Artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMs) have called for equal treatment in the mining industry in Uganda, citing lack of enough support form the government.
The call came as many artisanal miners complained of being bumped off exploration areas, and also being ignored during policy formulations.
A recent study by the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and UNDP revealed that artisanal and small-scale miners in Uganda are estimated to be around 500,000 and they are responsible for over 90 per cent of the entire mineral production in the country, hence the need to treat them fairly.
Francis Mwijukye, a member of parliament for Buhweju county in western Uganda, is one of the legislators at the forefront of this fight to ensure that the rights of artisanal miners are not violated.
“First of all, we need to appreciate as a country that small-scale mining in most of these communities is not just a business but a way of life. As we wait for a law to come and regulate the miners, specifically the artisanal miners, we must let them survive. The government should let them mine as we prepare the law.”
David Sebaggala, an official from the department of Geological Survey and Mines at the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, has, however, called for artisanal miners to make conscious steps into formalizing their activities in order to meet legal requirements.
“While small-scale and artisanal miners await government intervention, the government should also find them prepared, ” Sebaggala said.
At the 2020 conference held in December 2020 in Mbarara, the item top on the agenda of the miner was miners through their umbrella body Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (UGASM) along with civil society actors presented recommendations to the government that they believe will steer the mining sector forward.
John Bosco Bukya, the chairman of the Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners (UGASM), called for government to put as much effort to the mining sector as it does to others.
“Mining is capital-intensive. We want to acquire modern equipment and move away from rudimentary tools. The government should support us the same way they are supporting agriculture,” he said.
Civil society groups have also joined the artisanal miners in their call for better treatment. At the forefront of this drive is the African Center for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP) that has since 2019 brought together artisanal miners for the Uganda artisanal small-scale Miners and Quarrying conference to discuss problems facing the sub sector.
Don Bwesigye Binyina, the executive director of ACEMP, said that “at least 87 per cent of developmental minerals like construction minerals and materials in Uganda are produced by artisanal and small-scale miners and they have been hit by the coronavirus disease pandemic since construction projects stalled at some point.”
According to Binyina, Uganda is one of the top countries with the most artisanal miners. “Generally, over 90 per cent of the entire mining sector is run by artisanal and small-scale miners. The government needs to work with them to secure licenses to formalize their work in order to ensure that they are not seen as illegal miners and have legally secured mineral rights.”
Mwijukye said that since there is no law in place to regulate artisanal miners, it defeats common sense to persecute them. At the conclusion of the 2020 conference, artisanal and small-scale miners came up with resolutions that they believe would ease government’s position on their status. They talked of putting in place a fund to finance their operational costs.