Govt should operationalize artisanal, small scale miners fund

Gov’t should operationalize artisanal, small scale miners fund

By Carolyne Nakajubi- Amena

In the last two years, the media has been awash with stories of eviction of Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Miners (ASMs) in Bukuya and Kitumbi sub counties in Mubende (now Kassanda) district. For starters, an estimated 60,000 ASMs were evicted from the mines on grounds that their activities were infiltrated by foreigners, illegal and destructive to the environment.   Interestingly, the brutal eviction has turned out to be a blessing in guise for them.  Soon after the eviction, majority of the mining associations that worked individually realized the need for a collective and stronger voice if they were to return to the mines. As a result, Mubende United Miners Assembly (MUMA) was formed to advocate for formalization of ASMs and their return to the mines. Currently, there are 21 mining associations in Mubende and Kassanda districts under MUMA.

As a result of ASMs unity of purpose, in November, 2018 all the 21 mining associations under MUMA applied for and were issued with location licenses by the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM). This means ASMs can now legally return to the mines. Among the associations that have acquired location licences is Mubende Women Gold Miners Associations (MUWOGOMA) – women only mining association.  A location licence according to the Mining Act, 2003 grants local artisanal miners rights to prospect and mine any mineral specified in the licence. The licence is valid for a period not exceeding two years and may be revoked if the licencee doesn’t commence mining activities.

The acquisition of 21 location licences by ASMs is of course a milestone not only to the miners but also civil society organizations that have been supporting them.  However, much as there is excitement amongst artisanal miners, especially women, it could be short-lived as they continue to face the hard reality of raising finances to resume mining operations.

Mining operations are highly capital intensive and thus require a lot of money that many women miners and other ASMs in general lack. Mubende artisanal miners have been out of mining business for two years and thus raising money to resume work is now their biggest challenge. Instead, they still cry out to government to compensate them for the property they lost during the brutal eviction exercise in August 2017.

In Uganda, artisanal gold mining in particular is seen as a highly risky venture akin to gambling, which is not true. It is a big time business. In addition to the risky nature, ASMs do not have the collateral that financial institutions such as banks demand. That is why it is difficult for banks to lend/ finance mining business of ASMs. Limited financial support has condemned majority ASMs into using rudimentary equipment and methods that are destructive to environment which locks the potential that the sector presents. Uganda’s National Development Plan (NDP II) places emphasis on the minerals sectors to provide employment and spur economic growth and development. However, this priority is not translated in terms of government funding to ASMs that are backbone of the sector.

A case in point is Shs 53 bn Uganda Women Entrepreneurial Programme (Women Fund) that was rolled out in 2016 to support women entrepreneurs. However, when women miners in Mubende, Kassanda and Buhweju districts applied for the Funds, they were told that gold mining is risky and requires a lot of money posing a likelihood of failure to pay back. In short, the Women Fund doesn’t finance mining activities.

As a result, women miners in the aforementioned districts have resorted to forming sub groups that can carry out poultry, piggery, handcraft etc. – business that the Women Fund can financially support. It is hoped that profits accruing from these can then be invested in mining activities that they are passionate aboutWhether this will be realized before the license is revoked or expires remains a question.

The Mining and Mineral Policy for Uganda 2018 approved by cabinet last year is cognizant of the challenges ASMs face in accessing credit. As such under objective 5 of the policy, government commits to establish an ASM Fund to support lending schemes and acquisition of licenses for artisanal miners. The Fund should put emphasis and address women specific challenges and concerns in financing mining activities.

That is why government should urgently table Amendments to the Mining Act, 2003 and ensure that the ASM fund is urgently operationalized. This will go a long way in providing access to cheap and affordable finance to artisanal miners, boost investments in the sector, create jobs and spur economic growth and development.

The Author is a Programs Manager at Global Rights Alert (GRA).