Here, we shed blood to live!.
“Here, life is hard. It is not like from town (where you come from). Here, we shed blood to live. Come here and try to break this stone. Can you manage?” One community member speaking to us.
The myth about extractives all over the globe is its ability to potentially improve peoples’ lives but fails to do so. This tale is extremely understandable in Rupa Sub County of Moroto district in Karamoja. In Rupa alone, two factories are getting set up for marble products. One in Rata Village owned by DAO Africa Limited and another in Namorupokoi village. These two factories will proudly produce marble products from Karamoja like calcium carbonate, slabs and tiles which will be exported and somehow sold in the local market.
DAO Africa Limited site in Rata Village of Lopusak has already invested about $12 million (Uganda shillings 43.2 billion) to the factory project. The factory will have three production lines for Calcium Carbonate and two others for slabs and tiles. One line is operational for Calcium Carbonate and the second line is under advanced stages of completion. All construction work is hoped to be finished in three months. The factory will then employ about 170 locals (Ugandans).
DAO and other small scale operators say Karamoja`s marble is the highest in quality. Spain provided the highest before Karamoja`s potential was discovered. Currently, DAO is producing the highest and finest Calcium Carbonate in the region. This is not yet available in the market.
DAO factory operates on a four square kilometer piece of land for a more 26 year lease period. During this period, DAO intends to train more locals (Ugandans) in operations and technical management of the factory. DAO uses high and recent technologies from the best countries of the world.
However, in Lopusak village, about 2500 people directly work and break small stones from the DAO site. The community has been allowed to use small stones for sale to private companies that supply factories producing Calcium Carbonate in Jinja and beyond. DAO is interested in blocks. This could change at the dawn of the factory.
The community members working in the DAO site have no relationship whatsoever with the company. They are illegal. Their work is at their own risk. They have to find market for stones on their own. They have to feed themselves, treat themselves and care for themselves.
A truck of fifteen tonnes load carrying small stones earns a group of four or five people 250,000/= (about $70). We understand that a tonne of marble small stones costs about 70,000/= ($19) when brokers (middle men) buy from suppliers at the site. At the Jinja based factories, we understand that a tonne of marble small stones goes for 110,000/= ($30). These figures and negotiations that occur at the site are confidential together with the consequent exploitation and intimidation accruing from a very high level of ignorance from the community members.
At the dawn and humongous discovery of minerals in Karamoja which followed its extraction, governments (local and central) and communities were excited. Extractives are poised to propel Uganda`s economy and provide a boost to achieving vision 2040 of a transformed economy. This was hoped for Karamoja as well.
The future desired situation of life in Karamoja is far from imagination. The picture is getting blurred as day follows light. Ignorant communities actively engaging in the mining sector are pitied against profit oriented companies and careless governments. The communities have been left to negotiate for their stake and benefits with very experienced technical companies and their associates. Communities have been lured into signing paper agreements against their will and in depth knowledge. Prices have been fixed for communities (gold, marble & limestone). Land has been ignorantly given and forcefully acquired by companies and associates. Constitutional benefits like royalties, taxes and compensation have yet to be fulfilled and declared. Communities, civil society and local governments are yearning for transparency. Confidentiality and bureaucracy are ruining the picture. No one will know. No one publishes what is paid. No one will get required benefits.
This story can be told elsewhere in Karamoja where extractives are palatable.
When we returned from a disheartening story of Rata site, we came along with Moru (not real name) whose leg had been hit by a sharp stone. She was badly bleeding. A company she was loading stones for attempted to provide first aid. It was not enough. She was left to herself. It was her mistake. Moru earns about 3,000/= ($0.9) per day from such work. She was in pain. We took her to Rupa Health Center. The medic there informed us they get such instances severally. This is visible at the site. The stones are sharp, the tools are heavy, and the situation is dire.
Despite all these, government`s stand remains at providing a conducive environment for investment. The government wants to attract as many investors as possible. Karamoja`s land and situation, leave alone livelihood of pastoralism is at stake. Karamoja is said to host about 40% of Uganda`s mineral potential, yet it only constitutes 20% of a land that is not aerially surveyed.
With this attitude and policy direction and the consultative process for the new mining law and policy on course, the civil society is working hard to present community voices. It will be up to the legislators and Uganda`s policy makers and decision makers to provide and perpetuate an extractive industry which sheds blood to live.