Uganda is a country rich in natural resources and minerals. With a largely rural population, where 70% of livelihoods are derived from agricultural activities and only 14% of the population has access to electricity, there is need to diversify the economy. Mining could make a significant contribution, but faced with a dearth of specialised local skills in this area, Uganda is heavily reliant on foreign expertise and technical services. Chris Lubangakene received a Scholarship from the Australian Government to study a Masters of Engineering Science in Metallurgy, which has enabled him to make numerous contributions to the sector in his home country.
Involving extensive laboratory training and research, the Masters degree Chris completed at Curtin University of Technology in 2012 has equipped him with advanced technical skills and knowledge on metals and mineral processing. In addition, several intensive courses within the program related to mine management added to his understanding of the regulatory framework on social and environmental issues, risk assessment, occupational health and safety, mineral project development and appraisal. Coupled with community engagement practices, these skills have proved invaluable in the capacity building and support Chris has provided to emerging miners.
Upon his return from Australia, Chris joined the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development as Assistant Commissioner in charge of Laboratories. In this role, he managed a myriad of tasks, from technical policy formulation, mineral analysis and the training of technical staff to advancing the Department’s research capabilities in mineral processing.
Amid concerns for Lake Victoria’s diminishing shoreline and the impact of climate change on Uganda’s future water resources, Chris has been instrumental in recent efforts to reshape the country’s dependence on hydro-generated power that currently represents 70% of the country’s energy mix. “With a total installed capacity of just 683 megawatts, Uganda will need to explore alternative energy sources to meet its ambitious target of nearly 15 gigawatts by 2025,” he explains.
With significant uranium prospects recently discovered through radiometric surveys, Uganda is now looking to establish its own nuclear power program. Chris contributed to the national framework document that looks at strengthening his country’s capacity for uranium exploration and evaluation. The project has since been signed off by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
While Chris continues to contribute to some of Uganda’s flagship mining projects, including the Osukulu Phosphate Project, where he raised several concerns about the management of hazardous chemicals, emissions and cash flows, and a feasibility study for an iron-ore mine in the country’s south-west corner that resulted in a recommendation for improvements to the plant to reduce emissions and support direct shipping, closest to his heart is a project to uplift small-scale miners. According to Chris, “not only do artisanal miners lack access to technology for beneficiation, but they jeopardise their own safety because of a lack of training”. Chris’s department is already involved in talks with the Japanese Government to potentially fund a project aimed at building the capacity of artisanal miners.
“Unless we follow a sustainable path, our people will remain poor, and deforestation for firewood and the degradation of river basins will continue. My Australian studies have been invaluable in helping me find that path,” says Chris.