Michael Bukenya, the Bukuya MP has asked government to compensate thousands of small-scale miners that are being evicted by police from Mubende gold mines.
In a phone interview, Bukenya said the eviction, which started on August 3, has caused huge losses to people who were operating in the mines, adding that many even had operation licences.
“People abandoned their businesses. People lost money. For instance, there was a Sacco that was lending money to people, but those with loans just went back to where they came from. So, those were all losses.”
Bukenya advised that “government should come and compensate whoever has been affected because we see the president giving out millions of shillings and for us we were just doing our own businesses.”
The legislator also argues that those being evicted are not illegal miners as the government has tainted them; rather, they are ordinary gold diggers, who, in January 2016, received a presidential endorsement at the height of the general election campaigns.
Emmanuel Kibirige, the general secretary of Ssingo Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Miners Association (SASSGMA), also said the eviction was unfair for it has caused many economic and social hardships for many families who relied on the trade for a living.
“I have over 20 workers on the mining site and 16 on the processing site. Surely, there is grief and I don’t even know what to tell them. Some of them are asking whether I can go with them wherever my next destination is,” Kibirige told The Observer by telephone.
But according to a statement by the permanent secretary of ministry of Energy and Mineral Development released on August 2, the eviction is intended to rid the area of illegal immigrants who currently pose a security threat to a large licensed miner.
“Government has established the presence of an influx of people amongst whom are foreigners from neighbouring countries and, beyond that, are involved in illegal mining in the areas of Kitumbi and Bukuya sub-counties in Mubende,” Dr Stephen Isabalija wrote.
He added that miners were not only using rudimentary methods such as hoes, spades and basins to extract gold, but “some of them undertake highly mechanised operations such as using bulldozers to excavate the ore, use sophisticated machines to crush and grind ore, and also use mercury and cyanide in the processing of gold that has resulted into environmental degradation and also affected the health and safety of the people in the areas of those mining operations.”
He concluded that for the next three months, all local artisans will be registered so that they could be organised into regulated groups.
“The intervention will be supported by Uganda Police Force, Uganda People’s Defence Forces, Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control under the ministry of Internal Affairs and will be led by ministry of Energy and Mineral Development,” Isabalija wrote.
Kibirige, however, said if government wanted to streamline mining in the area, they should not have started by closing mines. He noted that most miners had already applied for licenses and the ministry of energy had assessed and allowed them to pay processing fees.
“My company and my brother; we are bound to lose over Shs 120m on equipment that we can’t move [from the mines]. We have one acre of land…where we had over 150 tenants paying Shs 30,000 per month,” Kibirige said.
Many miners feel this is another ploy by government to disenfranchise small players in favour of established investors.
In June this year, Museveni met with some MPs from Mubende and an investor, Moses Masagazi of Gemstone International, at State House Entebbe to draw plans on how to protect the investor who claimed artisanal miners were failing his activities.
The president then issued a one-week ultimatum to all small-scale miners to vacate the place, an order that was defied by Mubende MPs and miners themselves until late last week.