Marble mining and manufacturing is cycling up in Karamoja.
A small factory, the size of a warehouse, nestled behind Mt Moroto, right in the middle of the eastern Karamoja sub-region, is now one of the most powerful marble factories in the East African region.
Large deposits of marble are being mined at Nanyidik, Rupa Sub-county in Moroto district in the mineral-rich Karamoja by Sunbet, a Chinese company. House finishes with marbled floors, countertops and balconies have become a great attraction for real estate developers because they offer sophistication.
Adjacent to the marble quarry is the factory that is adding value to the mineral by making marbled floor tiles, kitchen countertops and balcony stands. All these products are either sold locally or exported to China, USA, Italy and Germany.
According to Sun Zheng Zhong, the Sunbelt managing director, the marble factory has changed lives of many people living around the mines.
“Currently, we employ 120 Ugandans within the mine and factory, all of who are locals. Of those, 80 are permanent staff and 40 are non-permanent. The 15 Chinese nationals who work within, do so in supervisory capacity,” Zhong told an on-the-ground site visiting team from the Uganda Media Center (UMC) on June 8. The allure of marble is not a myth. This writer visited various construction sites including one in Bweyogerere and interviewed some builders.
“A house that does not incorporate marble in its finishes is very old-fashioned,” Willy Ssempira, a builder at a construction site in Bweyogerere, said when asked why more Ugandans are using marble to put finishing touches on their houses.
“Ever since we started production, the demand has been high, from 1,000 tonnes of stone we mine in a day, we produce around 40 tonnes of tiles and other by-products which are transported to Kampala by trucks but due to Covid-19 we have had to limit our operation to working on orders only,” Zhong said through a company translator, Obed Kansiime.
A lot more effort has been put into easing the lives of the people in the surrounding community especially those who are also actively participating in the mining. It is reported that Sunbelt acquired 3.3km of their factory land through a lease and to ease tension with the community, the company had to make some concessions.
To this effect, Sunbelt Mining Company has managed to build solar-powered valley dams to provide the animals of the local pastoralists with water.
A 15-kilometre road coupled with bridges at river crossings has also been built to ease the movement of locals from their homes to the nearby markets. Many of the locals who actively mine marble sell it to the factory and are compensated for their contribution every fortnight.
Marble can also be made into calcium carbonate powder and around eight kilometres east of the sunbelt factory lies a plant called Mia Marble.
The powder can be used to make paint, fertilizers and cement. Mia marble sells most of its powder to Sadolin paint and Global paint. The Marble industry has met a few obstacles along the way. Both Sunbelt and Mia use generators as a source of electricity for their factories, which spikes their operational costs. Lack of extensive communication infrastructure makes coordination of activities very hard.
According the deputy resident district commissioner of Moroto, Eko Edward, “Government has started the process of extending high-voltage power to Karamoja to power the factories that are coming up as a result of the discovery of minerals in this region. We want to see a situation where raw materials are not transported out of Karamoja to other regions for processing.”
A 132KV power substation is being built in Okwakwa village in Nadunget Sub-county in Mororto district to help supplement the inadequate power supply in the region and reduce production costs for Sunbelt, Mia Marbles and other companies like Tororo cement, which have their footprints in Karamoja.
According to the site engineer, Rogers Kayompatho, this project is a timely intervention for Karamoja.
“This line runs from Opuyo in Soroti to this substation in Moroto. Civil works are currently at 70% and as you can see, we have finished with the Gauntry towers. We are pacing our work because it was slowed down by rain and the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
The finished substation will supply power to Moroto Katakwi, Kotido, Amudat and Kaabong and the vast marble mining belt in Karamoja subregion.