Mining In The Pandemic: How COVID-19 Affected Uganda's Minerals Sector & Miners

The gentle cool breeze from Lake Victoria welcomes you to Buhere landing site, Bukana Sub County in Namayingo district, eastern Uganda. The breeze further tames the early February afternoon sunshine that had proved to be a menace as our two-wheeler motor navigated through the bumpy but motorable murram feeder roads in rural Namayingo.

While the lake breeze was welcoming, the piercing sounds of men working the machines in the rocky hill that lay above the landing site, the Buhere Mines, was representative of the emerging mining economic activity that is fast replacing fishing and agriculture.


Many residents in Bugiri and Namayingo districts abandoned farming for gold mining but a surge in COVID-19 hindered their mining activities.

Namayingo like many other rural districts in Uganda is dependent on agriculture, fishing and petty trade. This is fast changing ever since the district became a gold mining hub. But this rapid transformation was put to a halt when COVID19 pandemic, an alien virus disease hit the world in 2019 and in early 2020 brought Uganda to its knees.

No more gold rush

In Namayingo, as President Yoweri Museveni on 18th March 2020 suspended mass gatherings and announced quarantining of incoming travelers, in what was the beginning of the many stringent measures to curb the spread of the new virus, residents of little Buhere didn’t know that their burgeoning mining trade was bound to stall for more than two years.

“It was a difficult time. Miners, those who had come from far towns, left. The prices fell. There was no one who was buying gold because transport had been cut off. To date, we are yet to recover,” Mr. George Mina, the vice chairperson of Buhere village, told Earthfinds during an interview inside his wattle office.

But gold miners in Namayingo and Bugiri districts, especially the natives, were defiant and often ignored the restricted movements, social gatherings, night curfews and the lockdown to go down in the pits to look for gold.

The local authorities, including police, were understanding and never really applied the strong arm of the law. The undoing at the time was the lack of buyers, this worsened the situation.

Ms. Mariam Rose a native of Buhere lamented that farming is fast becoming insufficient and unable to support her family of eight. The single mother who we found crushing stones in the gold mines said that the land she has is not enough to enable her grow surplus food.

She, therefore, comes to the mines where she works as a laborer so she can earns about Shs10, 000 daily to financially provide for herself, her children’s feeding and education.  

The COVID-19 pandemic kept many women in Buhere from working in the mines and the relaxation of the COVID-19 restriction came as a blessing.

She is not the only woman in the expanding mines. Many like her own no pits. They are employed as laborers to earn a day’s wage. Many of the women were just returning to Buhere to work after the forced pause caused by the pandemic. They pound away the stones to crush them into small sizes before they are turned into dust and ‘washed’ to sieve out gold.

Mr. Mina said that miners who are indigenous residents, like Ms. Rose, would sneak and go to look for gold in the rocky pits but there was no market for their find. But whenever the lockdowns relaxed the gold buyers who came to the village would give them low prices.

Another female miner in Buhere said social distancing ensured that very few people worked in the mines. The curfew also made them to leave the mines early and not work the night shift.

Also, working in the mines is laboring and require proper breathing but the masks were detrimental yet the local authorities, according to Mr. Mina, ensured every person who entered the mines wore a mask.

Lost revenue for local government

The story is not any different in the gold mines in Bugiri. Those who managed to access the mines had nowhere and nobody to sell their gold too. The gold production plummeted, incomes crushed and life was hard.

Mr. Hussein Lwanga, the acting head of natural resources department in Bugiri district in an interview confirmed that when the economy was closed, the buyers couldn’t reach the sites.

“The miners had the products but the buyers were not accessible. This led to miners to shift from gold mining to sand mining and stone quarrying. It largely affected miners income; they were not earning,” he explained.

This pinch was also felt by the district revenue collection department. Mr. Lwanga said: “. Also, because the mining in the area is still rudimentary, revenue collection is tricky. You cannot track their output, so we lost out completely. We also couldn't move into mines to track their production because of the lockdown. Actually, during the pandemic, we realized nothing in terms of revenues.”

Local governments are by law supposed to get loyalties from the miners but because most miners are artisanal and rudimentary, district fail to track the miners down since they are not well streamlined.

Low prices for gold

At Budde gold mining site, a handful of young men were active. A site that usually accommodates over 300 miners and dealers, you could barely count 30. Those we found onsite said there colleagues had not yet return from the forced COVID19 break.

Yokosadi, in his mid-30s, decried the low prices and the lack of market for their gold despite risking all to come and work.

“What we used to sell at Shs15, 000, you would get it at Shs8, 000. They were no buyers. Those who had special vehicles going to Kampala were few and they would give us low prices,” the soft speaking man said of the bad business at the time in March.

Many miners in Namayingo vacated the mines and only returned when the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed.

Mr. William Musinguzi, the site manager of Acorn Mining Company also operating inside the gold mine at Budde revealed that they witnessed the price falling from Shs150, 000 per gram to as low as Shs100, 000. As a manager representing the interests of the investor, this was bad business.

But with the opening up of the economy, business is coming back to life. Yokosadi said that the price has started going up. Now, a point goes for Shs15, 000. By the time of publishing this report, it could have gone higher.

Strict rules in Mubende

In Bugiri and Namayingo, like everyone in the communities, the miners heed to the call to observe the Standard Operating Procedures something that they say helped them not to register any COVID19 cases in Namayingo.

“We were clean and keen. We had water and soap. Visitors first reported to our chairman”, a miner at Budde said as he ‘washed’ the soils in quest for gold. 

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, stubborn miners in parts of Bugiri and Namayingo would sneak into the mines and look for the minerals.

But in Mubende and Kasanda, the strictness was tough that some miners runaway and found their way to Bugiri.

Mr. Henry Batuma is a Mubende based gold miner and dealer but because of the strict COVID19 rules in central Uganda, he sought refuge in Bugiri district where work was still going on.

Mr. Baguma's other reason for relocating to Namayingo is that government had closed their mine, but now that COVID had subsided, he was planning to relocate to Kasanda.

Silence in Tororo

Stone quarrying is a big mining business in Tororo district and has helped Tororo town boom. But even before the Tororo stone quarry contractors, a company owned by Israeli got issues with Tororo Cement, their main customers leading to its closure in 2021, the miners there had already felt the punch of COVID19.


Mr. Sam Mugabi was a contracted driver in the stone quarry but due to downsizing and the restrictions due to COVID19, many miners had lost their jobs even before the quarrel between the Israeli firm and Tororo Cement.

Like many minerals, the prices of the stones fell down from a Shs150, 000 a tonne to Shs100, 000 or less.

 Not bad business for development minerals

Unlike gold, COVID19 presented a mini boom in the real estate business, the biggest consumers of sand, stones and rocks.

At Bubugo Kirongo Stone Quarrying site, a few kilometers from Bugiri town, the miners who embraced the midday heat when we arrived, said that because schools were closed, some parents turned to constructing houses and other projects something that brought them customers.

“As you know, businesses are connected to each other; if a food vendor doesn’t make sales, another business will struggle. So sometimes we would not get customers but here business was not entirely bad,” Mr. Fred Kasambira, wearing a yellow glove in his left palm to protect him from the pricks of the stone, said. 

Miners in Bugiri said there was demand for building materials like quarry stones as people used the pandemic to construction projects.

Dennis, a youthful miner in a fading vest told this reporter in Kirongo that the period of COVID19 was full of uncertainty. “For a man like me with a family, that was a hard time not to have a daily income. Now that we have resumed, I am not sure if I will make enough money to send my children back to school,"

Dennis’ school fees worry is shared by many of his colleague. And it is not just schools fees to send their children back but now their-would be customers were prioritizing and saving every penny they earn to prepare for the schools opening. This means fewer customers for men and women in Kirongo quarry that employs over 400 miners.

Originally not a miner before COVID19 struck, Ms. Hadijah Mutesi says the pandemic drove her to the stone quarry so as to earn a living and take care of her family. Unfamiliar with the stone breaking, the stones tear her fingers’ skin but she has no option but to work.

"When COVID19 started in 2020, my previous business ended and I returned to the village. I have children and grandchildren who need to feed and they will need to go to school when they open. The children also need medication," an elderly Ms. Mutesi says sweating as she smashes more hardcore into tiny pieces.

Mr. Nambiro Fred Bazibu, also of Kirongo complained of the health risks involved in their trade. He then called on government to support them by providing them with machines that can easy their work.

No buyers for iron ore in Kigezi

In Kegezi sub region, the impact of COVID19 was equally felt among the communities in Rubanda district. Endowed with iron ore and wolfram, Rubanda has a sizeable mining community.

In Nyamuriro village, Muko Sub County, Rubanda district, Mzee Kabwekye, Byamukama and Jasper have agonizing tales to tell. These wolfram miners, when the mines closed to avert the spread of the deadly disease had to find relocate to other places and jobs.

In Particular, Jasper travelled as far as Buganda in search of work abandoning his family back home. In Buganda, the situation was not any different and he couldn’t return home due to the lockdown.

Byabakama said: “Our lives depended on these mines to provide for our families but when the mines were closed because of COVID19, we had to go and look for work elsewhere but the situation was not good. Even after the reopening, the situation is not good,”

Not that miners who stayed in Rubanda were any better than Jasper, Mzee Kabwekye said: “What we reaped from COVID19 is poverty. Some people don't have to drink and waste their life.” And now he wants government to help because they are out of work.

In Hamurwa Town Council, Rubanda district, iron ore miner reported that buyers of their iron ore ran away with their money when COVIDq9 lockdown was announced.

Ms. Scorah Tukahigwa said they formed an association they called Kigezi Iron Ore Miners which they used as a collective voice to demand from an ‘investor’ called Mr. Moses Kamuntu. But even with the numbers of the association, Mr. Kamuntu didn’t pay them.

Now that they have resumed work, they have the iron ore but no buyers, Mr. Kamuntu has not returned. We want government to get buyers of our iron ore, she pleaded in the interview.

For Lawrence, the COVID19 experience is gruesome. “We got very many challenges when COVID19 came. We failed to get money to pay workers. Because we hadn’t paid them, they couldn’t support their families. Actually very many families broke up.

We used to pay our worker weekly but when COVID19 came, we failed to get money; we went to the bank and we failed to pay the loans, the banks took our properties. Some people ran away because of the banks.”

But for Ms. Tukahigwa, COVID19 didn’t pass without a lesson being learnt. She said: “During the period of COVID, we learnt how to save. The little we had, we saved it. We also learnt to enter into contracts; this helps us not to be cheated.”

This news report was made possible with financial support from Global Rights Alert and technical support from Ultimate Media Consult.

Equity Bank Beats COVID-19 Stress To Register 51% Balance Sheet Growth

Financial services provider Equity Group Holdings, which operates the Equity Bank brand in the great lakes region, has weathered the COVID-19 disruption to register a 51% growth in its balance sheet with total assets growing to Kshs1.015 billion up from Kshs674 billion the previous year.

The growth delivered through both organic and merger & acquisition strategies saw the group become the first financial institution to cross the trillion shillings rubicon in East and Central Africa.

The growth has been driven by a 53% increase in customer deposits which grew to Kshs741 billion up from Kshs483 billion, while long-term debt financing grew by 71% to Kshs97 billion from Kshs57 billion with shareholders’ funds growing by 24% to Kshs139 billion up from Kshs112 billion.

Deployment of the 51% growth of funding enabled loans to customers grow by 30% to Kshs478 billion up from Kshs366 billion. Cash and cash equivalents grew by 186% to Kshs247 billion up from Kshs86 billion. Investment in Government securities grew by 26% to Kshs217 billion up from Kshs172 billion.

Net interest income grew by 23% to Kshs55 billion up from Kshs45 billion driven by a 30% growth on customer loan book and 26% growth in investment in Government securities.

Non-funded income grew at 27% to reach Kshs38 billion up from Kshs30 billion to contribute 41% of the total income. Forex trading income grew by 77% to stand at Kshs6.2 billion up from Kshs3.5 billion.

Diaspora remittances commissions grew by 76% to Kshs1.5 billion up from Kshs0.9 billion. Volume of Forex trading increased by 51% to Kshs863 billion up from Kshs571 billion with Diaspora remittance contributing 32% of the volume of forex traded.

Total operating costs grew by 67% to Kshs71 billion up from Kshs42.5 billion driven by a 496% growth in gross loan provision of Kshs26.6 billion up from Kshs5.3 billion in the prior year, increasing the cost of risk to 6.1% up from 1.3% the previous year. The higher loan loss provisions enhanced NPL coverage to 89%.

As part of the Group’s commitment to support lives and livelihoods, keep the lights of the economies on by avoiding massive disruption of economic activities, the Group accommodated Kshs171 billion of loans for customers whose repayment capacity was adversely impacted by Covid-19. This represents 32% of the entire gross loan book of Kshs530 billion.

As at 31st December Kshs40 billion of the restructured loans had resumed repayments and normalized. A deep dive review of the entire Kshs171 billion accommodated loans revealed doubts on the future viability and quality on Kshs9 billion of loans promoting the downgrade of the said doubtful loans to NPL (IFRS 9 Stage 3) increasing the NPL portfolio to 11% up from 10.4% as at 30th September 2020, and 9% as at the end of the previous year and closing the year with 23% accommodated loan book equivalent to 11% of the balance sheet.

The Group’s cost income ratio improved to 48.5% from 51.1% the previous year driven by improvement in cost of funds from 2.9% to 2.8% and enhancement of yields on government securities from 10.1% to 10.7% despite realization of capital gains on the securities trading of Kshs3 billion up from Kshs1.1billion the previous year and 117% growth of mark to market gains to Kshs7.4 billion up from Kshs3.4billion.

Yields on loans declined from 12.6% to 12.4% due to increased suspended interest on increased NPL book and change of loan book mix of local currency to US$ currency to 57%:43% from 64%:36% ratio in favour of the local currency as a result of acquisition and merger of BCDC in DRC and increase of 186% on cash and cash equivalent. The profit after tax contribution from the business outside Kenya grew to 28% from 18%.

The Managing Director and CEO Dr. James Mwangi said: “The previous global pandemic was the Spanish Flu which occurred in 1919, a century back, and hence the world had lost its memory and had to re-learn, adapt and adjust making 2020 an exceedingly difficult and challenging year.

Our corporate purpose of ’Transforming lives, giving dignity and expanding opportunities for wealth creation’ became the guiding compass of the organization’s essence on how to navigate through the crisis and the challenging environment. Our results and performance became a human story of resilience and determination to live an ethical human purpose.”

Kampala Parents Kicks Off Online Teaching Amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

Kampala Parents School recently announced it will start delivering lessons online using the Zoom Application and true to its word, the Ruparelia Group-owned school Tuesday commenced the exercise.

The first beneficiaries of the exercise were the P5, P6 and P7 classes. Classes for Primary Three and Four will start on 29th May 2020; Top Class, Primary One and Two will start on 4th June 2020.

In an interview with CEO East Africa, Kampala Parents School proprietor Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia said that the school had procured 40 internet-connected computers. He said teachers had been trained to use the computers.

“Kampala Parents has always been a proud leader in innovating for our parents and learners. It is difficult to predict when Covid-19 restrictions will end, yet our children must continue being fed with knowledge,” he said.

Dr. Ruparelia said that parents will not incur any extra fees beyond the normal tuition structure. “Learners who had completed their term 1 fees will continue and finish the syllabus at no cost,”

“We also urge those who had not completed doing so, so that the learners may catch up,” he said adding that, beginning on the June 09th the school would open for online Term 2 online lessons, subject to the guidance by the Ministry of Education for learners in Primary Seven.

Because of the COVID19 pandemic, President Yoweri Museveni in March closed all school and learning institutions and have remained shut with no sure date of their reopening. This has meant that students and pupils are not learning. 


Prudential Supplements Govt COVID -19 Food Relief Efforts With Shs300m Donation

The ongoing lockdown measures designed to curb the spread of Covid-19 have adversely affected vulnerable communities’ members who survive by accessing urban centres every day for their livelihood, Arjun Mallik, MD, Prudential East Africa, Monday told journalists in Kampala.

He said that while the lockdown measures are being implemented with positive intent, disruption of community member’s routines means some people are going hungry in their home.

And in order to supplement government efforts to provide food relief, and support those most in need, Mallik and Prudential, an insurance firm, announced a donation of Shs300 million towards food relief in the country.

Prudential said the donation will feed the most vulnerable and poor who have been greatly affected by the lockdown, many of whom live on less than a dollar a day and therefore do not have any savings to help them go through this period.

This will be distributed via two organisations: Humanitarian Operations Projects and Emergencies (HOPE) and Heal the Planet Global Organisation (HTP).

Alhaji Kaddunabi Lubega, the CEO, Insurance Regulatory Authority said the outbreak of Covid-19 ‘has highlighted to all of us,’ the need to always be prepared for the unexpected challenges of life.   “I convey my gratitude to Prudential Uganda for standing by Ugandans in this hour of need,” he said.

While receiving the fund on behalf of HOPE, Emmanuel Kashaija, Country Director, appreciated Prudential for supporting the vulnerable slum dwellers in the western region who have been profiled as elderly people, orphan households, pregnant women, street children and the disabled, adding that the food relief will go along way in improving their social and psychological well-being.

Benjamin Kivumbi Earnest, President, HTP, thanked Prudential for the timely response towards helping the slum dwellers around Kampala in the areas of Nsambya, Katwe, Bwaise and Makerere Kivulu, Makindye, Masajja. “These people are in dire need of food and we will work with the local council to make sure food is delivered at their door step,” he said. 

Centre For Budget & Tax Policy Has Suggested These Fiscal Measures To Help Govt During COVID-19

Centre for Budget and Tax Policy (CBTP) has suggested to President Yoweri Museveni ‘bold and drastic fiscal measures’ that when implemented will stabilize the current disruptions that have been caused by coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

These measures by Centre for Budget and Tax Policy will according to a letter from the NGO’s executive director Patrick Katabazi to President Museveni and copied to the Prime Minister and minister of finance will go a long way in setting a firm foundation for future economic recovery. 

“It is therefore paramount that the measures being undertaken currently to avert the spread of the infection are matched with social protection measures to cushion the population through this period by smoothening consumption patterns among the poor and vulnerable,” Katabazi wrote to the president.

And with the biggest working population in the country not being able to go to work because of the directives by the president, Katabazi notes that curtailing this labour supply has dire consequences on households. He said that the drastic fiscal measures they are proposing will support both poor and non-poor during this period.

“These unprecedented measures are necessary to stabilize the current disruptions that have been occasioned by the impact of the COVID-19. They may seem radical but we implore the government to look at them critically and either adopt them or improve them,” he added.

To begin with, Centre for Budget and Tax Policy wants the government to improve the Senior Citizens Grants programme to cover older people from the age 60 years something that will increase the number of beneficiaries from 200, 000 to 1.2m people in rural areas to 300, 000 urban centres. Also, the monthly money paid should increase from Shs25, 000 to Shs50, 000.

By targeting this population, which is 2m, the government will be directly supporting about 10m Ugandans indirectly given that an average household in Uganda has about 5 people, the NGO said, adding that this intervention requires additional funding of Shs257.54bn for at least 4 months. The programme currently costs a total of Shs142.46bn

The NGO wants public servants earning less than Shs500, 000 like teachers, nurses, police officers among others to be given a top-up of at least Shs100, 000. This will cover about 150, 000 people at a cost of Shs45bn. A similar approach according to the NGO should be extended to the formal private sector where workers getting less than 1m are also topped up with Shs100, 000 because they pay PAYE.

Also, it is suggested that people in the informal sector like boda boda riders supported with an income stimulus to avert income disruptions they are facing. And for that needs to liaise with landlords to reduce the pressure on tenants during this period.  

And in recognition of people directly battling the virus in the country like medical workers, security guards and journalists, the think tank says special consideration should be made in form of allowances and insurance cover to the dedicated professionals on the COVID-19 frontline.

Centre for Budget and Tax Policy recommends that government pays its domestic arrears to businesses it owes money and for it to renegotiate with creditors in an effort to restructure the country's public debt portfolio with a view of rescheduling repayment timelines.

The advocacy group is also in support of government releasing payment for pensioners in a timely manner as well a designing a plan for clearing area.

 "The senior citizens are not only vulnerable economically but also highly susceptible to having adverse effects when infected by the virus," it said.

The NGO is of the view that government suspends non-critical projects during this period and also shut down non-essential government business like workshops, traveling abroad, field trips and consumables to save.

Cautious Sudhir Closes Down Hotels As COVID19 Bites Tourism Sector

Businessman Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia, the chairman of Ruparelia Group which owns Speke Group of Hotels, has told CEO East Africa Magazine that they will be closing down Speke Resort and Conference Centre and Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort due to the effects coronavirus disease (COVID19) has had on the economy, particularly the tourism sector.

The closure of the two five-star hotels in Munyonyo takes effect on Friday 27th March 2020 to until when COVID19 has been thoroughly dealt with.  The businessman said other hotels like Forest Cottages in Naguru and Dolphin Suites in Bugolobi will subsequently follow. Kabira Country Club will partly be closed. 

"It is really bad. We have decided to close Speke Resort and the Commonwealth Resort. We will reopen once corona issue I sorted out. For the others like Kabira Country Club, only a small section will remain open," Sudhir told the CEO in a phone interview.

Under the Speke Group of Hotels, Ruparelia Group boasts of the largest and wealthiest chain of hotels, restaurants and apartments in the country. The group also owns Speke Hotel, Rock Bar & Grill, Speke Apartments Wampewo, Speke Apartments Kitante, La Cabana Restaurant, among others.

The Group recently launched the construction of a five-star Speke Resort and Convention Center in Entebbe.

Lost Jobs

The businessman also revealed that about 3000 workers will at this moment lose their employment. Already, 1000 of the 3000 have been relieved of their duties and another 2000 will follow. Group employees 8000 workers in its hotels' chain.

Already, Ruparelia Group has felt the pangs of COVID19 after they were forced to close Kampala Parents School, Kampala International School Uganda and Victoria University following a presidential directive for the country to close all schools.

Many teachers, administrators, services providers were put out of employment until the situation normalizes.

Impact of COVID19

Uganda, as of 26th March 2020, had confirmed 14 cases with no death but a global death toll of more than 10, 000 people had been recorded. Many countries had issued travel bans to their citizens dealing a big blow to the global economy.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni issued a directive that no passenger flight should be allowed in the country or to leave. He also issued a ban on public transport as the country slowly shuts down in an effort to combat COVID19.

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