Uganda: Mining Row In Western Town Leaves Legislators Irked

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Ugandan Legislators on the committee of Environment and Natural resources have asked government to allow artisanal and small-scale miners back into the mines in Buhweju district as they are ironing out issues concerning the closure of their mines by Mineral Protection Police.

The committee led by Kiboga county MP Dr. Keefa Kiwanuka consisting of 16 MPs on Thursday was on a fact-finding mission in the western Buhweju district where they met local leaders both political and civil, artisanal and small-scale miners with their leadership said government should understand that people of Buhweju have been depending on mining for a very long period of time as their source of livelihood and chasing them a way from the mines without proper sensitization will result into serious negative impact on the communities in the district.

MPs on Parliamentary comittee on Environment and Natural Resources led by Buhweju MP Francis Mwijukye and Olive Koyekyenga on thursday to Katenga gold mining site in Buhweju district.PHOTO BY FELIX AINEBYOONA (1)

‘’What government is giving as reasons for evacuation of these people some of it may not be entirely correct, the eviction was based on the assumption that they were not following the law. We have had a meeting at the district headquarters where we interacted with the chairman LC5 and the RDC. It is clear that there is a disagreement between the Chairman LC5 and The RDC on what exactly happened where as they were saying that they followed the law to do the eviction, the chair testifies that actually the eviction was abrupt.’’ Kiwanuka said

Kiwanuka also said the mineral protection unit never informed district leaders when they were going to evict the miners

‘’ They(leaders) did not know about it as leaders and what I found very persuasive about the LC5 was that he actually appealed to the ministry or people involved in the eviction that let them work with him to make sure that they resolve all the problems however the people involved in the eviction did not heed to his advice they just went ahead with the eviction without consultation them.’’ Kiwanuka said.

Kiwanuka added ‘’I find it a very unfortunate situation because over 20000 people who have been evicted now their children cannot go to school because their businesses have been closed. It is a very difficult situation for some people losing Jobs that they have been doing over the years’’

Mr Kiwanuka said since very many people have been getting their livelihood from the business, they should be allowed back into the mines to save the situation as they work on the laws to guide them.

‘’So my most sincere appeal from the bottom of my heart and what we need to ensure at the moment is that the status quo continues that the people be allowed to go ahead with their business while we work on a long term solution which is around legalizing the artisanal miners coming up with a new law and going through all those other nitty-gritty that need to happen’’ Mr Kiwanuka said

He added ‘’ what has happened here is actually a disaster affecting lives of over 20000 people directly but even more dependents that were depending on here so I think an immediate solution has to be found as we work on a much longer-term solution’’

Bukooto East MP Florence Namayanja said Ugandans must all equally share what belongs to them rather than allowing few people to enjoy what rightfully belongs to Ugandans.

‘’Government must know that this country belongs to all of us but not few individuals who want to own everything in this country. People of Buhweju must be allowed to have what belongs to them not depriving them of their rights’’ Ms Namayanja said

One of the mining areas in Katenga mining site were locals were evicted by Mineral Police recently.PHOTO BY FELIX AINEBYOONA (1)

Buhweju woman MP Olive Katwesigye Koyekyenga said government should protect the artisanal miners instead of sending them away because that is where their livelihood comes from.

‘’We want ministry of energy to bring the new law very fast because we need to work on that law because we do not want to see artisanal miners and small-scale miners suffering because they have been there for so many years and there is no way we can do away with them. They get their entire livelihood from the mines so I think we must protect them so that they can exist like other people do’’ Ms Koyekyenga said

Buhweju MP Francis Mwijukye said the mining Act of 2003 does not recognize artisanal miners which needs to be amended but as that is being done people need to have source of livelihood which they have been getting from mining since 1918.

‘’The 2003 law does not recognize artisanal miners but they exist and the case of Buhweju is different because this is not a gazzatted mining area but rather private individuals’ lands that have been taken over, where people have been evicted from their land and so they go where.’’ Mr Mwijukye said

He added ‘’….as that is happening, as we make the law, as the process goes on, people must survive. We cannot chase away people from their survival without providing an alternative way of survival so what the MPs from Buhweju and petitioners are saying is that will go on, we shall support the amendment of the law but as that is going on we request government to appreciate the plight of the people of Buwheju and allow that our people go back to their mining because they have been mining since time in memorial.’’

Buhweju district chairman LC5 Juvenile Asiimwe said the only challenge government has is failure to amend the mining Act of 2003 because it is incurring a lot of losses in the gold industry in Buhweju district as most of the gold is being sold in black market.

‘’Government is making a lot of losses because there are many linkages where you find gold going to Congo because the mining Act of 2003 is not amended. The earlier they amend the law the better’’ Asiimwe said

Asiimwe Mineral Protection police is chasing away locals from mines but they allow foreigners to mine yet there is no existing mining licence in Buhweju district.

“We need investor on board but we need genuine investors. As a district I do not know any mining licence in this district. It means those who are carrying out mining now are either hiding under prospecting licence of exploration licence and these are the Chinese that are allowed by the mineral police to mine as they chase away the locals’’ Asiimwe said

Asiimwe told MPs that when they try talking to the commandant mineral police Ms Jesca Keigomba, she abuses them saying they are blind.

‘’The commandant mineral police have reached an extent of saying that I am blind because I simply try to advise her that you cannot send away people from mining without proper sensitization’’ Mr Asiimwe said

This meeting followed the petition by Buhweju artisanal and small scale miners association on 4th September to parliament challenging their eviction from Mines in Buhweju by mineral police seeking redress from Parliament and on October 18th Buhweju artisanal and small scale miners association leaders appeared before the natural resources committee of parliament which prompted MPs to come on ground.