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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs