Changing government perceptions of artisanal and small scale mining’s contribution to development in Uganda

Australia Awards Alumnus (MSc in Mineral and Energy Economics), Don Binyina Bwesigye, is the Executive Director of Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP), a think-tank committed to promoting equity, shared value, socio-economic justice and the sustainable development of mineral and energy resources in Uganda and the East African Community.

Don is keen on improving the community, health, safety and environmental aspects of the neglected Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Community in Uganda which currently employs over, 400,000 Ugandans directly – majority of whom are women and the youth – with another estimated indirect employment of over 1,500,000 Ugandans through its supply value chain. He speaks here about convincing government to recognise the economic importance of the ASM sector in Uganda.

Describe your experience working with artisanal and small scale mining?

Individually and through my organisation, the Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP), I have been working with Artisanal and Small-scale Miners (ASM) in Uganda since 2013, immediately after my return from my Masters course in Australia. During this time, we have managed to change the government rhetoric from being against artisanal mining as an impediment to the development of the mining sector, to recognising it as a critical sub-sector in the country’s development agenda, a major source of employment, and an avenue for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

What are the critical issues in artisanal mining from your perspective?

The ASM sub-sector is faced with a wide range of challenges. The current policy and regulatory framework for mining makes no clear distinction between large scale, small scale and artisanal mining. The extent of illegal mining and illicit marketing has been linked to difficulties in obtaining permits and the existence of inadequate government policies.

According to a baseline survey conducted in Uganda under the Sustainable Management of Mineral Resources Project (SMMRP), 2004 – 2008, access to credit was the major issue cited by ASM operators. Consequently, even when mining rights exist, banks are not readily prepared to take these rights as collateral because of: the geological risk of unmined reserves; the short duration of the license (Location License lasts two years) and the small size of the license area of the mining rights, which do not guarantee security of tenure; the mobility of many artisanal and small-scale miners; and the widespread lack of enforcement of laws and regulations.

Financial issues (inclusive of access to credit and obtaining equipment) account for about thirty (30) per cent of the total challenges faced by ASM. It was further revealed that labour issues (training, health, safety, working conditions, child labour, job security) accounted for another thirty (30) per cent. Other related issues such as technical assistance, the environment, selling arrangements, transport and the tax regime accounted for the remaining thirty (30) percent of the issues that prevent ASM operations from developing beyond subsistence levels. Therefore, there is need for the ASM policy and regulatory environment in Uganda to be adequately supportive in the above vital areas, lest ASM will continue to be a source of conflict among the mineral operators, revenue loss to the Government and environmental degradation.

How are you contributing to resolve these issues?

The mineral industry recognises that ASM operations are often the reason the large companies arrive on the scene in the first place. Therefore, the economic and social impact of artisanal and small-scale mining is far from small.

The Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy has managed to forge good working relations with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. This has been critical in enabling the incapacitated Directorate of Geological Surveys and Mines (DGSM) to interface with the ASM participants, talk to and listen to them. This has enabled us to facilitate  appreciation within government of the sub-sector and its potential to transform the mining sector as whole. It has also enabled government to appreciate the need to support, develop, regulate and formalise this sub-sector and to allow it to co-exist alongside medium and large scale mining operations in the country.

The current ASM project has regional impact in as far as it seeks to create three regional ASM Associations from the East, Central and Western regions of Uganda. These regional associations will also form one National Artisanal and Small-scale Mining Association that would be a national platform for ASM in Uganda.

As an organisation we have also partnered with the Uganda National Planning Authority in developing a Minerals and Petroleum Balanced Scorecard that monitors the progression and development of the Minerals and Petroleum Sectors as some of the identified development priority areas in Uganda’s National Development Plan NDPII (2015/16 – 2020/21) and Vision 2040. Inter alia, this project seeks to increase government coordination in planning and budgeting for the development of these sectors.  In addition, the project also seeks to highlight and facilitate government in embracing the role of regional sub-national governments in what has been a centralised sector as an efficient means of effectively tracking mineral revenues from the grassroots at the districts to the port of export in the development value chain of these sectors. The project will also ensure that planning for mineral beneficiation and value addition takes local market dynamics, local content and local employment through the minerals and petroleum value chains into consideration.

If these issues are addressed, what could be the impact – what does success look like?

We anticipate that by resolving these issues highlighted above, we can pave the way for the formalisation of the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining sub-sector in Uganda. Success will mean reducing the number of fatalities currently rampant in the ASM sub-sector in Uganda due to government’s failure to recognise the sector as a legal industry through formalisation, which forces many ASM to operate at night under difficult and insecure circumstances.

The success will also bring about the co-existence of large to medium mining companies and ASM players. It includes formalisation, licensing of the ASM associations for easy monitoring, regulation and revenue tracking and collection. It encompasses observance of health, safety and environmental standards, increased inter-ministerial collaboration in the regulation and monitoring of ASM operations. From the ASM perspective, the success and major theory of change will be the transformation of the sector from illegal to legal status, a key contributor to youth employment and a recognised source of livelihood.

Are there opportunities for collaboration with other Alumni and how would they get involved?

We welcome collaborations with other Australian Alumni and look forward to sharing our experiences with them too. ACEMP already has two Australian (International Mineral for Development (IM4DC)) trained Alumni. Notably, our successful partnership with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development was made possible because of our ability to forge good working relationships with a predominantly Australian-trained human resource base in various departments of the ministry.

We would very much appreciate sharing learning experiences from other African-Australian Alumni working in the Extractives sector; particularly sharing research that would enrich and support our engagement with stakeholders. We have already received research from another Australia Awards Alumnus from South Africa, Dr Sizwe Phakathi (“Making a Living. The Safety Practices, Risks and Challenges of Informal Artisanal Miners in the Community of Blaauwbosch in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.)

Call to Action: Alumni should share research and case studies which builds on our understanding and capabilities to address the issues encountered in extractive work. With the availability of resources, joint research around the extractives sector and other innovative ways of sharing experiences from each would be beneficial to maximising our impact.

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