The Karamoja region in North Eatern Uganda was first mapped at a scale of 1:250,000 and published in the ‘Geology of Karamoja’ by Williams (1966). Macdonald (1961, 1966), Williams (1966), Elepu et al. (2012) and Baglow et al. (2012) sub-divided the rocks of the Karamoja region into the Karamoja and the Karasuk. The Karamoja Group is made up of a mixed assemblage of granite gneiss, migmatite, biotite gneiss, banded biotite and garnet gneiss, granulite and charnockite, leucocratic granite gneiss, and minor intrusive rocks. The Karasuk Group consists of a mixture of undifferentiated granite gneiss, quartzite with amphibolite bands and marble.
Gold has been exploited in several places in the Karamoja region in shallow alluvial pits and as alluvials in streams in several locations. Production and grades have not been recorded. Artisanal gold workings have been developed on alluvial gold occurrences in many of the streams in the Karamoja area and on less common colluvial gold locations.
Most the known ASM areas are in Morulem, Lodiko, Sokodo, Lopei, Loith, and Karita and some of the ASM alluvial working sites include Nakapel-Kekuil, Nariobwol, Kopoth, Alerek, Lokemer, Angorom, Rogomolim west and Rupa. It should be noted that gold mining in the Karamoja Region is seasonal and increases during the rainy season. By the time of this research, most of the mine sites had been abandoned and most of the information collected was from the sub-county headquarters.
Karita Sub County in Amudat District has had the most number of ASMs. In 2012 at Riamatuam and Chepkwarat mine sites, over 600 artisanal women and men miners were engaged in gold mining. The site had no sanitation facilities and no kind of associations. When we visited this site, all that is left are deep abandoned pits, some have collapsed and/or covered by soil erosion process and apart from one or two people/homesteads, there were no signs of mining in the site (Figure 12 A and B). The mineral dealers in this site were from Kenya.
In Lopedo (Figure 12C), Karita and other localities in Nakapiripirit, the artisanal miners targeted narrow granite veins with minor ex-sulphide. Veins are hosted by strongly deformed biotite gneiss. In 2013, a gold rush was reported approximately 10 Km NE of Nakapiripirit town centre. By April 2014, over 10,000 women and men artisanal miners from all over the region had relocated to this site which quickly evolved into a small village (Figure 12E). Several open pits remain in the area, some deeper than 10 meters and have been developed into underground adits (Figure 12F).
In 2011, Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), estimated the number of artisanal gold miners in Karamoja at 15,000 including men, women and children and this was rising each day.
Simon Nangiro, head of the Karamoja Miners Association, estimated that around 120,000 people in the region make a living panning for gold of which 20,000: 10,000 are based in Rupa alone. It has to be noted that gold mining is seasonal (mostly depending on the weather) and the number of miners therefore fluctuates considerably during the year. Also, gold miners go from one area to another.
Hinton et al. (2011) estimated that extra-legal or informal gold miners may number up to 18000 Karamajongs which engage in mining seasonally, depending on rainfall and security conditions. Methods are extremely manual, typically including pits, shafts and tunnels dug with sticks, in some cases iron rods, while if gold is associated with hard rock (e.g. in quartz veins) rather than alluvial deposits, rock is ground to fine powder using grinding stone or pounded using hard rocks.
Separation of gold from waste minerals is done either by plastic basins or calabashes. Miners expose themselves to a number of occupational risks including chronic exposure to dust and heat (sun scorching), accidents from flying rock fragments, falling debris and collapse of open pit walls or underground tunnels leading to loss of life. “Wildcat pitting” renders livestock grazing and free passage of humans difficult, if not impossible, at ASM sites because of the risk of falling into pits. A typical artisanal small-scale gold mining day begins at dawn (5 a.m.) and ends at 2 p.m.
Currently the gold selling prices range from Shs. 100,000 to Shs.150,000 per gram and is mainly sold to buyers from Teso, Kampala and to a lesser extent, Somalia and Kenya.
ASM in Karamoja is often practiced as an entire family’s survival strategy involving the husband, wife (or wives) and children. On many days, artisanal miners yield little if any gold from non-producing pits. However, even when production is small, based on seasonal variations in production, miners are estimated to earn at most Shs. 10,000 per person/day in the dry season but according to the locals this increases during the rainy season. At some gold sites like Rupa up to 90% of miners are women.