12 min read
08 Jul

Residents of Yinga Village in Terego District, Uganda, are calling for an investigation into the mining activities of Kyekahoma Company Limited. The private company has been prospecting for gold in the area, but locals accuse it of violating environmental regulations, engaging in land grabbing, and neglecting the rights of the community. Concerns have also been raised regarding the welfare and safety of workers at the mining site. The following article presents a comprehensive overview of the situation, highlighting the grievances of the residents and the need for intervention.

Key to Note: Background:

In August 2021, Kyekahoma Company Limited was granted a three-year exploration license by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. The license allowed the company to prospect for gold within a designated area split between the Terego and Yumbe districts. 

However, locals claim that the company has disregarded the conditions set by the geological survey and mining department and has failed to conduct an environmental and social impact assessment.

Attached are workers of Kyekahoma Mining Company Limited at the exploration site in Yinga

Allegations of Environmental and Social Impact:

The residents claim that Kyekahoma Company Limited failed to conduct the necessary environmental and social impact assessments before commencing mining operations. They assert that the company's activities have led to the destruction of the ecosystem and biodiversity in the area. The company is accused of clearing trees without replacement and digging pits near the river, posing a threat to domestic use and animal habitats. They accuse the company of failure to conduct environmental and social impact assessments, land grabbing, and interfering with the ecosystem as well as biodiversity. 

The locals say that the company has in effect acted in total violation of the directives from the geological survey and mines department that granted the license to the company.

On August 25, 2021, the ministry of energy and mineral development, through the department of geological survey and mines, awarded a three year exploration license to Kyekahoma Company Limited for the period running from 2021 to 2024.

This followed a successful one-year prospecting in 2020 within an area of 10.5 km2 split into two by the Ore River, with 70% lying in Terego district and the remaining 30% in Yumbe district.

Company Flyers

In a letter signed by Mrs. Agnes Alaba for the commissioner of geological survey and mines department, Kyekahoma Company Limited was directed to clearly abide by a set of special conditions before commencing exploration.

These included proof of the submission of the environmental restoration plan, a self-monitoring plan, and compliance with other relevant laws, including the National Environment Act 2019, the Water Act, and the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, among others, to conserve nature.

One of the village's local council chairpersons, Mr. Jackson Amayu, accuses the company of illegally accessing his land and forging documents to obtain the exploration license. He also claims that the company has intimidated and forcibly evicted him and other affected families. 

Mr. Amayu further more highlights the lack of formal agreements to claim royalties, despite the company exploiting the land's resources. The community demands compensation for their land and a fair share of the mineral profits.

Meanwhile, Part of the 10.5 km2 of land belongs to the Local council. The chairperson of Yinga Village, Mr. Jackson Amayu, accused the company of illegally accessing his land, forging land documents to obtain exploration license, and intimidating and forcefully evicting him over the land in violation of his rights to land and property.

Jackson Amayu, who is also the leader for the aggrieved residents, says 24 families have been left in panic by Kyekahoma Mining Company Limited as those whose land was taken by the company do not have any formal agreement to claim royalties.

“Though the land belongs to me, we don’t have any agreement with the company, the activities of this company are illegal, the leadership of the company ignored us, threatening that they were sent by President Museveni, and nobody is supposed to question whatever they are doing. They told us they had found gold here, but none of us has gotten any coins from them. If they have found minerals in our land, why can’t they give our share as the landlords, This is unjust, Next time, we are going to block this activity because it’s not productive but rather destructive,” Amayu explained.

This is equally proved by a land agreement signed on July 13, 2022, between Kyekahoma Company Limited and one of the landlords, Ponzio Onzima, who is a member of Yinga community.

Concerns Over Worker Safety and Rights:

The workers employed by Kyekahoma Company Limited at the mining site raise issues related to their safety and rights. They complain about poor health conditions, inadequate protective gear, suffocation risks due to limited oxygen underground, and low wages. The company allegedly fails to provide employment contracts or address workers' concerns regarding working conditions and salary increments. These conditions violate workers' rights as outlined in the Ugandan Constitution.

Mr. Amayu further explains that conservation of the environment has not been a priority for the company and urges the government to consider a mandatory audit of the activities of the private mining companies as they mainly focus on the minerals that they are looking for rather than addressing environmental challenges that may come with their activities.

“Some of the pits are dug up to the buffer zones of the river, making it hazardous for domestic use and animals, Trees have been cleared without replacement. We need the government to come in to intervene,” Amayu added.

Jackson Amayu one of the landlords, Speaks .mp3

Section 52 (2) of the National Environment Act 2019 on the restrictions on the use of lakes and rivers in Part (b) bars any person or company from excavating, drilling, or disturbing the lake or river bed without any approved guidelines from the relevant Authority.

The law provides for a fine of 30,000 currency points (an equivalent of 600,000,000 shillings) or imprisonment not exceeding 12 years, or both, if proven guilty.

Part Of River Oru

Kyekahoma Company Limited recruited 21 locals as staff to work at the site, where more than 20 different pits of 10 to 20 feet have been dug to establish the presence of gold. These workers, when approached, complained of poor health arising from a lack of protective gadgets, cases of suffocation due to limited oxygen underground, and low pay. 

Mr. Justine Baker, a casual laborer, explains that since they were recruited by Kyekahoma Company Limited to dig the pits for mining, they have not signed up-to-date agreements or terms of work with the company. She blames officials of the company for deal darling over their wages, noting that there cries about poor working conditions and salary increments have not been responded to by the company.

“The company only pays Sh5,000 per day for which we work from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and you can even suffocate inside the pit due to a lack of oxygen, there are no safety gadgets in case of a collapse of the pit, and there is no rescue plan,” Baker said.

Patrick Cemari, a Landlord who is also one of the miners attached to Kyekahoma Company Limited, revealed that the working environment for the workers is not safe enough, posing health risks.

“Entering 10 to 20 feet deep into the pit is very dangerous; with little oxygen circulation, people can suffocate. Sometimes you come out while on the verge of collapsing, and protective gadgets are not enough. We need government support to intervene in these mistreatments,” Cemari explains.

Voices of some of the workers.mp3

Article 40 of the 1995 Constitution provides for the protection of workers' rights, which includes the recognition of just and favorable conditions of work.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), in their 2021 National Labor Force Survey, revealed that eight hundred ninety-eight thousand (898,000) persons of the working population had suffered accidents or injuries in the 12 months preceding the survey, and three hundred fifty-seven thousand (357,000) of the 898,000 persons suffered serious accidents that caused their absence from work.

In June 2022, Uganda’s Ministry Of Energy And Mineral Development announced that the country, through aerial geological surveys, discovered gold deposits of around 320,158 metric tons worth $12.8 trillion, with experts stating that if the amount of discovered gold deposits is anything to go by, this will make Uganda, the pearl of Africa, the third richest country in the world in terms of mineral possession.

However, with the good news at hand, many local and international investors have infiltrated the mining industry without necessarily following the rightful procedures to engage in gold mining, despite having valid licenses.

Mr. Modest Arima, the LC III Chairperson of Odupi Sub County, where the exploration is taking place, says the company has not clarified the legality of their operations in the area.

“It is a source of insecurity because this is a company that has not introduced itself to the leadership, they did not report to my office, and I don’t know about them. I’ve tasked the security committee to investigate them,” Arima said

In April 2022, locals from Yinga Village through their councilor, stormed the Terego district council, sitting over the activities of the mining company in their area that they described as destructive to nature.

However, the Authorities say they were kept in the dark about the activities of Kyekahoma Company Limited in the district as none of the mandatory documents listed in the exploration license were given to them.

This prompted Wilfred Saka, the district LC5 Chairperson, to direct the district’s natural resources committee to verify community claims and feed the council on the next course of action.

“They did not report here, nor did they report at the sub-county. It was the local community that started raising concerns about them, but what has really stood out about this practice is that our local community is being cheated. 

The said land is reported to have been sold to an individual, but the community is now complaining that the land belongs to them. I am now directing the natural resources committee to go and investigate the issues around this mining,” Saka directed.

Hon. Obiga Kania, the State Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development who doubles as the Member of Parliament for Terego East constituency, says the company is defrauding the government and its citizens, something that needs to be critically analyzed before giving licenses.

According to Hon. Kania, the practices portrayed by the officials of Kyekahoma Company Limited are not in line with the guidelines issued by the ministry, which term them illegal and dubious.

“We are not against mining anywhere in Uganda, the community must be involved, and the local governments must be involved. This will act as a basis for advocating for the welfare of the people involved and their environment. When somebody gets a license from the ministry, he goes with it to the district and to the sub-county before he goes to prospect because it is more than prospecting minerals, it involves the lifestyle of the people and the environment in which they live,” Kania explains

Hon. Obiga Kania, the State Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development

Obiga Kania State Minister Urban Development.mp3

Mr. John Engamvile, Terego District Environment Officer, admits that, as a local government, his office did not receive any notification about the activities of the company until communities raised alarms, which made it hard for them to truck their operations.

He said for a company to carry out an environmental and Social Impact Assessment, local governments play a vital role in recommending certification upon fulfillment of the set conditions by National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). 

He emphasized that none of the officials of Kyekahoma Company Limited approached his office.

“They brought an introduction letter; those people never prepared an EIA that’s why we were not consulted by the Ministry to comment. We are supposed to be part of the system to prepare the EIA to see how their activities are going to impact the environment, the people and how to restore it after the activity,” Engamvile noted.

John Engamvile Terego, district Environment Officer.mp3

Local authorities express their concerns about the lack of compliance and inadequate oversight of Kyekahoma Company Limited's mining activities. The company reportedly did not approach the district or sub-county offices to notify them or seek approval for its operations. The absence of mandatory documents and the presentation of dubious and incomplete paperwork cast doubt on the company's authenticity and adherence to legal procedures.

An uncoordinated coordination of Company information

From the scanty information published on the home page of the official website of Kyekahoma Company Limited, the owners described the company as a mining company that is located in Wandegeya, Syliver Building, Kampala, Uganda, with no more facts on the plot number or room number where this office is exactly located, including what the company deals in, and their objectives are not known. 

On the other hand, on the exploration license, the Kyekahoma Company Limited submitted another piece of contrary information indicating that they are located at Namuswa Plaza, Booma East, ground floor, Wandegeya, Kyadondo, with a non-existing telephone number and postal address of P.O. BOX 2175, Kampala.

These two mismatching pieces of information raise more doubts about the authenticity of the company, While at the described locations published by the company, there are only arcades occupied by business persons, who revealed that there is no company called Kyekahoma Company Limited in the Syliver building as well as at Namuswa Plaza. 

“I have not heard of any company like that. Where could it be? Our reporter asked them again,” one of the business people stated.

Arima also raised concerns over the legality of the documents the company has presented to the district’s natural resources committees. He says there is a need to investigate the authenticity of the documents. Before this committee, the Company presented its registration certificate, exploration license, prospecting license, and map of the demarcated area for gold mining.

“Some of these things are written in pen, something from the ministry? That’s why I want these things investigated,” Arima queried.

video showing Accedes at the Sylva building.

According to the records obtained from the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), Kyekahoma Company Limited was registered on September 19, 2020, as a company limited by shares whose directors are Ismail Isingoma and Jean Hasabintuni, with Aisha Latembo as the permanent secretary, and whose shareholders include but are not limited to Asiimwe Miraj, Rahim Saidi, and Nyakato Samuel.

On the other hand, several attempts made to reach the company management for responses on the allegations were in vain due to uncoordinated and misleading information shared about the company, and even the telephone number provided on the official website of Kyekahoma Company Limited was not available for the three weeks of trying to call.

Kyekahoma Company Limited speaks out.

After several struggles, Two months later another telephone number was provided from the ministry of energy and mineral development on inquiry, this time it was a success. The officer behind the number happens to be Abubakar Nassib, the Secretary to the Chief Executive Officer of Kyekahoma Company Limited, and he explains that due to sensitive confidential reasons best known to the company, they have closed all their offices and can only be reached through phone calls. 

“The company offices at Syliver building were temporarily closed for reasons that are confidential to the organization, you can only reach us through phone calls,” Nassib revealed.

Abubakar Nassib the Secretary to the Chief Executive Officer, Speaks.mp3

According to Nassib, the company has an agreement with one of the landlords, who has officially approached the company about the land and is waiting for his entitlements.

“At first we were working, later the landlord approached us and wanted some share, so we agreed on 2%, which we signed, and we have no more time for negotiations,” Abubakar Stated.

Section 20 of the Land Act of 2004 as Amended bars any member of a family or community from carrying out transactions on customary land belonging to a family or community without the consent of other members and terms such a transaction void and illegal. The act further gives room for the purchaser to demand any payment made to such an illegal dealer in compensation.

When asked about the environmental concerns, the Secretary General admitted that they have not done much about conservation but are trying to rectify the errors.

These observations and testimonies were put before the Secretary of the company, Abubakar Nassib, who could not present any evidence of compliance with the available special conditions directed by the commissioner of geological survey and mines and further explained that despite the fact they have not fulfilled the conditions, they are ensuring environmental protection at the moment.

“We had actually taken some measures to see how we could prevent that, but as you can see, it is a seasonal river that falls in the demarcated area. We have water pumps where we draw water from the river, and we come and wash our gold from there. At first, the workers dug many pits, but we are going to refill them with soil”.

Section 157 of the National Environmental Act, 2019, demands proprietors’ of companies make a detailed assessment on social, health, safety, and environmental aspects such as air quality, vibration and noise, hydrology, water surface, influx management, and waste management, among others, and further includes a fine not exceeding 30,000 currency points (an equivalence of 600,000,000 shillings) or imprisonment not exceeding ten years, or both, in total contravention.

However, Due to mounting pressure from the local leadership of Terego District, on August 29, 2022, Kyekahoma Company Limited delivered a letter addressed to the Chief Administrative Officer, copied to the LC 5 chairman, and the RDC notifying the district of their presence nearly a year after their operations in the district.

Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development opens up

Solomon Muyita, the Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Energy And Mineral Development, says licensing companies to deal in the mining sector is not limited to those registered entirely to do mining. He attributes this to the few local investors in the country.

According to Muyita, companies are awarded licenses after demonstrating their capacity to carry on with mining, starting with exploration, and this is based on the financial standing of the company, not necessarily the human capital.

“We don’t have companies that entirely deal in mining. That’s why we encourage any interested company to venture into the business, provided they have the finances to run the process. We have technical personnel who would then train their staff, or we encourage them to hire. This is still a young industry that the government has just prioritized now with modern labs, and we hope for things to slowly improve,” Muyita explained.

He notes that the exploration license given to companies is for them to introduce themselves to the local leadership where the activity is to be conducted, whose copies are to be delivered at every administrative unit.

According to Muyita, the practice of forceful evictions on land is disregarded by the minister, who encourages the landlords to launch complaints against such companies, which the ministry, on the other hand, investigates.

World Bank cautions

Christine Kasede, a World Bank Environmental Specialist in Uganda, warns that the destruction of nature by unregulated mining activities is ruining Africa’s Wealth as few benefit from the resources.

She says despite the fact that countries have laws in place, governments should ensure close monitoring of mining activities by the immediate lower local governments to avoid adverse effects of environmental destruction.

Attachment: Christine Kasede, World Bank Environmental Specialist

“Mineral extraction is a good venture and is the major export for most of the African countries. But they should watch out for the climatic crisis caused by the miners and save their nations. Supervision, monitoring, and oversight are not done in the offices. Go out to the fields from lower governments to the top if we want to save nature and the people,” Kasede cautions.

The Mining Act 2022, as amended, bars any person or company from prospecting, mining, or exploration operations without a valid mineral right, license, or permit; aiding or assisting illegal operations, trespassing on mineral rights of other owners. Once proven guilty, the person is liable to fines ranging from Sh60m to Sh500m or imprisonment terms of between two and seven years, or both.

BY: Dramadri Federick - Dailywestnile.info 
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