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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The depravity of Rich Elites in Uganda: Gold in Mubende: 270 families evicted

Stealing The Land Of The Poor Ugandans For The Sake Of Neo-Liberalism: Oxfam And Uganda Land Alliance Face Deregistration Over Exposing Museveni’s Land Grab Schemes


Action Case Uganda - Mubende: Evictees struggle to get access to justice and land

The scramble for Minerals in Uganda: Karamoja leaders accuse First Family of land-grabbing

Gold in Mubende: 270 families evicted

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 00:41

Written by Emma Mutaizibwa

UPDF, Njuba cited in land wrangle
A gold-mining factory operating in a remote, shabby outpost of Bukuya in Kassanda North county, Mubende district, has courted conflict with more than 270 families claiming that they were paid peanuts to quit their land. AUC Mining is a locally registered company with Ugandan and British owners.

The company’s local partners include Moses Masagazi and Gertrude Njuba, the director for Land matters in State House. But, according to a source, Masagazi and Njuba are in partnership with some powerful officials in government, who prefer to operate discreetly. Villagers who spoke to The Observer last week claim it is Masagazi who handled the compensation exercise on behalf of AUC.

“He [Masagazi] had a big piece of land, which he gave out to the firm. He is the one who paid us peanuts and benefitted at our expense,” says one Kenneth Lukyamuzi.

“We were told to leave our land about five years ago. They said there is gold and we are going to be paid well. They sent their teams here to do the evaluation. People were na├»ve and accepted little money,” Lukyamuzi added.

Many of Lukyamuzi’s relatives were amongst the residents that were relocated.

“In some instances, they would promise to pay someone Shs 70m, but when they [residents] would check their bank accounts, they would only find Shs 7m,” Lukyamuzi claims.

It is not the first time such evictions have taken place in Mubende district. In January 2010, nearly 1,500 people in Kitambi sub-county, Kassanda South constituency, were evicted, on the orders of President Museveni. The President had earlier said the area was a forest reserve, but he also indicated that Kisita Mining Company had been licensed to prospect for gold in the area, raising suspicion about the real motive of the evictions.

Square miles

In respect of AUC Mining, locals have petitioned President Museveni, but much to their chagrin, Njuba was assigned to resolve the issue.

“How can you appoint her [Njuba] and yet she is complicit?” Lukyamuzi says.

On learning of the villagers’ complaints, The Observer, last Thursday, embarked on a journey to Bukuya. About five miles on the Mityana-Mubende highway, we branched right, into a murram road and drove through Myanzi trading centre, reaching Bukuya sub-county headquarters, after about 30 miles.

Roughly two miles after Bukuya, we reached a place known as Kamalenge. It is here that the gold mining company is based. It straddles a vast swathe of land across the Kagaba hills, towering above stumpy acacia trees. Some locals call this place Mu Ndaani, a Kiswahili expression for “deep inside” or “in there”.

The gold windfall here sharply contrasts with the abject poverty of the weary-looking villagers, who live in mud and wattle houses that dot the area. The only people who seem to have brick houses are the UPDF soldiers guarding the area. Nobody dares ask about the activities taking place inside the factory, which is barricaded by a fence and guarded by soldiers.

“Our colleagues who work inside rarely come out, but even when they do, they are not supposed to reveal too much,” says one boda boda rider in a cracked voice, giving away his fear of speaking about such a sensitive subject.

This reporter tried to gain entry but the mean-faced soldiers at the metal bar-gate barred him. Even the area Member of Parliament requires clearance from the department of Geological Surveys and Mines in Entebbe to be allowed access.

“The things that are happening inside that place are strange,” said Kassanda North MP, Godfrey Lubega. “I had gone on a fact-finding mission to access the place, but I was told I need permission from authorities.” Lubega shares the frustration of his constituents.

“Incidentally, that gold place was taken over by strangers who claim they compensated our people, and yet they gave them peanuts. They took over the water sources, including dams and boreholes, and people have nowhere to get water.”

Xavier Musoke, a resident of the village, told The Observer that they now have to walk seven miles to get water. Lubega says what is unfolding in his constituency is an ominous sign.

“I was not the area MP when this deal was inked. But what is happening in Uganda today is fleecing. They are threatening people and some landowners got as little as Shs 1m for an acre,” Lubega said.

However, Masagazi, who admits that he and Njuba are shareholders in the company, says they have acted legally and fairly.

“We paid the market value for the land. I challenge anyone who is contesting this to bring the agreement we signed with him or her,” Masagazi told The Observer by telephone on Saturday.
Masagazi blames the complaints on greed and sabotage.

“Some of them are now asking for $10,000 [approximately Shs 25m]. We paid these people in the presence of the RDCs, area MPs and all the local leaders. There is no issue at all,” he argues.

But the matter remains contentious and emotive, with many people feeling they were cheated. Masagazi confirmed that the area is commercially viable for gold mining, but said they have not yet started exporting the gold.

“We are building a plant so that we can start exporting the gold. This is when we shall begin paying out royalties to the government, the district and the owner of the land,” he said.

According to a report by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, AUC was one of nine companies that exported a total of 196kg of gold from Uganda in 2011; the exact amount handled by AUC was, however, not disclosed. According to the Mining Act 2003, a firm can obtain a licence three years after applying. The owner of the land, the sub-county and district where the gold is being mined are entitled to royalties.

However, because the gold industry is not streamlined, murky operators are profiteering from the shadowy trade. In an industry shrouded in secrecy, some firms continue to operate even after their licences have expired. Today, the gold mining industry in Uganda has been overshadowed by the oil exploits in the Albertine region, viewed as the country’s new economic artery.

Speaking to The Observer last Saturday, the chairperson of Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee, Michael Werikhe, said: “Much as we have been focusing on oil as a committee, we are now moving to gold and how royalties should be shared.”
Werikhe said he had no idea about the mining activities of AUC in Mubende.

“I will put this issue to the officials from the ministry of Energy on Wednesday when they appear before our committee,” he said.

The energy and minerals minister, Irene Muloni, and her deputy, Peter Lokeris, did not answer their phones when contacted. The controversy, which continues to swirl over the precious gem, comes soon after Karamoja lawmakers claimed that well-connected firms were profiteering from gold trade in the sub-region at the expense of the locals.