Blood in Uganda’s Artisan Gold Mining

November 18, 2013 3:22 pm0 comments by:


Death and fear is what welcomes one to Acerer gold mining site in the remote Karamoja region of north eastern Uganda.
The gold mining site located 450 kilometers north east of the capital Kampala is controlled and managed by former catle rustlers.
About 3000 former cattle rustlers who lost their livelihood when the Government of Uganda launched forceful disarmament excercise 11 years ago have found an alternative source of income by engaging in illegal gold mining.
Following the discovery of gold in Acerer, hundreds of youths locally known as ‘karacunas’ have migrated to Nakapiripirit district with the hope of eking a living from mining gold.
But as the gold rush gains momentum, criminal gangs who are mostly former cattle rustlers have also moved in to cash in on the new discovery.
At the mining site armed gangs usually raid at the close of the day’s business and order the miners to surrender whatever they have collected.
“Our biggest problem is the ‘adwii’ (a kiswahili word for enemies) they usually attack us in the evenning with guns, beat us up and take away the gold” remarks 30-year-old Simon Lomonyang who is contemplating abandoning the work in the mine because of insecurity.
“Getting in and out of this place is increasingly becoming impossible because of the armed thugs who wait for people along the way with the aim of stealing gold or money” explains Lomonyang a victim who has fallen twice in the ambush where he was tortured and his gold taken.
Killings in the mine
“These ‘adwii’ have made life hard here they have killed ten people so far who include the miners and the gold dealers. The latest victim is a Somali gold dealer whom they shot from over there and took his money and gold” explains a miner who only indentified himself as Lodiya.
Lodiya believes the insecurity has led to low demand for gold because prospective buyers now fear reaching the mining site which is located in the wilderness.
“The ‘musubusi’ (dealers) used to follow us up to the site here and they would buy our gold at a good price for example a point used to cost 5000 shillings but now it has fallen to 3500 shillings” Lodiya believes the armed thugs could be serving the interests of some particular gold dealers by scaring away others.
68-year-old Augustine Kem of Lorengdwat parish who has been juggling between cattle rustling and mining gold from the site since 1982 explains that in the past they used to carry guns for protection.
“When i started working here in 1982 we would carry guns as well for protection and things were not as bad as today where we are attacked anytime of the day” Kem believes its middlemen who are profiteering from the insecurity in the mining site.
“Kenyans used to walk for seven kilometers up to the mining site here and buy our gold but now days they have scared them. They now give their money to middlemen who wait for us from Acerer trading center seven kilomters away to buy on their behalf” explains Kem who says the middlemen have taken advantage of the insecurity to cheat them.
“They (middlemen) tell the real businessmen not to go the mining site that they will be killed and as a result the demand for gold has now gone down” Kem wants government to protect the miners by deploying security officials in the area.
A first time visitor to the mining site is warned by the residents of Acerer trading center to get an armed guard or locals to help minimize the risk of geting harmed by thugs as one walks through the wilderness for seven kilometers to the mining site.
Who owns the mines
According to Augustine Kem who plies his tade in Moru Akimat mining area a majority of the miners are former cattle rustlers who were deprived off their livelihood by the government forceful disarmament.
Kem says the rustlers after losing the guns had to find an alterntive source of livelihood by engaging in mining. He explains that the mines are communally owned and anyone is free to join without any registration.
Kem says government has so far not made any attempt to regulate their activities. He says government officials and a group of whites visited them only once and advised them to form groups so that they can be helped.
He however says the group is yet to return to the mine.
Who to Blame
The police in the area blame the insecurity on business rivalry among gold dealers.
Uganda’s Commissioner for Mineral Exploration Ernest Rubondo, could not be reached for a comment but a senior official in the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development who declined to be named says the group is carrying out their activity illegally.
The official explained that for one to engage in artisan gold mining one has to get a location licence. He says the location licence is granted for a period of two years.
According to the official any company prospecting for minerals is supposed to be 51% owned by Ugandans.
The mining Act 2003 states that no person may explore or prospect for, or retain or mine or dispose of any mineral in Uganda except under, and in accordance with, a licence issued under the Act.
The Act spells out punishment for a person who contravenes to a fine not exceeding twenty five currency points, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both.
In Uganda, however artisan mining is mostly unregulated.

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