Mining Experts Call For Regulations In Uganda’s Gold Rush

Mining Experts Call For Regulations In Uganda’s Gold Rush

Children are quitting school to dig for gold in makeshift goldmines while authorities allegedly turn a blind eye in what has been described as Uganda’s gold rush.

Uganda’s natural resources are being extracted by artisan gold miners who are unregulated. Those who are mining and selling the gold aren’t being taxed, and the government isn’t benefiting, some mining experts say.

At least 250,000 people are mining and dealing in gold in Uganda, according to Stanley Ogwal, a Ugandan Minerals Department official.

“Some of them are involved in mining using crude methods like digging holes in the ground while other sell it to gold dealers and middlemen,” Ogwal said in an AFKInsider interview.

Gold is mostly mined in three Ugandan districts: Mubende, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Kampala; Busia, about 190 kilometers (118 miles) east of Kampala; and Namayingo, 170 kilometers (106 miles) east of Kampala.

It’s difficult to quantify how much gold is mined in Uganda because it’s not officially recorded, Ogwal told AFKInsider.

”We have no records. Those who sell and mine it do not keep records but according to the information we get, it is a substantial amount. In a year it could be thousands of kilograms,” Ogwal said.

A “good number” of children have abandoned school and are now involved in activities related to mining gold, according to Muhamad Onyango, a local leader in Namayingo district.

”We have a problem of children dropping out of school so that they get involved in mining gold,” Onyango said in an AFKInsider interview. “They are mostly hired to wash the soil suspected to be containing particles of gold and they earn some money every day.”

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Some parents in impoverished households encourage children to mine, Onyango said.

On a good day, James Mambule said he can mine gold worth 2 million Uganda shillings (about $700 US.)

A miner in Mubende district, Mambule said miners are doing their work without any disturbances from police or other authorities.

“I have been working in this gold mine for about two years,” he told AFKInsider. “We have never been disturbed by authorities.”

“Not every day is good for us,” Mambule said. “You can take a few days without hitting gold but once you get it you earn a reasonable amount of money.”

For Uganda’s mining sector to develop, the country needs to lure investors from other countries, said Elly Karuhanga, chairman of the Ugandan Chamber of Mines and Petroleum. Karuhanga spoke Feb. 24 in Kampala at an ambassador’s forum, where he met with diplomats to talk about harnessing mineral exploration.

If mineral exploration is not handled well, it could result in environmental degradation and loss of life, just like it has done in other mineral-rich nations, Karuhanga said.

‘We have a gold rush in Eastern Uganda and Central Uganda. If we are not careful, there will be bad effects of a gold rush in Uganda like there was in South Africa where foreigners  rushed there and took over mineral fields,” Karuhanga said.

Left unregulated, crude methods used to dig gold are an accident waiting to happen, he said.

”Recently in South Africa miners were trapped while at 3000 feet underground. They stayed there for several days and when they were rescued, other miners joined them in a strike,” Karuhanga said. “We do not want such to happen in Uganda.”