For over 50 years now, Buhweju has been mining gold- one of the precious minerals in the world. However, this western Uganda mountainous district is still grappling with poverty and poor social services as gold continues to ‘flow’ from this area.
I took a weeklong trip to this relatively new district to establish the contribution of the mining industry to the local government economy.
Buhweju district has eight sub counties and half of them have huge gold deposits. Nine companies are today operating in this area but all the nine gold dealing companies have prospecting licenses.
As the name of the license type suggests, these companies are involved in assessing the gold potential of the district. As the licensed companies go on with their work, the small scale individual gold miners are also busy looking for livelihood from the ground.
In 2013, the Ugandan president directed that these small scale miners should stop but this fell on deaf ears.
Unlike in Tanzania (Geita District) where gold mining is in the highlands, gold mining in Buhweju is in swampy areas- something that raises key environmental worries.
On my trip I first stopped in Bisya Sub County and the area is Bukoto village where a wetland is steadily vanishing as hundreds of energetic men and women search for gold.
Every morning these people come to this swamp to mine gold. With their rudimentary tools, they dig -some as deep as 8-12 metres to extract sand which they sieve to get gold.
“I come here every day to look for money. Using my hoe and spade, I dig the ground to extract the sand where I get gold from. Sometimes the sand is too deep in some areas so I dig much deeper”, a determined Byarugaba Alexander of Bukoto Village told me.
However, not every day is good for Byarugaba and his colleagues. Richard Matsiko, a miner in Bukoto’s neighboring gold mining village of Kyenjogyera told me that it’s not surprising digging the whole day and one fails to get anything. “Sometimes we work the whole day and fail to get anything but we must go on the next day”, he explained.
Apart from failure to earn a penny, these determined Ugandans have to also cope with flooding of their mining area since it’s a swamp, ‘harassment’ from Environmental officers, fluctuating gold prices as offered by the local dealers in the area as well as unfriendly weather conditions during the rainy season. Despite all these hardships, those involved in the industry are happy with the way things are moving as they have been able to earn a living from the trade.
District laments gold money loss
Local miners are smiling on one hand as district leaders lament over the little contribution of the gold mining industry to the economy of the area.
According to the district chairperson Sebastian Kerere, the district does not get taxes from the gold dealing companies operating in the area neither are they engaged in any activity as part of their corporate social responsibility.
“These companies are not giving us any money because they are only prospecting according to their licenses. They are also not involved in any pro-society act like road construction yet they use the district infrastructures. I can honestly say that as a district, we get nothing from them and from our gold”, he elaborated.
A visibly unhappy Kerere explains that the licenses given to these companies ought to be clear to the district. “We are not getting any money from these companies because they claim to be prospecting in our district. What is unclear to us is where they take the gold they get in the process of prospecting. If we knew the amount of gold they get, we would be in position to levy something like a tax on them” a worried Karere elaborated adding that government ought to explain the duration of the prospection and the handling of the resource got in the process.
Other leaders also agree with the district chairman on this. Alison Ayetoranire Byamukama, the Special Presidential assistant on Buhweju affairs wants government to revise the current law on mining to allow local governments to have an extended say on licenses, production and sharing of the benefits rather than all these powers remaining at the responsible Ministry level.
In every mining area I visited, over 70 percent of the miners were energetic young men of school going age. Olive Koyekyenga, the district Woman Member of Parliament says that many youngsters have abandoned schooling to join the gold mining industry where they get ‘quick’ money.
“We have high illiteracy levels here because our children abandon school to join the mining industry. These young energetic youth should be the one involved in agriculture but this sector has been left to the old people. This is a bad trend that must be checked for the good of the future of this country” Mary Bashongoka- the district council speaker explained.
What the district has got from gold
Apart from providing a source of income to hundreds, in the financial year 2011/2012, Buhweju district got four million shillings (about 1600 US dollars) from government as its share from the resource.
“Yes we got this money but we are asking ourselves, this is a portion of what/how much? This is too little money and cannot do anything tangible in this vast district of ours” Kerere, the district chairman noted while speaking to me at the district headquarters in Nsika town. This amount is far less than one percent of the district’s 2013/2014 financial year budget. For the last (2012/2013) financial year, Karere notes that they are yet to get any penny from the government.
Perhaps this explains why Buhweju still has many infrastructural problems like poor roads, poor hospitals, poor schools, poor electricity coverage as well as a big portion of the district population without access to clean gravity water.
Compared to other gold rich districts with in the East African, region, one sympathizes with Buhweju leaders when they cry of injustice.
For example, in August 2013, when I and fellow journalist under the Revenue watch Institute oil gas and mining fellowship visited Geita district in Northern Tanzania, the district commissioner Manzie Mangochie told us that Geita gold mining company which extracts gold from the area was paying 200,000 Dollars as loyalty yet according to him, this is peanuts.
According to the Buhweju Member of parliament Ephraim Biraro, all hope is not lost and the district is optimistic that once something changes, the area will benefit more.
“First of all there is a need to review the current mining laws so that we also get a say on the management of our resource. We need to know who is doing what here and also we ought to be aware of how much gold comes from our land. If this happens, we will be able to know how much is our share and how we stand to benefit from the companies operating from our area”, Biraro elaborated during a lengthy chat with him at his Parliamentary office in Kampala.
One issue that is of concern to many people in Buhweju is about the companies in the area that are prospecting. The Buhweju district council speaker Mary Bashongoka wants more transparency in the operation of these companies. “We want to know what these companies are doing, how they are doing it, what they are getting from our land, where they put the gold they get in the process and how do we benefit” Bashongoka observed adding that the companies in the area are involved in mining gold yet they do not pay taxes. This claim was raised by the local miners in all the sub counties I visited but all the companies operating in the area say they are only involved in gold prospecting.
According to the Department of Geological Survey and Mines in Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development In order to participate in mineral exploration, one must acquire a Prospecting License. The license is area specific and gives authority to the holder to look for mineral occurrence of interest in Uganda, and then demarcate it. This helps to make others aware that the area is exclusively booked and nobody else should go in. The Prospecting License is not renewable and lasts only one year from date of issue.
Like any other mining area on the continent, Buhweju is facing serious environmental concerns as a result of the ongoing gold mining activities. Swamps have been destroyed as a result of the open cast mining method and it seems little is being done to halt this trend.
In fact miners at Nyakishana, Bukoto, Bihanga and Kyenjogyera swamps told me that they rarely see environmental officers ‘interfering’ with their work.
They told me that they have an understanding with environmental authorities that they will always cover the pits they dig in the mining process to minimise on the damage to the natural swamp eco-system.
However this is not the case. When I went to Bihanga, I visited a swamp that was used by miners almost two years ago but the open pits can still be seen and the vegetation has not recovered.
When I asked those involved, they confessed that what is on the ground is the opposite of what was agreed upon. “Yes, we are supposed to cover our pits but most of us do not follow this and no one is there to enforce it”, Kakuru Everist one of the miners in one of the swamps in Bihanga sub county told this site.
According to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) there should be an environmentally friendly mining. “We need the two resources. “As we do mining, we must also protect the environment for today, tomorrow and for the generations to come”, Jeconious Musingwire, a NEMA officer notes.
By Cliff Abenaitwe- 2013/2014 Revenue watch and ACME Oil Gas and Mining fellow
By Abenaitwe Cliff
At the mention of Gold presence in an area, wealth expectations justifiably increase and when its mining is on, the area ought to change for the better. However, the story is different in Geita district located in the North Western part of Tanzania where gold mining has been taking place for over 50 years now.
Poor sanitary conditions, shanty dusty towns and trading centres, use of rudimentary tools, high population growth rate, high rate of rural urban migration, high number of idle youth and poor sanitation are a characteristic of Geita district located over 700 kilometres North of the capital Dar es Salaam.
In 1999, Angro-Gold Ashanti(GGM as it is popularly known)- a giant mining company got a license to mine gold the area something that gave the residents most of whom were engaged in small scale mining hope for a brighter future. “When GGM came in, we thought large scale well managed gold production will increase and the whole area will develop,” says Barutwanayo Bernard, a native of Nyakabale in Geita district.
According to Baruntwanayo, the residents expected the company to provide them with jobs, contribute to the social welfare of the area through it taxes, fees and loyalties but this is still a dream after over 10 years.
On reaching the district’s main town of Geita, the streets are dusty, the schools along the road are in a poor state, people live in poor houses and a big number of youth can be seen on the streets idle as early as noon. “Our lives have not changed at all. I have tried to get a job in the mines but all in vain and this is the same situation with all my friends. If you do not know anyone in the mines or if you do not have money to bribe, you cannot get a job there”, a visibly worried young man Baraka Butundo noted adding that the mine owners usually get their own laborers from as far as Dar es Salaam.
Authorities in this relatively new district share the same view. Manzie Mangochie the District Commissioner reveals that the mining company pays only 200,000 dollars annually as loyalty fee to the district a figure which is like a drop in the ocean. “This money is little compared to the population, the size of the district and the needs of our people,” Mangochie told a group of journalist under the revenue watch program at his office in Geita town.
According to the jolly Mangochie, much as GGM pays taxes to the government, its direct relevance to the area is still a dream.
Though the situation is not desirable something can be done on the legislative front. “We need to change on the laws concerning the mining sector. There is a need to empower local leaders and communities to have a say in mining contracts because it’s their areas to gain or lose,” he elaborated.
These photos were taken from different areas of Geita district to show the situation on the ground.
Uganda Urged to tighten laws on Tobacco consumption
A couple of years ago, Uganda’s Parliament enacted the anti-tobacco consumption legislation. This law bares public smoking and tobacco advertising and puts in place fines for offenders.
At the time of its enactment, this was seen as a step forward towards reducing deaths as a result of tobacco consumption.
However, since then nothing has much changed and health activists are up again demanding for tough measures against tobacco use and production.
Baguma Richard Tinkasimire, the programs coordinator at the Uganda health communication alliance says that this legislation puts light punishments and fines on perpetrators and its implementation is poor. According to Baguma, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship has persisted and this is dangerous.
“Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship encourage people especially the youth to use tobacco, encourage tobacco users to use more, decrease user’s motivation to quit and quitters to relapse,” he sadly adds
Loopholes in the law
Baguma explains that the current law has many loopholes. “Under the current law, every public place must have a no smoking sign but many of our hotels, bars, offices and night spots do not have them.
What is more baffling is that you find ‘smoking zones’ and ash trays in these places and this is unlawful,” Baguma notes. He further reveals that as a result of these loop holes in the current law, public smoking and public tobacco consumption has persisted and this is a great health risk to both the consumer and the people around.
As a result of this trend, health activists have now drafted a private members bill that is before the floor of parliament. Baguma told this mouth piece that this bill (Tobacco control bill 2012) seeks to tighten the grip on tobacco production, advertising and consumption.
The bill at a glance
According to Doctor Hafsa Lukwata, a mental health specialist and one of the brains behind this law in the offing, the act seeks to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.
According to the world health organization (WHO), tobacco is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today, killing up to a half of the people who use it.
The world health body estimates that tobacco use causes nearly 6 million preventable deaths each year of which 10 percent are due to exposure to second hand tobacco smoke. “If current trends continue, the number of annual tobacco-related deaths is predicted to increase to 10 million by the year 2020 with 70 percent of those deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries”, the WHO 2011 report warns.
This bill seeks to promote a smoke free environment, place a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, restrict the sale, supply and use of tobacco products and to place tough fines and punishment on perpetrators.
Part IV of this bill advocates for an increment in taxes on tobacco products in an effort to control their trade. “The object of this part is to provide for price increase through taxation on tobacco products as an effective intervention in reducing demand for tobacco”, clause IV of the bill reads in part.
According to Baguma, there is a strong need to protect the vulnerable people who consume second hand smoke from cigarettes and tobacco. “We must put strong laws in place and implement them because health related problems related to tobacco use when they come, they are irreversible,” he added.
Shocking but true, Baguma does not buy the idea of designating smoking zones in public places like bars and clubs. “Designating smoking zones in public places is hopeless. Smoke from that area will eventually come to the non-smoking areas and affect others. Instead if one wants to smoke, let them go out of the public place and smoke from there.
In Uganda, tobacco growing has for generations been the main source of income for thousands in west Nile region and other areas like Kanungu. However Baguma observes that people in these areas can be helped to get an alternative crop to grow and earn big. He cites Bwambala Sub County in Rukungiri district western Uganda which used to be a tobacco production hub but people have now abandoned the crop in favor of upland rice.
Baguma notes that if people in Tobacco growing areas are well sensitized and given alternative crops to grow, they will definitely abandon tobacco growing.
ALCOHOL’S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN
Difficulty in walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops.
On the other hand, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain deficits that persist well after becoming sober. Exactly how alcohol affects the brain and the likelihood of reversing the impact of heavy drinking on the brain remain hot topics in alcohol research today.
Heavy drinking may have extensive and far–reaching effects on the brain, ranging from simple “slips” in memory to permanent and unbearable conditions that require lifetime custodial care. A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol affects the brain and they include;
- How much and how often a person drinks.
- The age at which the person first began drinking and how long he or she has been drinking.
- The person’s age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism.
- Whether the person is at risk as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure; and
- The person’s general health status.
This diagram below clearly highlights some of the effect of alcohol to the brain.
Source: Alcohol Alert
Alcohol: The Enjoyable Secret Killing ‘Poison’
Alcohol-related health issues among baby boomers are on the rise. Daily drinking can start off as a social event but turn into dependency addiction, experts say. So when does social drinking become alcoholism?
In the festive season, with office parties, Christmas, and New Year, there is opportunity aplenty for yet another tipple.
Since the 1950s, alcohol consumption in the UK has gradually increased. The NHS now spends more on alcohol-related illness among baby boomers than any other age group, with £825m spent on 55 to 74-year-olds in 2010-11 compared to £64m on under-24s.
When someone becomes dependent or addicted to alcohol, they:
- Develop a strong sense of compulsion to drink
- May drink shortly after waking to reduce feelings of alcohol withdrawal
- Develop a reduced capacity to control how often and how much they drink
- Organise their lifestyle around drinking
- Continue to drink despite physical or social problems
Estimates also suggest about nine per cent of men and three per cent of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence.
But it is the functioning alcoholic that can slip under the radar – before their health issues are severe enough to need treatment.
Dr John Marsden, an alcohol and drug dependency expert from King’s College London, says a typical functioning alcoholic can manage to hold down a job despite having a “very severe drinking problem that they have been incubating over a very long period”.
“Alcohol problems are difficult to understand because they do not occur overnight. They are hidden from view which makes functioning alcoholics a group we cannot easily help.”
Rob C, who is 61, was one of them. At his worst he was drinking 1.5 litres of straight vodka per day.
“Then I began to suffer blackouts, losing whole days and not remembering anything.”
He would be first to arrive at work, which made him able to set out his “drinks for the day with what looked like a bottle of mineral water”.
“I would hide bottles around the office. You think nobody else knows, that it doesn’t smell, that you’re getting away with it. But of course they did notice.”
For several years, maintaining a full-time finance job, he drank increasingly more during the day.
There was work, there was money and increasingly the motivation to alter ones mood quickly. Alcohol has been the drug of choice to do that”
Dr John Marsden Addiction expert
What started as a social pastime nearly cost him his relationship. Now sober for eight years, looking back he says that even if a colleague had said something at the time, he would not have listened.
“I resented the changes at work and told myself I deserved a drink. I would buy wine at lunchtime and drink it from a polystyrene cup.”
Wine turned to vodka for a “bigger kick” and lunchtime turned to morning through to night.
Early retirement on medical grounds made his addiction worse. It was only when his partner threatened to kick him out that he sought help with Alcoholics Anonymous, who he says saved his life.
Rob is not alone. In the last decade there has been a 63% increase in prescriptions for the treatment of alcohol dependency in England, as well as a 20% rise in deaths from liver disease.
Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, a liver specialist and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, believes the number of people dying from liver disease will keep rising.
A silent killer
- Most cases of liver disease are attributed to alcohol, viral hepatitis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- The liver has no pain fibres so there are often no signs that damage is happening
- Doctors recently unveiled a colour-coded blood test which can reveal the damage caused by excess drinking
The majority of people who have alcohol-related health problems are middle-aged, which Sir Ian says is a consequence of chronic alcohol misuse – many years of frequent heavy drinking, rather than binge drinking – a session of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a small space of time.
But he says that though there is a big overlap, it is important to remember not all heavy social drinkers are dependent on alcohol.
“Some people can control their drinking after work, others can’t. If people are frequently drinking harmful levels of alcohol – over 50 units a week for men, 35 for women – most will end up suffering some form of physical, mental or social harm.”
A lifetime’s worth of drinking is catching up with baby boomers, says Emily Robinson from the Alcohol Concern.
The charity hopes that their campaign, Dry January, will help get people thinking about how much they drink, especially at home when units are harder to measure, and crucially, before they reach a stage where drinking is affecting their health.
“The issue of people drinking every day is worrying as it’s a way of slipping into dependency, as you need to drink a little more each time to feel the same effects,” she says.
Dr Marsden suggests the line between social drinking and dependency are clear. He says the first question that needs to be asked by clinicians or family members is: “Has anyone expressed concern to you about your drinking?”
What’s a unit?
- Half a pint of standard strength (4%) beer, cider or lager
- A single pub measure of spirit (25ml)
- Half a standard glass of wine (175ml)
This question assesses whether a person’s behaviour has negatively impacted on someone close to them, he adds.
“If your alcohol consumption has caused a problem for someone else – I’m not rushing to label you an alcoholic but suggesting you need to take a closer look at your behaviour.”
There is a clear reason the baby boomer generation is now most at risk from alcohol-related problems, argues Dr Marsden.
A hard-working generation led to an appetite for entertainment and relaxation.
“There was work, there was money and increasingly the motivation to alter one’s mood quickly. Alcohol has been the drug of choice to do that.