Uganda’s Gold rush: Costing the nation its next generation
The River Okame, which lies 500 kilometres from Kampala, Uganda’s capital, keeps a very public secret on its banks. The Gold veins that spurn most of the country’s eastern region enter into its banks, and have spurned a dirty illegal industry, that has seen fathers abandon families and children abandon school in the search for an easy payout.
The River Okame is found in Buteba sub-county Busia district on the border with Kenya.
Busia district is one of the 4 gold mining districts in Eastern Uganda the others being Namayingo, Bugiri and Mayuge districts. And in Busia every morning, 10-year-old Joseph Mangeni stands barefoot on the banks of this river filtering gold in one of its muddy streams.
Mangeni does not go to school and is actually employed by his father in their small gold mining Business.
His father Antonio Masinde, says that the ten-year-old regularly attends school, something neighbours and teachers in Ajuket primary school, dispute and reject as a lie.
It’s just business
One of the teachers Annette Nekesa says that most boys in the school have abandoned education, and actually prefer to work in the gold mines.
“[In] gold mining, they get quick money unlike at school where teachers want them to pay money for scholastic materials and food,” Nekesa says.
She says, there is nothing in Buteba sub-county and other rural areas, which can keep students in school since the teachers and parents, who would have encouraged them to seek education, are also involved in gold mining.
This is the environment that has forced over 2.7 million children in Uganda into children labour and according to a report by Uganda’s ministry of gender, labour and social development, Joseph Mangeni, is one of the 1.7 million who are involved in the most hazardous form of Child labour.
A Crime everyone ignores
It’s illegal for children under the age of 12 to work in Uganda, according to the country’s 2006 Employment Act.
Children ages 12 to 14 can engage in light work, under adult supervision, during daytime hours after school.
Government officials can also prohibit children from working if they choose to do so in writing.
On the other hand, Uganda’s children act states that children should not take part in employment or activities that endanger their health, education or development.
Anybody who exposes children to these activities would be jailed for 6 months and also subjected to a fine.
However, this fine print appears to have been ignored when it comes to the illegal and unregulated artisanal mining industry.
Research done by the Netherland based Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) found that of the 50,000 artisanal miners in Uganda; over 30 percent are children.
This means that there are over 15,000 Ugandan children are involved in artisanal mining, an illegal industry that produces over 2.8 tonnes of gold per year.
The majority of Uganda’s artisanal gold mining is unlicensed and the production is therefore not reflected in national statistics.
Uganda’s industrial mines closed down in the 1970s and today most of the gold coming out of Uganda is mined illegally and then the bulk is exported to the United Arab Emirates.
When I was allowed to speak to Joseph by his parents, we took a long walk and during this walk, Joseph who spoke in his native Samia language (widely spoken on the Kenya- Uganda border) said he actually doesn’t miss going to school with his friends because all his friends work in the mines, and they even play together when their parents don’t assign them work.
Asked why he likes to work in the mines, Joseph said he gets paid and every day he gets to buy anything he wants with the money he is given, and he doesn’t have to beg anyone for money.
Joseph walks to the mining site a distance of about 5 kilometres every morning. At the site, Joseph says his father assigns him and his mother with the job of grinding the gold rocks he digs from underground into dust, then they use mercury or cyanide is used to make the gold dust in the tailings stick together into one piece. The pieces are then burnt to purify the gold.
The purified piece is then weighed and sold to waiting middlemen who always hang around the mines waiting to buy from whoever hits a jackpot.
Joseph and his family like many of their neighbours are artisanal miners.
This means that they don’t have mining location licences that everyone needs to be able to mine explore minerals in Uganda.
According to the Commissioner in charge of the Eastern region at Uganda’s department of geological survey and mines (DGSM) Nathan Mutsesya, Artisanal miners/small-scale miners are not legally recognized by the law in Uganda.
‘’In Uganda, all minerals no matter where they are, belong to the government, and people who own land that has minerals only have surface rights on that land and need a license from the government to mine what is underground’’ He says.
The government conveniently ignores artisanal miners because they do not have the capacity to exhaust all the gold in the ground.
However, because these districts have no job or business opportunities the economic activity in itself offers a way out for many.
The governor of the central bank Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile at a press conference in 2016 wondered where the gold Uganda was exporting came from when he realized the country was exporting more as much gold as its largest export i.e. coffee, yet there was no sizeable gold mining operation in the country.
Official figures from Bank of Uganda (BOU) show that the country earned at least $300m (Shs 1tn) from gold between January and October in 2016, slightly lower than what was got from coffee, the country’s main cash crop export.
This was a 740 percent rise compared to what was earned last year, where total gold exports were $35.7m. Uganda earned around $340m in coffee exports over the last ten months.
However, these huge figures don’t even reach the children whose lives are put in danger daily in the process of extracting this gold.
The district information officer Busia district Moses Mangeni says children like Joseph are paid between Shs 1,000 and 2,000 for every basin of gold stones pounded into powder with gold.
‘’So, how much money is that compared to the child’s education,” Mangeni Asks. “If the situation continues like this, the district will be affected more in the near future.” He warns.
Mr Mangeni’s warning is not restricted to just his district, the neighbouring Namayingo district which has some of the biggest mining camps in Eastern Uganda the district’s community development officer Samuel Balyejusa says he has had a continuing fight with the miners at Nakudi mining camp over the same issue.
‘’If us as the government, we don’t take interest in this issue, we are going to lose a generation of children and yet this gold is just here for a time and will be finished.’’ He says.
Balyejusa says that sometimes he deploys police at the mines to ensure that there are no children working in the mines.
‘’Every week I go down there (mines) with the police, and arrest parents who are using their children in the mines, but the moment you fine them, they will be released and they go back to what they were doing before’’ He says.
Health fears, yes but what can we do?
Joseph Mangeni uses mercury oxide to help him extract the gold from the tailings, but while at it, he is exposed to the harmful effects of mercury poisoning, which could result in death.
The World Health Organization (WHO)in a 2014 report on the health effects of mercury on children and women of childbearing age, says exposure to mercury is the biggest health hazard facing small-scale and artisanal gold miners.
The report also exposes a shocking fact, that exposure to mercury can be passed from a mother to her unborn child.
In the report, WHO also warns of threats to the immune system, neurological, and Kidney disorders, all caused by exposure to mercury.
Uganda’s national environment management regulations of 1999 also recognize the harmful effects of mercury and its associated compounds and provide guidelines for the handling as well as transportation of such chemicals. On the other hand, the Uganda Revenue Authority’s customs importation and exportation frameworks are not very clear on mercury oxide. Consequently, mercury oxide is imported into the country illegally and is also smuggled in from Kenya.
Joseph Gyagenda a specialist doctor at St Josephs’ catholic hospital Nsambya in suburban Kampala told this reporter that mercury is a heavy metal that could not easily be absorbed by living organisms, including humans, and could cause permanent mental disability and a range of other conditions.
This is what children in the mines are faced with. Joseph’s father does not seem to see a problem with having his son work with him, even after I pointed out the dangers in terms of health and the fact that the boy should be in school.
He insists he only works there when he is free, and he is able to learn important life skills. ‘’If he doesn’t make money here, where will he go to look for money?’’ He asks.
However, these are not the only hazards that children face every time they walk into an illegal mine for work.
Because of the rudimentary methodology, mounds of tailings stand several meters high lie on the edges of the pits that are sometimes more than 50 feet deep.
A walk around Nakudi mining site in Namayingo district, in Eastern Uganda, shows deep open-abandoned pits littered all over the place. some pits are even obscured by thickets.
“On a rainy day, accidents are imminent as the loose earth simply collapses into the pit,” Lubanga Ronald one of the miners I met at Nakudi states.
When digging tunnels into the ground, the miners do not put re-enforcements on the walls of the tunnels. According to Batambuze Methuselah, the Community Development officer of Budhaya Sub-county in Bugiri district, this can make the walls collapse during the rainy season.
These pits expose children like Joseph who work in these mines to danger every day they show to work.
According to Batambuze, four people have lost their lives after pits collapsed on them.
“People here just mine, and if they find no gold, they abandon the pit and start digging another one without filling the hole created,” Batambuze narrates, adding that even storage of tailings has become a challenge in the area.
These are the things Joseph goes through every day he shows up at the river Okame.
Uganda’s mining policy envisages laws that get children completely out of the mines. unfortunately, it just envisages these laws.
Nathan Mustesya the commissioner in charge of the eastern region says the solution they have now is to bring the artisanal miners into the system
‘’We are working with NGOs like ActionAid to help these miners form associations, we register them, and enforce the laws with positive results. For now, everyone here is on their own and it is hard to punish offenders’’ He says.
According to Mustesya, this will ensure that children are completely kept out of the mines, and will also ensure that things like protective gear for miners are a must.
Maybe an association is the silver bullet that will change the course of an entire generation and get young Joseph back into school.
Editor: In 2006 and 2007, the Uganda’s officially reported gold production was 0.022 (22 kg) and 0.025 tonnes (25 kg), respectively; however, exports in the same years were reported at 6.9 (6,900 kg) and 3.57 tonnes (3,570 kg).42 While the linkages with gold smuggled from neighbouring DRC and exported through Uganda traders were already revealed in 2002 by the UN Group of Experts, there is still a substantial proportion of exported gold seems to be derived from in-country artisanal miners. kg).
According to Uganda’s license register, there are twelve formal small-scale gold mines and four large-scale mines in 2015 (see Table 1). These account for the official gold production statistics in Uganda.
Collins Hinamundi is a top three finalist for Media Monitoring Africa’s Isu Elihle Awards which aim to encourage innovative and insightful reporting on children in Eastern and Southern Africa. This story was produced with the support of the awards and its partners.
Singer Bruno K Exposed For Neglecting His Son, Claims He Only Has One Child
The internet has been abuzz following accusations leveled against Bruno Kiggundu, popularly known as Bruno K, over his alleged neglect of his son, Seth Kiggundu. In a tweet, a user identified as Keith alleged that Bruno K had abandoned his only son, Seth, and only pays attention to his daughter, Briella.
Keith claimed that Vanessa, his best friend, had a baby boy with Bruno K, and the singer had refused to fulfill his parental responsibilities towards Seth. He further accused Bruno of making Vanessa’s life difficult in 2022, which caused her to loathe the singer.
While it is essential to respect the baby’s privacy, it is crucial to hold public figures accountable for their actions, especially when they involve the welfare of children. The allegations against Bruno K are serious and should not be taken lightly.
Child abandonment is a severe issue that affects many children worldwide. It is a form of child neglect that can lead to adverse effects on a child’s development, including emotional and behavioral problems. Children who are abandoned by their parents may experience feelings of rejection, anger, and low self-esteem, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
As a public figure, Bruno K has a responsibility to set a good example for his fans and followers, especially young people. Neglecting one’s child is not only morally wrong but also illegal under Ugandan law. The Children’s Act of Uganda provides that every child has the right to parental care and protection, and any parent who neglects their child can be charged with child abuse.
It is not clear whether the allegations against Bruno K are true, but if they are, he should take responsibility for his actions and do the right thing for his son. Children need both parents to grow up happy and healthy, and neglecting one’s child is unacceptable.
In conclusion, the allegations against Bruno K are serious, and if true, they represent a worrying trend of child neglect in Uganda. As a society, we must hold public figures accountable for their actions and demand that they do the right thing for their children. Let us all strive to create a safe and nurturing environment for all children, regardless of their family background.
Speaker Rt. Hon. Anita Among Orders Minister Dr. Chris Baryomunsi To Stop Making Excuses For Not Establishing The Tribunal
Speaker of parliament Rt. Hon. Anita Among has ordered the Minister of Information, Communications, Technology, and National Guidance, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi to stop making excuses for not establishing the tribunal which she said has been pending for a long.
The speaker’s order followed Dr. Chris Baryomunsi’s attribution of the delay to create the Uganda Communications Tribunal to the recent Cabinet decision on the rationalization of agencies.
The speaker of Parliament Among emphasized the need for the tribunal in place.
“We need a tribunal. How sure are you that we are going to rationalize [government agencies]? We want a tribunal in UCC; we cannot do ad-hoc kind of operations,” Among said.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Act makes provision for the creation of a tribunal that is supposed to handle complaints relating to the decisions of UCC as provided under Sections 60 and 64 of the Act.
He said this during the Wednesday, 22 March 20223 plenary sitting where he tabled the Uganda Communications (Fees and Fines) (Amendment) Regulations, 2023.
The regulations provide for fees and fines to be paid by telecommunication and broadcasting companies for spectrum or frequency access in order to improve telecommunication services.
His response was prompted by the Leader of Opposition (LOP), Hon. Mathias Mpuuga who accused the minister of ‘sleeping on the job’ by failing to fulfill the provisions of the UCC Act in regard to the creation of the communications tribunal.
“We have raised severally in our alternative policies the question of the minister failing to appoint the UCC tribunal. The minister is now the tribunal; he is acting as the complainant, prosecutor, and judge at the same time. The Ministry [of ICT] is holding media houses at ransom with no recourse to this tribunal,” Mpuuga said.
The Speaker referred the Regulations to the Committee on ICT and National Guidance for scrutiny with a strong caution to UCC not to start collecting fees until Parliament approves the regulations.
Section 93 of the UCC Act, 2013 states that, ‘the minister may, after consultation with the Commission and with the approval of Parliament, by statutory instrument, make regulations for better carrying into effect the provisions of this Act’.
Anti-gay Bill Will Impinge Upon Universal Human Rights, Jeopardize Progress In Fight Against HIV/AIDS In Uganda-White House
The White House and the European Union (EU) have joined the United Nations (UN) and other human rights groups in condemning the just passed Anti-homosexuality Bill.
The Bill that awaits assent from the president was passed by MPs on Tuesday night after a seven-hour heated session.
The bill introduces stricter penalties for people engaged in same-sex activities in Uganda including the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality.
It also proposes life in prison for the offense of “homosexuality” and up to 10 years in jail for attempted homosexuality.
Now White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre says the Bill is one of the most extreme laws targeting homosexuality in the world.
She warns that this will not only impinge upon universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS but will also deter tourism and damage Uganda’s international reputation.
“We have great concerns with the passage of the Anti-homosexuality Act by the parliament of Uganda and increasing violence targeting LGBTQI+ persons,” Karine said.
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