Ten years ago, no one envisioned the current magnitude of the mining boom in Karamoja sub-region, a region that is now popular for its vast mineral resources such as gold, marble, limestone, gypsum, etc. yet grappling with poverty. One visit to the gold and marble rich Rupa and Tapac sub-counties in Moroto District and you will appreciate Karamoja mining sector and the immense opportunities it holds for the people.
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This Karamoja Gold Mining Tour takes you to one of the mining families located in the panoramic arid hills bordering Kenya’s rift valley. As the landscape changes, you will notice that the people have adapted to the dry climate. Here the majority Karimojong and Turkana (Kenya) tribes are living from gold mining and some of the marble industry. The artisan gold mining family we visit will share the craft and give you the ability to win gold yourself. More info about the tour
For a region so rich in mineral wealth, one question that intrigues most people remains, how can a region well-endowed with abundant mineral wealth be so engrossed in poverty with never-ending water scarcity, food insecurity, high infant mortality rates and a poor infrastructure system?
The answer is reflected in the exploitation that is prevalent in the mining sector and the continuous lack of regulations for the artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) sector considering that it employs more than 20,000 people in the region and 80 per cent being women. This is clear evidence that if the ASM sector is well-developed, it has the potential to stir economic development in the region and empower Karamojong women economically.
For instance when you visit a marble mining site you find countless number of people mostly women and children filling up big trucks ferrying marble for just as little as Shs120,000 per truck. This truck is filled by about 12-15 miners and at the end of the day when the returns are divided, every miner will part with averagely between Shs8,000 to 10,000.
Unfortunately this average earning is not reflective of the hard labour these artisanal miners engage in and the health and occupational risks at the mining sites. In addition the food insecurity question in Karamoja stretches these daily earnings since most of these miners are women and as such traditionally sole breadwinners of their families’. As a result, miners especially women work for food leaving no savings thus making families vulnerable to poverty.
On the other hand for the case of gold mining, the recovery level is still low as most ASM use rudimentary methods and as such the near future the use of mercury which has been nonexistent in the region could take centre stage to increase recovery in mining and this has potential harm on human health and environment.
Considering the delicate environment and shortage of water in Karamoja sub region the presence of such chemicals could potentially contaminate the scarce water sources. The pricing of gold continues to be low with continuous exploitation from middlemen characterised by payment in kind mostly exchanging gold for alcohol in some mining communities. Overall the revenues from the mining sector are not properly tracked making it difficult to generate sufficient revenues.
Moving forward, for Karamoja to benefit from the mineral sector, the government duty bearers at the local, district and national level needs to come out and strongly support community participation in decisions making, regulate and facilitate the ASM sector by formalising ASM in associations for them to acquire location licenses, provide support to ASM associations to buy semi mechanised tools to maximise efficient recovery in mining, and effectively regulate mining companies to check their exploitative tendencies.
On the other hand, for mining communities to benefit the government needs to support communities to maximise their benefits by empowering them on their mining rights and entitlements, formalising benefit, agreements between host communities and mining companies and fastidiously addressing the issue of surface rights through ensuring that the local and district leadership takes lead in organising their communities into associations and registering most of the communally-owned land in Karamoja for them to benefit from their surface rights in form of royalties to the communal land owners.