Cliff

Close But Too Far: The Health Tale of the Batwa in Uganda

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By Cliff Abenaitwe

The 1995 Constitution of Uganda (Third schedule) recognizes 56 indigenous communities that existed in Uganda as at 1st February, 1926. One of these communities is the Batwa tribe- a unique group of indigenous people.

For generations, the Batwa lived in the forests of the Kigezi region (Kabale, Kanungu and Kisoro districts in Western Uganda), Eastern Congo and the forests of North Western Rwanda. Their way of life entirely depended of the forests.

These areas were not only for shelter but were sources of food, medicine as well as worshiping places. In the early 1990’s government gazetted areas where they lived as conservation areas paving way for the creation of EChuya Forest Reserve, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mugahinga National park. This was the turning point for the Batwa for good or for worse depending on the side you are looking at. One aspect to note about gazettment of these areas is that the Batwa were never compensated contrary to the statutory provisions on land acquisition by government.

The 2012 National housing and population census indicated that Uganda had 6,700 Batwa. The 2007 survey by the Organization for Batwa development in Uganda (OBDU) reveals that there are 3135 Batwa in South western Uganda with Kisoro district home to 1937 of them.

Today, that Batwa are mainly living in the districts of Kisoro, Kabale, Kanungu, Bundibigyo, Mbarara, Ntungamo, some in Lwengo and Mubende- in other words; they are scattered.

In all these areas, they are landless and this has negatively impacted on their political, social and economic aspects of life.

A family of five people live in this house. It is temporary and the roof leaks when it rains.
The Batwa live in poor houses like these ones in most areas. In the photo is a home of a Mutwa family in Ruceri Village- Kisoro district. In the back ground, is the Ruceri village chairman’s house – one of the few iron roofed houses in the area .

WAY OF LIFE

Majority of the Batwa are living as squatters. Their relationship with the land owners (the non Batwa) is that the Batwa stay on the land (where they build a small semi-permanent house and do some small scale subsistence farming) in exchange of cheap labor. This symbiotic looking but parasitic relationship has left the Batwa vulnerable, unsettled and poor.

During my visit to Batwa communities in Kanungu, Kisoro and Kabale districts, I found out that the moment the land lord is not satisfied with the output of the squatter, the relationship is terminated at will and the Mutwa’s family has to look for somewhere else to live. “I cannot for example grow long term crops like coffee or a banana plantation on the land that is not mine. The owner will not allow me or I might be chased before I enjoy the benefits of my sweat. Any time, you can be chased away. We cannot be sure of tomorrow”, a visibly worried Gad Bagaraya, a 32 year old father of six living in Ruceri village in Kisoro district told me. We just live today and when the land lord decides to terminate the relationship, you move to another area for another good Samaritan who will allow you to stay on his land, he elaborated adding that “ we are loved because of our energy and hard work character”.

Except the lucky few who have been resettled by some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that bought land for them, many others live like this but they hope for a brighter settled future.

This is another house for another family. Take a close look at the nature of the sorrounding soil. It is too rocky to support crop growth.
The Batwa who have not been resettled (the majority) live in poor houses like this. This is a family home in Ruceri village on the slopes of Mount Muhabura in Kisoro district.

Health Status of the Batwa

Health is an important aspect of every community. I took a keen interest in the health status of the Batwa Community in Kisoro district which has the biggest number of this unique group of people. Ruceri village in Nyarusinza Sub County is home to over 20 Batwa families each with an average of 5 members. It is about 25 kilometres away from Kisoro Town but because of the poor road (which stops somewhere before the village) and the distance you must walk up the mountain to the village, its takes over one hour to reach.

Residents here somehow managed to put up where they call home on what they say is government land. Some in this village built of land belonging to the non- Batwa residents. Being a mountain, it’s too rocky and cultivation is impossible. They work for the non-Batwa in the villages near-by to get food or small pieces of land to cultivate. As a result, their nutrition leaves a lot to be desired. “We eat once a day and our children have little to feed on”, Nyirandufiye Celina, a 38 year old mother of six told me during my visit to the area on a relatively warm Sunday morning.

According to health experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), breast feeding mothers ought to feed well to perform this task well. Just imagine what a baby would get from a mother who spends hours working but gets one insufficient meal a day!

In a community like this, housing will always be a challenge. Whereas a few through hard work and much austerity measures have managed to construct iron roofed houses, many stay in grass thatched or old tuplin thatched houses that leak when it rains. The temporary houses are small but a family will somehow find away to stay in. “I have worked and saved for years to get money to buy iron sheets for my house. It’s not easy. That is the reason why many people in our community stay in temporary shelter. They are also difficult to put up because grass and banana fibres for roofing are hard to get these days. They use the little they get and the houses leak when it rains”, Sserutokye Stephen,

Mr. Serutokye Stephen- the Vice chairman Ruceri village in Nyarusinza Sub County
Mr. Sserutokye Stephen- the Vice chairman Ruceri village in Nyarusinza Sub County

the Ruceri village vice chairperson explained.

A family of five lives in this house. It is temporary and the roof leaks when it rains.

During the visit, I entered 7 houses (both the iron roofed and the temporary roofed) and I noticed that clothing is inadequate and so are beddings while ownership and use of mosquito nets is a distant dream for all.

Latrine Coverage

The national latrine coverage stands at an average of about 77 percent. This is not a good figure but there are many areas doing badly in latrine coverage including Kisoro district. The Kisoro district Chairperson Ben Mutabazi puts the latrine coverage at about 55 percent- way below the wanting national average. The latrine coverage among the Batwa is however worse. It is less than 30 percent in Ruceri village in Kisoro district and in other Batwa communities I visited in Kisoro, Kabale and Kanungu districts.

In the Ruceri Village (Batwa community), only three households have pit latrines. The chairman, the vice chairman and one resident are the only ones with pit latrines. However, they are shallow and temporarily built with no roof. Their quality notwithstanding, these homes are better than the rest where members defecate in bushes.

This is a great health risk to the people of this area. Records at Mutorere Hospital in Kisoro District reveal that diarrhea cases account for the highest number of disease cases among children.

The world health body denotes that many diseases are associated with poor sanitation.

“Inadequate sanitation is estimated to cause 280 000 diarrhea deaths annually and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma. Poor sanitation also contributes to malnutrition”, WHO elaborates.

It’s inexcusable for a family and a community to be without a latrine in the modern day age but the reasons advanced by this community deserve a hearing. According to Ruceri village Chairman John Haguma-Imana, land is the greatest problem. “The owner of the land gives you a little portion of land to build your home and establish a small garden- so you find yourself with no land for a latrine.

During my interview with Mr. the chairman of the Batwa of Ruceri Village. His house is one of the few iron roofed houses.
During my interview with Mr. Haguma-Imana John , the chairman of Ruceri Village. His house is one of the few iron roofed houses.

Besides, these people are temporary here. Am not trying to justify our problem but the people here are facing a number of challenges”, Haguma-imana explained.

An old adage goes – Health is made at home and repaired at a health facility. From the above experience, a Mutwa in Kisoro has the health facility to rely on for his well being. I took some time to look at the health services available and accessible to these people.

Nyarusinza health centre Three is the closest health facility – about 7 kilometers from Ruceri village. It’s a government health facility but just like many other public health centres, it has several challenges that negatively impact on its capacity to deliver and consequently it has failed to attract the confidence of the community including the Batwa.

Perhaps the biggest gift to the Batwa came in form of the Combating Child Mortality Among Batwa in Kisoro district (CCMB) program- an initiative of St. Francis Hospital popularly known as Mutorere hospital and its partners.

The front view of St. Francis Hospital Mutorere. It is among the best, clean and organized health facilities i have visited in Uganda
The front view of St. Francis Hospital Mutorere. It is among the best, clean and organized health facilities i have visited in Uganda

The arrangement under this program is that when a Mutwa falls sick or wants to access any health service including but not limited to testing, screening and child delivery, he or she simply walks to Mutorere hospital, is served for as long as it takes and the bill is footed by the hospital and its partners in this program.

For the pregnant mothers who definitely have to spend a couple of days as well as those who are admitted, the project takes care of their feeding as well as the feeding on the attendants for the longevity of one’s stay at the facility. It’s this treatment that makes the Batwa feel free, access quality medical care, stay healthy and hope for the best. “The services at Mutorere are excellent, a reason why we are healthy and few mothers and children die during and after delivery”, Nyiraneza Mereth, a resident of Rubuguri in Kisoro district who I found at the hospital attending to her pregnant aunt told me.

This facility is about 5 kilometres away from Kisoro town. Depending on the Batwa community you are from, people trek a good distance to come here. Ruceri village is about 30 kilometres away and many people from this village also walk to get service at Mutorere while a few afford parting with over 6000 shillings hiring a motor cycle for a single route journey for one person.

Ssendegeya Emmanuel aged 29 years comes from Birara Batwa Community which is about 27 kilometrers from this hospital. He is a carpenter but I found him at the hospital because he is on TB treatment.

Nurse Katto Justine, the CCMB Cordinator at St. Francis Hospital Mutorere interating with one of the patients Ssendegeya Emmanuel at his hospital bed. When i visited the hospital, Ssendegeya had spent 6 days in the isolation unit
Nurse Katto Justine, the CCMB Cordinator at St. Francis Hospital Mutorere interating with one of the patients Ssendegeya Emmanuel at his hospital bed. When i visited the hospital, Ssendegeya had spent 6 days in the isolation unit

The day in found him at this health facility (10th December, 2015), he had been there for six days with his wife attending to him. “I have been here with my wife for close to a week now. All is well. I get medicine and am regularly checked on by the professionals. My wife and I get food from these people (the hospital management). I hope for a quick recovery and hope to be discharged soon”, a weak toned Ssendegeya told me from his hospital bed in the isolation wing.

 

CCMB Project at a Glance

Credited for changing the lives of the Batwa, this project started in 2009.

According to Katto Justine- registered nurse and midwife who is the project coordinator the need for this initiative emanated from their observations and findings during the numerous community outreach projects they used to carry out as a hospital. “We found out that the Batwa are poor and they had difficulties accessing health services. Mortality was high in the Batwa communities especially among women and children. It is this that made us think of ways to help these people” she narrated.

In 2009, the hospital patterned with CARE- an international NGO to scale up community health out reaches in the Batwa communities. “We started with 12 community outreach centres. During these outings, we emphasized the need to visit hospitals, did a number of tests, treated diseases and also carried out monitoring of pregnant women”, She explained adding that the drive saw a surge in the number of Batwa visiting health facilities after some time. With sensitization, Katto elaborates, the Batwa have improved on sanitation and personal hygiene though there is much to improve on.

In 2011, the CARE partnership came to an end and Sustain for Life- another NGO came on board. This organization foots the hospital bills and also pays for the food rations given to the patients and their care takers.

The hospital now receives about four Batwa pregnant women per month seeking antenatal services. As of today, 20 Batwa women are taking family planning services from St. Francis hospital. “Though the numbers are low, it’s a big step and an achievement- considering that we started from zero”, an enthusiastic Katto- an enrolled nurse by profession noted.

 

Outstanding Health Challenges Among the Batwa

As already highlighted, sanitation is still a huge health challenge among the Batwa. With poor sanitation, this community is not at all safe from diseases.

Due to the Batwa’s Landless nature, food is still a huge mountain to climb. Consequently, malnutrition cases among the Batwa children are high. The most affected are children. “Due to poor shelter and clothing, we get many cases of pneumonia among the Batwa children”, Katto elaborated but added that under the CCMB project, they are now giving mothers free baby clothing kits.

According to Katto, another huge health challenge is HIV and Positive living among the Batwa. Like any other community in Uganda, the Batwa are also affected by HIV/AIDS.

Some people are positive but very few know their HIV status. According Katto, the CCMB project encourages HIV testing during the community outreaches but very few test to know their status. Those who test positive, she adds are enrolled on treatment and closely monitored. However, she notes that positive living is a big challenge. “Adherence to treatment is a huge challenge because the Batwa are always on the move. Because of little food, taking medicine is difficult and positive living in now a huge challenge.

Traditions like sharing of women have increased the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases”, Katto further narrated to me during our detailed discussion in her office at St. Francis hospital- Mutorere.

Birth rate among the Batwa is high and uptake of family planning services is still very poor. According to Katto, after years of sensitization, they have registered 20 Batwa women who are using family planning. “This is a small number but a positive step”, she observes.

Despite all this, the Batwa are moving forward and the future looks brighter. Peninah Zaninka- the head of the Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (OBDU) observes that the Batwa have come from far and despite the challenges, they hope for a better tomorrow. According to Zaninka, the key to making the lives of the Batwa better is solving the land question- in other words; getting the Batwa Land to stay on and do developmental projects.

 

Batwa Resettlement Efforts

For over the years, non- governmental organizations have tried to resettle the Batwa. Organizations like the Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (OBDU), ADRA Uganda, CARE International, Bwindi Mugahinga Trust, the Adventist church and may others have bought land in several areas of Kisoro, Kanungu and Kabale districts where they have resettled some Batwa.

The Batwa in these areas are living in decent houses and have land for cultivation. As of December 2015, the Batwa had been resettled in Kabahenda, Butoobo, Kamugyemani all in Busanza Sub County- Kisoro district, Rubuguri, Nteko, and Nyakabande in Kisoro district.

In Kabale district, the Batwa have been resettled in Karengyere in Muko, Murambo, Ekinyarushengye and in Rubindi. In Kanungu, the Batwa have been resettled in Buhuma where they live today.

When I visited Kabahenda, Rubuguri, Nteko, Murambo, Karengyere and Buhuma communities where the Batwa have been resettled, I observed that the people here are living a more organized life, fully integrated into the community, sanitation levels are better, they are engaged in cultivation and they are more positive about life compared to those in communities like Kisoro Town, Ruceri village and other areas where the Batwa are living as squatters.

Voices of the People

Winnie Mukandinda- Land rights Officer at OBDU:

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Winnie Mukandinda- Land rights Officer at OBDU

 

The Batwa are such an interesting group of people with potential to do a lot. They have come from far and the future looks bright for them. Government of Uganda ought to come out now and work with the non- governmental organizations to address challenges of the Batwa especially Land. They were evicted from the forests without compensation and this injustice ought to be corrected.

Milton Mutabazi Bazanye, Chairman Kisoro District (2011-2015); As a leader I wish to see all the Batwa settled. As a district we have plans to resettle them but this is a long term project. We salute organizations that have really helped to resettle the Batwa much as more are still squatting. If the Batwa get land like those who have been resettled, we will be able to see their productivity and poverty among them will be history.

 

Sam Byibesho- the Kisoro Municipality Mayor (2011-16); When you compare the Batwa living in Kisoro town with those living in rural areas especially those who have been resettled, you realize that we need to get these people where they can call home.

Sam Byibesho Mayor Kisoro Town (2011-2016)
Sam Byibesho- the Kisoro Municipality Mayor (2011-16)

Addressing the Batwa land question is key but this needs all the stake holders to come on board. “ I propose that to get the Batwa on the same footing with the rest in development, after handling their land needs, we should come up with an affirmative action to economically empower them”, he notes.

 

Nyamihanda Alice- an Educated Mutwa: The Batwa have been marginalized for long.

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Nyamihanda Alice- an Educated Mutwa, currently working with OBDU

“We deserve better than this”. Am glad many Batwa children are now accessing education, many people are now engaged in income generating projects, the Batwa now access quality health care and of course the support from the NGOs is good.

However, one worrying aspect is the sustainability for some of these projects like the Health project at Mutorere hospital. “As a Mutwa, I believe we need a representative in Parliament who can be our voice and articulate our issues”, the 27 year old who dreams of representing her area in Parliament notes.

 

Ronah Ritah Ninsiima- The Kabale District Woman Member of Parliament (2011-2016): As leaders we must consider the plight of the Batwa people and see how to help them settle in the community.

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Hon. Ninsiima Ronah Ritah wants to see the Batwa benefit more from government programs and initiatives

They must also benefit from government programs like Operation Wealth creation, NAADS, Youth Livelihood fund but if they are still landless, they might not and they will unfortunately stay poor.

 

Tibamanya William Kisoso- The Mbarara district speaker (2011-2015);

Tibamanya William Kisoso- Speaker Mbarara district (2011-2016)
Tibamanya William Kisoso- The Mbarara district speaker (2011-2015)

I have visited families of the Batwa living in Mbarara district (Nyakayojo Sub County). The truth is, these people need to be loved, treated well, welcomed and they must enjoy every public good like all other Ugandans. Because of the historical injustice they faced, an affirmative action is needed to improve the situation they are in today.

 

John Justice Tibesigwa- Senior Warden Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; John Justice Tibesigwa- Warden Bwindi Impenetrable National ParkToday, we enjoy a good relationship with the Batwa. Many of them operate as tour guides in the national park where they get income, the areas neighboring the park where some Batwa stay benefit from the revenue sharing program. We are working with the Batwa leader and the district leadership to identify their former worshipping and ancestral places so that we preserve these places and also allow Batwa access to these important places.

 

 

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Environmental Degradation- Buhweju’s Visible ‘Benefit’ From Gold Mining

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Young and energetic men have abandoned Agriculture for mining

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.

Inside Buhweju

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.

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Gold Mining in Buhweju

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.

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Byarugaba Alexander looking for the precious mineral. Here he is trying to sort gold from the sand

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.

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Roads in Buhweju district are poor despite the gold resource.

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.

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This young man of school going age is now into gold mining

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.

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Manzie Mangochie- Geita district commissioner in Tanzania told Journalists last year that they get 200,000 US$ from the gold mining company operating in the area and to him this was too little. Buhweju got 1600$ in 2011/2012 financial year from government.

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.

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Ephraim Biraro- The Buhweju Member of Parliament wants the current mining laws revised

“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.

 Environmental concerns

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This wetland in Bukuto village is steadly vanishing. The open area is where the gold miners used to operate from. They have now shifted to another area with in the same swamp.

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.

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The recovery of such a wetland is most unlikely even if these miners close the open pits

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.

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According to the National Environmental management Authority and the Buhweju district Environmental officer, gold miners are supposed to cover the mining pits before going to another area but this just a wish.
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Behind me is a wetland yet to be encroached on but soon, the gold seekers will come.

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.

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With their rudimentary tools, these Ugandans have done more harm than good to the Eco-system.

By Cliff Abenaitwe- 2013/2014 Revenue watch and ACME Oil Gas and Mining fellow

The Gold- Poverty Paradox of Geita- An Inside Story

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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.

Geita district commissioner Manzie Mangochie talking to journalists under the revenue watch program at his office.
Geita district commissioner Manzie Mangochie talking to journalists under the revenue watch program at his office.

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.

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This is Geita town. Potholed roads, dust and poor houses are typical characteristics of the town that is sitting on gold.

These photos were taken from different areas of Geita district to show the situation on the ground.

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A cross section of Geita town. You will all agree with me, this place doesnot look gold.

 

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Part of Geita town-a stone throw away from the vast gold mine.

 

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The quality of people’s houses outside Geita town leaves alot to be desired

 

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Many young and energetic youth are unable to get jobs in the mines. They resort to this economic activity of crushing stones they steal from the GGM mining area to get gold from them.That is how they earn a living.

 

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One of the journalists looking on as one of the residents in the outskirts of the GGM gold mine crushes the stones looking for gold.

 

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This is Nyakabale village near the main gold mine. Locals in this area live in poor conditions.

 

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Looking for survival at all costs.These people in Geita are looking for gold from soil deposits.

 

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Its not only the youth but even the old women. This arises questions over the agricultural productivity in this area. Observers think these ladies should be in gardens as the youth look for money.

 

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The technology used by small scale miners is too rudimentary.

 

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This photo is of a collection of homesteads in Nyakabale village which is occupied by small scale and illegal miners.

 

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Small scale miners use dangerous methods in their quest for Gold. In this photo, mercury is mixed in the sad in the process of gold seeking. Health experts reveal that mercury is dangerous to human life

 

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With increased influx of people looking for opportunities in the gold mines, such houses and towns are expected to come-up.

 

Uganda Urged to tighten laws on Tobacco consumption

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Uganda Urged to tighten laws on Tobacco consumption

Cliff Abenaitwe

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 has persisted not only in Uganda but world over and this must stop according to health activists.
Tobacco advertising has persisted not only in Uganda but world over and this must stop according to health activists.

“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.

Such no smoking signs have been ignored by not only the owners of public places but by the public it self.
Such no smoking signs have been ignored by not only the owners of public places but by the public it self.

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.

Some of the effects of smoking
Some of the effects of smoking

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.

Tobacco growing has been a source of income to thousands in Uganda but activists say that people can grow alternative crops rather than Tobacco.
Tobacco growing has been a source of income to thousands in Uganda but activists say that people can grow alternative crops rather than Tobacco.

Baguma notes that if people in Tobacco growing areas are well sensitized and given alternative crops to grow, they will definitely abandon tobacco growing.

The choice is yours to quit smoking or face the dire effects. It begins now.
The choice is yours to quit smoking or face the dire effects. It begins now.

ALCOHOL’S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN

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ALCOHOL’S DAMAGING EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN

Abenaitwe Cliff

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.

Alcohol affects many body parts and this is how it damages the brain.
Alcohol affects many body parts and this is how it damages the brain.

Source: Alcohol Alert

Alcohol: The Enjoyable Secret Killing ‘Poison’

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Alcohol: The Enjoyable Secret Killing ‘Poison’

Cliff Abenaitwe

 

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.

Alcohol addiction

Different brands but same effect.
Different brands but same effect.

 

Facts about alcohol consumption are bitter but true.
Facts about alcohol consumption are bitter but true.

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

 

The long-term effects of alcohol

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.

Straight vodka

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.”

Life saver

For several years, maintaining a full-time finance job, he drank increasingly more during the day.

 “Start Quote

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

Alcohol affects many organs of the body and the liver is one of them.
Alcohol affects many organs of the body and the liver is one of them.

 

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.

 

Source: BBC