Mineral discovery in Uganda was started by artisanal miners in the colonial days. Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM) activities started with the production of iron and salt in South Western Uganda followed by gold and base metal mining in several places in Uganda. Wild cat type of mining was widespread throughout the country and blacksmiths added some value to the minerals before they could be locally utilized throughout the country.
In 1919, the Geological Survey and Mines Department (GSMD) of Uganda was established and subsequently ‘modern’ mining started in the early 1920s.
Artisanal mining in Uganda started with the discovery and establishment of a number of colonial gold and tin mines across South Western Uganda between the 1920s and 1950s when small‐scale mining was introduced to the indigenous Banyankole, Batoro, Bakiga, and other Bantu‐speaking tribes of that region.
In 1929, colonialists settled in Busia District (Tiira) after the discovery of the Busia gold field and started mining gold with the assistance of the local people who also realized that there was gold in the area. This in general led to small migrations into mining areas by various local tribes as well as Rwandese and Congolese, whose descendants still populate many of the mining areas in Uganda today (Hinton et al. 2011).
Formal mining started with the arrival of the British Explorers between the 1950s and 1970s leading to the establishment of Falconbridge’s Kilembe Mine as the first and only large‐scale mine in the country, producing over 271,000 tonnes of blister copper as well as cobalt.
Phosphates, limestone and several small to medium mines for tungsten, tin, beryl, niobium, tantalum, gold were operated in the 1930s-60s (e.g., Kitaka, Mwerasandu, Kirwa, Ruhizha) and several other commodities. During this period these mines were the third GDP contributor after coffee and cotton, contributing up to 35% of the country’s foreign export earnings.
As Uganda edged towards independence, political tension and insecurity led to the exodus of skilled man power out of Uganda and subsequent collapse of the mining industry. After independence, Uganda’s peace and stability was gradually restored and small scale mining resumed. The international investors that had fled the country were hesitant to return and therefore mining continued on small scale. There were a few medium scale mining operations especially of strategic minerals like limestone for cement manufacture, but precious metals, base metals and others continued to be exploited on small scale by artisanal miners.
With the relative stability experienced since the mid‐1980s, a series of gold and base metal discoveries by artisanal miners generated rushes that drew between 1,000 and 5,000 miners and introduced ASM to a number of farming and pastoral communities.
Most of these ASM activities have been alluvial, but those few occurring in hard rock deposits have led to the establishment of small to medium‐scale mechanized operations where mining, crushing, grinding, and gravity concentration equipment replaced the manual hauling, crushing, grinding, and panning methods that characterize ASM across the country. At Busitema for example, cyanide vat leaching was introduced as an alternative to mercury amalgamation which is still practiced by ASM in that region. Although licensing of several other small‐scale, hard rock operations (vis‐à‐vis “Location licenses” for small operations) also resulted from a series of discoveries in the 1980s through to today, these operations continue to be highly manual, employing essentially the same practices as unlicensed and/or illegal miners.
Other commodities like sand, clay, dimension stones and construction materials (aggregates) have been mined locally by communities and homesteads throughout the whole country to support the domestic construction industry. The production rate is controlled by demand and it is also seasonal and varies from region to region