February 10, 2014

Mineral Curse Hits Karamoja

HRW Africa researcher, Maria Burnett (L) and Daniel Bekele, addressing journalists at Makerere
HRW Africa researcher, Maria Burnett (L) and Daniel Bekele, addressing journalists at Makerere

The mineral boom in Karamoja is slowly turning into a curse rather than a blessing, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

While launching a report on the state of minerals in Karamoja at Makerere Guest House recently, Daniel Bekele, the HRW African Director noted that whereas government has opted to develop mining in Karamoja region, there are several challenges that still need to be overcome.

“Mining development could be a real boom to the people of Karamoja, bringing jobs and better security, services, and basic infrastructure,” Bekele said.

“But unless government and mining companies take action to address people’s rights, mining could do more harm than good.”

In the 140-page report titled ‘How Can We Survive Here? The Impact Of Mining On Human Rights In Karamoja, Uganda’, HRW points out the exclusion of Karimojongs from making decisions over their land as one of the most pressing rights abuses in the mineral rich area.

“We discovered that the companies have failed to secure free, prior and informed consent from the local communities before they start operations on communal land despite the law requiring so,” Maria Burnett, the HRW senior Africa researcher said.

“People told us companies accompanied by soldiers usually go to their gardens or homesteads and begin taking soil samples without their consent.”

The report also highlighted that whereas government continues to issue mining certificates to companies, little or nothing at all has been done to give locals certificates of customary land ownership.

“The company officials just come from Kampala with mining certificates and begin work. It’s only until they meet resistance from the locals that they try to engage them,” Burnett added.

Matters are also not helped by the fact that most parts of Karamoja have been given out to mineral speculators.

Currently, there are three major mining companies in Karamoja— East African Mining, Jan Mangal, and Dao Uganda.

Gold mineBut according to Simon Peter Nangiro, the chairperson Karamoja Small Scale Miners Association, these companies’ presence is yet to effectively contribute to the wellbeing of the locals.

“Jan Mangal for instance fenced off 64.4sqkm of land and so people can’t use it for grazing yet that is our livelihood,” Nangiro said.

“It also pumps 1000 litres of water from the only seasonal river in the area and since their machines run for seven hours, that’s 7000 liters drawn per day.”

“We’re worried, our animals may have no water when the drought comes,” Nangiro said.

He added that some of these speculators even claim ownership of locals’ land yet they only have surface rights.

Recently, a few Karimojong elites, the minerals minister and area MPs had to intervene and sensitise people that the mining companies do not own land on which they work, but simply have surface rights.

Nagiro revealed that Jan Mangal only employs 33 local potters; majority being Indians, while DAO employs only one local driver and the rest of the workers are Egyptians.

“This leaves out the locals and so we’re actually wondering whether our people cannot be trained to do simple tasks like operating basic machines,” Nangiro said.

“We find this unfair and a violation of our right to employment.”

Simon Peter Nangiro, Chairperson Karamoja small scale miners association
Simon Peter Nangiro, Chairperson Karamoja small scale miners association

But as the locals grapple with lack of jobs, Nangiro says they are not content with the prices offered for the minerals.

He revealed that a 7-tonne truck of marble costs a paltry Shs40,000 despite incessant cries from locals that the price be pushed to shs80,000 per truck.

At worst cases, unscrupulous dealers offer locals pints of crude waragi in exchange for the minerals, according to Nangiro.

As a result, many miners are emaciated and afflicted by respiratory diseases as they feed poorly and work for long hours using heavy sledge hammers— albeit without any protective gear.

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