Uganda government evicts natives to give mining land to foreigners
The fight over land rights in a gold mining area in Mubende has come to a head, with the artisanal miners vowing to defy a presidential directive that called for their eviction in favour of a certain company, writes CHRISTOPHER TUSIIME.
Landlords, artisanal miners, gold traders and other service providers in the mining areas of Mubende have petitioned President Museveni over an eviction directive he issued to them two weeks ago.
According to John Bosco Bukya, the spokesperson of Ssingo Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners (SASSM), Museveni, in a bid to protect the interests of an investor, Gemstone International, convened a meeting at State House on June 13, 2017, where he called for the eviction of artisanal miners from Kitumbi, Mubende district.
The directive, which was issued through their constituency MP Michael Bukenya, was to be effected immediately. Now, the miners have opposed the move and will not budge regardless of the lapsed deadline.
“We applied, paid all the dues to acquire location licences that allow us to legally operate in Mubende as gold miners. If we are not listened to, we will go to court. We strongly oppose this eviction because it is against what the president promised us during the campaign and during the state of the nation address that he will build for us a gold refinery,” Bukya said.
Also in the petition, which The Observer has seen, the artisanal miners pray that their business gets legalized. They also want a biometric registration exercise for all artisanal miners to be carried out, among other things.
“Out of the 207.8 square kilometres exploration license by Gemstone International, at least five square kilometres are given to artisanal miners to reduce conflicts between local artisanal miners and the investor that government intends to protect,” reads the petition in part.
Emmanuel Kibirige, the general secretary of SASSM, said there are more than 60,000 people who are directly and indirectly benefiting from the mines and their eviction would have far-reaching negative consequences.
“We are not foreigners and at the moment we are being treated as non-Ugandans. Over 60,000 people working in the mines are being threatened with eviction within one week. This is unfair to us,” Kibirige said.
“They are talking about youth unemployment [but] for us we are not begging government for money. Why are they destroying our livelihood? We have created jobs; this is our only source of income.”
Buliga Safuyani, the chairman of the gold buyers in Mubende, asked the government to quickly listen to the cries of the affected people in order to avert possible bloody clashes and also protect their business.
“We fought hard to get a license to operate in Mubende. Currently, we are about 1,000 gold buyers and 99 per cent are youths. What is next for such people when they are evicted? Government should organize these people and give them authority to mine,” Safuyani advised. He added that they buy gold worth Shs 100 million a day. We could not independently verify that figure.
Contacted for a comment, Edwards Katto, the commissioner, directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM), directed this reporter to the president.
We also failed to get a person to talk to at Gemstone International. However, during the launch of the Natural Resource Governance Index, an event that was held at Protea hotel on Wednesday, Onesmus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director and manager, Environment Democracy Programme, faulted the government for deepening this row.
“You can’t wake up one day and tell people that ‘I have given you a week to vacate this land’. It’s a question of livelihood and planning. So, has the government prepared a place where it will put all the 60,000 people?” Mugyenyi told The Observer in a separate interview.
Also, during the launch of the index, Uganda was ranked number 51 out of the 80 countries that were profiled. The ranking, which was done by the Natural Resource Governance Institute, was based on the rule of law, openness of the country in the oil and gas sector, corruption levels and taxation, among other indicators.
In August 2015, Peter Lokeris, the minister of state for Energy and Mineral Development, met with the landlords, miners and leaders to get advice on how mining in Mubende would be legalised.
In this meeting, according to Bukya, the minister advised them to form associations, cooperative societies and legalise them so that they could easily apply for location licenses after the expiry of Gemstone’s exploration license.
The small-scale miners followed the minister’s advice by forming various associations and paying for their licenses, receipts of which The Observer has seen. However, the miners have since not received feedback about the applications.
Gemstone International was granted the exploration license of 207.8 square kilometres on February 20, 2013, and it expired on February 19, 2016. However, a row broke out between the local miners and Gemstone when the license was renewed.
The miners say the move by government contravened Section 30 (1) of the Mining Act 2003, which states:
“The holder of an exploration licence may within three months, before the expiration of such licence, apply for the renewal of the license in respect of an area of land which is not greater in extent than half of the exploration area as at the date of the grant or last renewal licence.”
Now the small-scale miners want the government to retract the directive and issue them with licenses to enable them operate legally in the area.