artisanal and small scale miners around the country then, and by extension, the nearly 2 million that fed off the value chain of the sub sector.
"Farm gate prices for farmers around the mines are always good. Jack fruit in the villages used to be eaten by locals for free. When business in the mines picked up one fruit would be cut into 30 slices, each going for Shs1,000 meaning a fruit would fetch 30,000.
"Right now if you looked around a bunch of matooke is about Shs2,000 in the villages, but in the mines the cheapest bunch is 20,000," Bukya said, painting a simple picture of the ASM value chain.
Facing an uncertain future, the miners sought to be heard, with a number of civil society organisations leading the advocacy. ASMs in Busia had long been organised and had at least 7 operational location licenses and therefore created fertile ground for engagement as the evicted miners devised means to regroup.
ActionAid International Uganda (AAIU), through their Extractives Governance Project, led the advocacy for fairness and respect for the miners' rights, but first things first.
Didas Muhumuza, then the project coordinator, told the miners they had to come to terms with their fate first, and appreciate what government was trying to do to organize the sector, albeit using unconventional methods.
The conversation kicked off in Kassanda District during an AAIU social media caravan with miners narrating the horrors they had gone through. Livelihoods had been lost, years of hard work had ground to a halt; property, expensive equipment, gold and money had been lost. The miners stared at a bleak future.
With support from AAIU, Busia ASMs hosted their hurting colleagues to a dialogue and shared experiences and resultantly, it was resolved that the voice had to be bigger than just that of Mubende miners.
The miners resolved they would form regional offices under an umbrella ASM body, and at a follow up meeting in Kampala, the different office bearers for the different regions were appointed under the chairmanship of Bukya.
Muhumuza says of the process: "I mainly guided them technically and used the South African mantra... running and owning their struggles; nothing about them without them. We organized meetings where they had space to engage with decision makers. I encouraged them to embrace other partners like Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP), Global Rights Alert, among others, but with a clear agenda not just being swayed.
"I fostered partnership and collaboration among different ASMs at local, regional, and national level. AAIU committed resources that supported the marketing of UGAASM across the country, thereby establishing regional chapters.
"Overall, my greatest input was to give them a chance, space and benefit of doubt and they did not disappoint and I feel they will achieve a lot more."
In March 2019, the Ministry of Energy and Minerals Development launched the biometric registration of artisanal miners project (BRASM) that is being implemented by ACEMP. In this regard ACEMP has supported UGAASM in registering their different associations and capacity building.
Isabella Acomai, the programmes and communication manager ACEMP says as the BRASM implementers, they have supported miners' associations to bring them under UGAASM and also brought development minerals miners on board.
"We have been at the forefront of pushing for the Mubende miners to get licensed and it was through our efforts that they got to meet the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources before they went on to secure a license," Acomai told Oil in Uganda.
Indeed, Bukya said at a miners' dialogue on government's performance in the mining sector on Monday, 12, 2020 that with support from civil society partners they have made strides in making their voices heard, and are now engaging with relevant offices and getting prompt feedback.
"Through UGAASM we have managed to secure a location license for Mubende miners in Kassanda district and recently, Buhweju miners have secured an exploration license for a huge block," he said.
Speaking at the dialogue Morris Tabaaro, the eastern regional inspector of mines, hailed the milestones achieved by the miners in organizing themselves and advised that formalisation is the very basic step that will propel them to greater heights.
"When you are formalized business will grow, you get good process for your minerals and your network expands because you are legally operating," he said.