By: FREDERIC MUSISI
Kampala: Human Rights Watch has called upon the government to immediately review mining activities in Karamoja sub-region as a way of checking the escalating cases of land grabbing, exploitation and evictions from mineral-rich land.
In a report titled, “How Can We Survive Here” the rights group said gold mining has caused the inhabitants estimated to be more than 1.2 million to be “second class citizens.”
The report also revealed that locals are increasingly exploited by private investors — an issue government has kept silent about.
“Government has sold off a huge part of Karamoja to private investors and the situation is becoming increasingly difficult,” Ms Maria Burnett, a senior researcher at the New York-based group, noted yesterday.
“Yet the extent to which people are not benefiting from these activities is much bigger than what we know,” Ms Burnett added.
But State minister for Karamoja Affairs Barbara Nekesa dismissed the findings as far-fetched. “All activities in the region are documented and government is aware of whatever is happening,” Ms Nekesa said.
She added: “If government or investors want land, there are procedures, which we follow in line with the law.”
The rights body further stated that government has massively licenced companies to conduct exploration and mining operations in the region between the years 2003-2011 yet the ability to support and educate affected communities or monitor the companies’ operations still lags behind.
The head of miners – Karamoja miners association, Mr Simon Nangiro, supported the findings, adding that the situation is so appalling as local leaders, the few elite and politicians are “conniving with the companies.”
He narrated a current scenario where an Indian-owned company in Moroto District sealed off more than 64 square kms for gold exploration, including a river used by several communities.