Over 500 artisanal gold miners gathered at Lujinji mining site in Mubende district to meet the Presidential Advisor on land matters left the venue disappointed after the aide failed to show up, saying she was ‘held up by other state duties’.
According to Robert Sempowo, the chairman Mubende artisanal miners, the miners had secured an appointment with Ms Flora Kiconco, the presidential legal advisor on land, to share with her the challenges they face as well as their operations.
But explaining Ms. Kiconco’s failure to turn up, Edward Senkusu, the Community Development Officer Kitumbi of sub county, told the miners Ms. Kiconco had been held up by other state duties.
“We have received a communication from the presidential advisor that she won’t be able to appear for the meeting because she is caught up with other state matters therefore postponing the meeting,” Mr. Sempowo said, sending the miners in a bout of frustration and anger.
“We have been forced to suspend our work because we are law abiding citizens that need to stream line the course of our work. We really need government to listen to our side of the story other than favouring one investor, a move that has left us jobless.” Peter Lukwago, one of the miners, said while expressing disappointment with the authorities.
Lukwago added that the news about the presidential directive of eviction left them in fear.
“Few people go into the pits in search for gold. Few people are buying new stuff for their shops. Business is no longer booming because we can’t invest much capital for fear of being chased away from the mines,” he said.
The presence of potential gold deposits in Kassanda Sub County in Mubende district was first established by the British colonial government in the 1920s. Then, in the late 1990s, regular visits by potential investors with big plans alerted locals to the existence of a valuable mineral in their midst, and soon Ugandans from other parts of the country were flocking the area to start small-scale operations as illegal miners.
Many people who were previously unemployed or underemployed from the streets of Kampala and from as far Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have continued to come into this area. This has led to a gold rush with miners, washers, middlemen, buyers and exporters, all camping in the area to do business.
But in early July, the President Museveni allegedly issued a presidential directive to have over 500 artisan gold miners displaced from the mining area of Mubende in favour of Gemstones International Mining Company. The company holds the location license for the area, but had allowed the artisan miners to operate in the same area for some time.
This however changed; worried that the miners may encroach on all the gold, the company reportedly sought government’s protection to recover all the land for which they hold a license. Government officials, majority from the Ministry of Energy are said to have advised the President accordingly, who in turn allegedly ordered for the eviction of the local miners.
Meanwhile, there are reports indicating that the miners, all of who derive their livelihood from artisan gold mining, applied for the location license of the area two years ago, when they learnt of the expiry of Gemstone’s first license. They however did not get the license, but Gemstone did again.