The registration of artisanal and small-scale miners country wide has commenced as part of the streamlining and formalization of the industry.
The miners, estimated to number between 1 and 3 million have faced challenges ranging from the suspension of activities by the government to being labeled an illegal business and evictions for large-scale investors.
Some miners have however been skeptical about the intentions of the registration plan, fearing that it could expose them to unfavorable government policies, which may include relocating them from their mineral-rich lands, and taxation.
The biometric registration exercise is being conducted by the Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP) which was contracted by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in 2019.
The same organization was also tasked to review the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Management Strategy, undertake capacity building, organize training, formalize the sector and provide a platform for the sustainable development of the ASMs in Uganda.
“We are telling you to register and form cooperatives or associations because, at the end of the day, you would have to be legal to operate. We are going to get rid of illegal miners who do not have these requirements,” says Don Bwesigye, ACEMP Executive Director.
Bwesigye says that this is not only helping the government to organize the industry but also makes it easy for the miners to be heard in case they have a grievance.
“We are trying to elevate artisanal miners to the point where we can lay down our tools and government realizes that 3 million Ugandans have lost their livelihoods,” he says.
The launch of the exercise was part of the annual activities under the Artisanal and Small Scale Mining Conference under the theme: Formalizing Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining to Enhance Productivity, Sustainability, and Compliance.
The miners are happy that finally, they are beginning to be recognized. John Bosco Bukya, the Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (UGAASM) says for example, that the Mining (Amendment) Bill 2021 has responded to most of their concerns though not all.
But the miners are worried that they have not been given priority in implementing government policies.
Bukya says for instance, that they have not been included in the recent government wealth creation projects like Emyooga even though mining is among the strategic sectors in the National Development Plan III.
Gulu City East MP Rev Father Charles Onen says it is such approaches that have seen the foreign investors take over sites that were supposed to be operated by locals.
“I have noticed, instead of supporting the local investors, we are interfering with their work and supporting foreign investors. In Laroo, Chinese have finished the rocks, and ferrying them to Arua,” Onen says.
He is, however, hopeful that the current ongoing reorganization will bring together the local players and make it easy for them to have a single and strong voice and build their capacity.
The Chairman of the UGAASM Western Region Deusdedit Bainomugisha said the new licensing regime has enabled them to acquire a 35 square kilometer block to explore for minerals.
However, the worry is the increasing continued smuggling of Tin out of the country, which Bainomugisha blames on the continued ban on the exportation of the unprocessed minerals since 2015.
In the West, artisanal and small-scale miners in Buhweju were also victims of the evictions by the government, but have now been resettled and allowed to continue with their activities.
Their counterparts in Karamoja are being disrupted by the resumption of the offensives by the UPDF against cattle rustlers.
The Vice-Chairperson for the Karamoja chapter, John Bosco Logwe says when some of the miners see soldiers moving towards the areas, they assume that they are going to evict the miners and some abandon their plans.
Unfortunately, according to him, rustling activities are common in the mining areas and some places are inaccessible without armed security.
The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development is aware of the need to include artisanal and small-scale miners in the mainstream economy.
Biometric registration is one of the steps towards ensuring full formalization of the sector because it will be easy to tell who is included in the 90 percent population involved in the mining sector.
Agnes Alaba, Director Geological Survey and Mines says without registration it would be impossible for the government to adequately include the miners in any programs, including the NDP.
Alaba says that one of the main achievements in the Bill now before parliament is the ring-fencing of the artisanal and small-scale mining activities for Ugandans.
The miners also expressed relief that the even complaints against the Mineral Police Protection Unit are fading as the management is now usually in close contact with the ministry officials.