No Light At End Of The Tunnel For Mubende Artisanal Gold Miners

Women search in the ruins of what used to be their home and working station PHOTOS BY BAZ WAISWA Women search in the ruins of what used to be their home and working station

On 4th August, 2017, hundreds of Uganda Police Force and Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) officers armed for war descended on villages in Sub Counties of Kitumbi and Bukuya in Mubende district with express instructions to evict and put an end to activities of small scale gold miners in the district.

The orders were issued by government through the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and the Directorate of Immigration. The soldiers and police officers have not left the mines, a month later. The Mining Act and Policy and related land laws don’t favor miners, some of whom used to own land in the gold rich area now being occupied by security forces. The laws of Uganda state that minerals belong to government.

Former ministry of Energy and Mineral Development Permanent Secretary Stephen Isabalija, before being fired last month, said evicting miners was necessary to stop illegal mining, environmental degradation, crime and to restore order for a regulated mining business. The Immigration Department was supposed to deal with foreign illegal miners.

A tractor erases what used to be homes to thousands of artisanal miners in Mubende

The presence of soldiers and police lurking is felt moment you enter Lujinji village in Kitunbi Sub County. They have condoned off the mines and made them inaccessible for any mining business apart for a licensed ‘mzungu’ investor who occupies mines on a hill hundreds of meters away from the Lujinji mines.

Security forces commanded by Col Joseph Balikuddembe, the UPDF 1st Division commander evicted about 60, 000 artisanal gold miners and dealers occupying Kampala, Mukapya, Mukikade, Mukabada, Ewalukwago, Lubaali and Kamusenene gold mines. They proceeded to erase houses that were providing shelter to miners.

Gold Mining In Mubende

The actions of government have burned out the candle of hundreds of artisanal miners who depended on Mubende. The contingent of miners in Mubende came from almost all parts of Uganda once it was known in 2008 that the district which was predominantly agrobased had huge commercial deposits of gold. Even President Yoweri Museveni encouraged them to dig up the mineral when he was on a campaign trail. 

Gold in Mubende attracted experienced artisanal miners from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and other countries to come and make a kill. The experience brought by foreign artisanal gold miners made gold extraction easy. Money started to flow, endlessly.

The more gold that was extracted from Mubende and the more money that was being made increased the more government got aware and interested. Government's first worry was the high number of unregistered foreign miners extracting and selling Ugandan gold but not paying taxes to government despite making loads of money. This influx, according to government officials, influenced the decision to evict the miners.

Numerous negotiations between miners and government over the years have yielded no positive result for miners who knew they were living on borrowed time and that it would soon be depleted and they would be evicted.

Zziwa Edward Amooti Birungi, the Deputy Chairperson Mubende District Local Council said in an interview last week said government then laid a strategy to evict all these foreign miners so that they can go back to their countries.

A police officer shows reporter the list of people who still have properties they are going to pick

The eviction didn’t spare Ugandans too as everyone was asked to vacate the mining camps and return to wherever they came from. Indigenous residents of Mubende district were evicted from the mining camp too and not allowed to return to the camp but remain in their homes and to also find other jobs.

While foreigners could run back to their countries, hundreds of Ugandans were left jobless and with shuttered lives as Josephine Bashaba, 32, married and a mother of four children explains.

 “I couldn’t fail to get food, school fees and money to take my children to hospital whenever they fell sick. God had blessed us,” Bashaba, who used to own various gold pits and rental houses, narrates revealing that the lowest amount she could make a day was Shs50, 000.

“MPs have told us that the mines will be opened but seeing what is happening, it will not be so we are planning to go back to our villages.” a withdrawn Bashaba, who migrated from Masaka district, southern Uganda, to make the gold gifted Mubende her home said. She was looking for anything of value in the ruins of what used to be her work station demolished by the army.

Joblessness, Crimes Looms Over Mubende

Zziwa, also Mubende district secretary for production, marketing and natural resources explained during a visit to his office by journalists coordinated by Global Rights Alert, an NGO working to promote good governance of Uganda's natural resources, said that mines offered employment to youth who now are now idle and might turn to crime to survive.

Gold mines lie flat after the pits were covered by UPDF officers

“Many people were jobless but went to be employed in the mines. Because of the mines they were able to take care of their families. Now, after the evictions, people are loitering everywhere doing nothing yet some had been evicted from their land.” zziwa stated.

Munir Kiryowa who works as Community Based Monitor for Global Rights Alert (GRA) shares Zziwa’s concerns. “Some former miners are still here idle; they might even start stealing and robbing people. Reports of missing motorcycles are beginning to emerge,” Kiryowa, also working with police as a crime preventer, said adding that people came from as far away as Busia in eastern Uganda, Mbarara, Ntugamo in southern Uganda to work in the mines.

He explained that jobs and businesses were lost and that people lost their property because they were not given enough time to move away. Gold buyers licensed by government had SACCOS and Kiryowa reveals that they were not given time to collect money from their clients who were working in the mines.

Matters are not any better for Alex Ssentale who was born in Lujinji village. He supplied food, water and other services to the miners in Lujinji. Ssentale, who dropped out of school in primary two, and now is 27 years old, has no skill to enable him get a job. His only source of money to take care of his young family has been the mines which are no more.

"We welcomed people in this village and we were happy to sell them our food and other things they demanded as they worked in the mines, survival was easy but now we are doomed as you can see,”

Kiryowa explaining how gold pits (holes) are dug and explaining how rocks that have gold look like

We had not prepared for this, he says, explaining that they had not prepared their gardens for the planting season because they were earning a living from the gold mines. “We feel bad but we have nothing to do,” a lamenting Ssentale says.

Like the case is for most mining communities, children find themselves offering cheap labor to support their families. Paul Byakatonda who studies at Victoria Primary School in P2, he looks 11 or 12 years, visibly old for his class, has been a sweeper in the mines. A venture which earned him averagely Shs20, 000 per day; money she used to buy books and pay school fee since his father, a miner, had abandoned the family.

He had saved some money and bought a pig, making him one of the youngest prospecting entrepreneur farmers in the village, now his source of income was erased shattering his baby dreams.

Martin Lubega, 25, and a senior four dropout was another miner affected by the evictions despite investing about Shs40m in the mining business together with his five friends. He says he lost the money just like all other miners who were evicted.

We didn’t rescue anything; he utters the words with sadness explaining that they have been a family in the business of mining gold. “Some people sold their land and cattle or acquired loans from banks and money lenders to invest in the mines. We don’t want government help anymore; they are the same people who are making us cry.”

Byakatonda has been earning Shs20, 000 a day, now he won't

Like Lubega, Sula Kisungula, who was tipsy in the afternoon sun, lost everything, looks dejected and hopeless. He probably finds solace in taking alcohol since he has a lot of time and idle. Kisungula blamed leaders of associations they had created for conniving with government to hoodwink them. ‘They should have warned us.” he laments saying they have nothing left.

Dirisa Ssenyonyo has however not lost all the hope, he now wants government to give a small part of the mines to small scale miners and tax them so that they can continue with their business alongside the heavy moneyed investors.

One of the many mothers whose life depended on the mines Jalia Mbabazi noted that she has never seen what was done the day the army and police stormed the village to drive miners out of the mines.

She blames the leaders of Mubende because ‘they were notified but they didn’t tell us so government thought that we had refused to vacate the mines. If they had notified us, we would have saved some of our properties.

UPDF Protecting Uganda’s Minerals

Lt Col. James Kasule, Uganda People’s Defense Forces operation commander, whom we found at the camp in his brief to the journalists who visited the mines said they came to evict people from the illegal mining area to prepare way for those licensed to come and do business.

UPDF officers seen inside one of the now former mining camp

"We are here to protect minerals of Uganda which was being stolen by foreigners. By the time we came, political leadership and other authorities had done the talking and all negotiations. We can’t be blamed for being here and protect the minerals of Ugandans.

The operation to drive out the artisanal gold miners was a joint operation with Uganda Police. SP Alex Muhumuza of Uganda Police Force in his brief said the miners 'knew they are here illegally and temporary that is why you see no permanent structures'.

"As security organs, we have no problem with any Ugandan or foreigner who come here in Uganda legally. We are here to protect them. Our coming here was in phases involving local government and parliament and guided by the law.

Over 70 foreigners were arrested and imprisoned for illegally dealing in gold. Muhumuza says Ugandans were dealing in petty businesses while foreigners were taking gold illegally.

One of the high tech motorized gold processing machine used by foreign miners in Mubende

The officers denied allegations that they mistreated people when evicting them. While many people we talked to said they were not harassed by the soldier, one youth should journalists wounds he claims were inflicted on him the soldiers. Earthfinds couldn’t verify the claims.

President Museveni long time friend and former bush war hero Ms Gertrude Njuba, a former employee of State House reportedly owns 8 square Miles of land in Mubende gold mines and has interests in the AUC Mining and Gemstone International Ltd,the two companies having explicit interests in Mubende Gold. The Energy ministry is not clear on who owns the licences for the Mubende mines.

Last modified onMonday, 04 September 2017 08:51

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