News / Africa

The Looming Battle for Uganda's Gold

  • A miner uses a metal stick to loosen the dirt, which she will later mix with water and sift for gold, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • Livinstone Ekiru’s family once had vast herds, but now he makes a living panning for gold, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • A Karimojong couple mine in a hole they dug by hand, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • Two artisanal miners dig a pit in a dry riverbed in Karamoja, Uganda, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • Water pipes laid by a large mining company conducting exploration in Karamoja, Uganda, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • The Karimojong are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists, but their herds are fast disappearing, driving people into mining, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • A gold nugget artisanal miners found in a dry riverbed, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • A Karimojong woman pans for gold using two plastic basins, March 2, 2014. Hilary Heuler / VOA News
  • The Karimojong are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists, but drought and disease have taken a toll on their herds, March 2, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
  • Simon Nangiro, head of the Karamoja Miners Association, in his office in Moroto, Uganda, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)
Having lost their traditional herds, the local people of Karamoja, Uganda, increasingly turned to small-scale gold mining as a meager but fairly steady source of income.  But with large mining interests moving into the region, even their gold could soon be taken from them. 

As a child, Livingstone Ekiru’s world revolved around cows.  His family’s herd was large, over 100 animals.  Ekiru lives in Karamoja in northeastern Uganda, and his people, the Karimojong, have long been semi-nomadic pastoralists.  Livestock is at the heart of their culture, and a man’s worth is counted in cattle.

But more importantly, explains Ekiru, cows have kept his people alive for centuries in a harsh, dry land.

“When you have animals, there you can shed blood of the animals and you eat, you can eat meat there, you can get milk there," he said. "So there’s no hunger there.  They can survive if the animals are there.”

But a combination of forced disarmament, drought and disease has taken its toll, and the cows of Karamoja are disappearing.  Ekiru’s family has only a handful of animals left, and he was forced to find other ways to survive.

Like tens of thousands of Karimojong, he turned to gold.

Now Ekiru spends his days hacking away at the bottom of a dry riverbed, mixing the earth with water and painstakingly sifting the mud for tiny gleaming nuggets to sell at the market.  Sometimes he makes up to $3 a day.  Other days, he said, he finds nothing at all.

“Like now, for example, if you have not already worked, that means that you will sleep here hungry. If you have not found it, no food.  It is not easy also to get the gold itself.  You use a lot of strength, energy, and it is not every day that you can go and get it.”

Simon Nangiro, head of the Karamoja Miners Association, estimates that around 80,000 people in the region make a living panning for gold. Crops in Karamoja often fail, and there is little industry.  Without the gold, he said, he does not know what else they would do to survive.

“You know, the Karimojong really didn’t know about any other thing apart from looking after their animals," Nangiro said. "So people looked for alternatives.  More and more numbers are going for mining, because it’s the easiest way to get money.”

But change is coming fast. Recently international mining companies have begun exploration in Karamoja, looking for limestone, marble, iron ore and, of course, gold.

A Human Rights Watch report released February called attention to the threat these companies could pose if communities are not properly consulted.  Because land in Karamoja is communally owned, it said, the potential for land grabbing is very real.

Nangiro is certain it will soon become impossible for the Karimojong to mine their own gold.

“They are unlicensed -- they are what we call illegal," he said. "So definitely once the legal regime is in properly, they will be squeezed out.  Even the buyers themselves are illegal when they come -- they don’t have the licenses.  We are seeing ahead that in the long run, we shall get squeezed out.”

In the meantime, fear is in the air. The Miners Association has been educating the Karimojong about their rights, but many feel powerless against the government.

One former herdsman says rumors are circulating about the forced disarmament of the Karimojong several years ago.  The disarmament was officially to stop cattle raiding.  But, says the man, people think the government took their guns so the companies could later take their land.

Karamoja has always been marginalized by the rest of the country, and its people considered wild and uncivilized, Nangiro said. All he wants now iis for the Karimojong to enjoy their rights as Ugandans.

“The land belongs to us, the mineral belongs to all of us, and we must all enjoy the benefits that God gave us," he said. "Government has to be fair.  Give room for your local people also so that they have something that they can survive on.”

Outside investment does not have to be a bad thing, and could eventually bring development to the region, said Nangiro.  Change is inevitable, he adds. It is just a question of how it is done.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid