As Uganda continues to grapple with the trajectory direction of its mining sector, the world’s fortune hunters are busy looking for cheap gold in the pearl of Africa. The last three years have seen a spike in gold exports from a few kilograms of declared gold exports from both the Uganda Revenue Authority and the Central Bank in 2014, to over 16 tonnes exported in the 2016/17 fiscal year. In spite of these impressive records registered by URA and the Bank of Uganda, gold mining and business as a whole remains a black hole known by a few, protected by the VVIP security arms of government, exciting fortune hunters in the Middle East, Europe and the United States of America, a blessing to scammers in Kampala and a nightmare to many a fool’s gold hunters.
However, to the busy night life of suburban Kampala such as Kabalagala, Bunga and Munyonyo this gold craze and excitement has created as many gold “Dons” and clientele imbibing the fortunes of fool’s gold in the company of the best of Uganda’s slay queens money can buy to the excitement of bar owners. To the car dealers at Auto-Link and other bonds littered in Kampala, it has been a few good golden years as midnight bourgeoisies out compete each other to acquire the latest model monster rides of their dreams. It is common to find these rides being washed with honey and milk and polished with sheer butter amidst the January summer heat along the Kansanga-Bunga road as their owners sleep in wait for the midnight Kampala high-end life.
A recent study by the Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy and the National Environmental Management Authority on Mercury use in gold extraction reveals that Uganda currently produces an estimated 7 tonnes of gold. Questions with open answers continue to be paused by the international group of experts about the source of the “Ugandan Gold” with little interest about the role played by the UN security agencies in the great lakes region with their base a stone throw away from the now famous Africa Gold Refinery (AGR) in Entebbe Uganda.
Battle lines have been drawn over the recent arrival of other gold refiners such as Simba Gold Refinery, Bullion Gold Refinery and Victoria Gold Star Refinery over the control of the booming gold refining and export business as AGR fights off these competitors from eating away a piece of their triple bottom-line. Interestingly the Ugandan government fiscal planners at the Central bank, Uganda revenue Authority and Ministry of Finance appear to be in a policy dilemma on how to address this issue and increase the mining sector’s contribution to our GDP all the way to the NRM promised Vision 2040 Holy Grail.
As a solution to all this madness, our Sabalwanyi has moved from advocating for the removal of the 1% royalty fee on all imported gold into Uganda in the process making Uganda a magnet for all illicit gold mined by our not so politically stable neighbours, forgetting this was already taken care of by his movement boys in Bunga, Kabalagala and Munyonyo rich men’s suburbs, dancing to the tunes of Ndombolo ya solo with Kabila’s brothers under the full watch and protection of his VVIP police unit. He has also recently deployed his beloved daughter, the head of the Police Minerals Protection Unit to hunt down the illegal miners in the gold shafts of Mubende, though the grapevine from the illegal miners has it that the illegal mining bounty hunter has since turned gold hunter in the same holes where over 60,000 Uganda fortune hunters and NRM voters were chased in September of 2017 by then 10-month service Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD). This week, our CiC crowned it all off by sending a thief and thief protector to catch another by ordering the same police to clamp down on all illegal gold dealers in Kampala, but we all know how this story will end.
As the likes of Don Nasser and S.K Mbuga continue to rot in Ugandan and Dubai prisons while the likes of Jack Pemba and others dance to the sweet tunes of Koffi Olomide’s Effrakata Mopao Mokonzi, another self-assured Mzungu is Kuzungumuka boarding the next plane to Kampala, the city of cheap gold. He has been promised a hundred (100) Kilograms of gold at a fee of US 25,000 a kilogram where the LME spot price is at US35,000 in his backyard and thinks the African jungle boys are too naïve and clueless. Unknown to him, that is the piece of banana thrown to him by these experienced monkey trappers and eaters of Nyaama yamakaku in the Congolese jungles, as they dance to R. Kelly’s Ignition in visualization of their next US$100,000 Germany monster ride in wait for their prey to fall in their monkey trap. Imagine the excitement of making US$ 15,000 a kilogram, and he has possibly already advanced our Kampala smart boys with their French and Lingala speaking Congolese brothers US$500,000 for VVIP security clearance, escort of gold and payment of legal fees, royalty fees and rents.
Well, well my brothers and sisters from the Middle East, Europe and the United States, don’t believe the hype because the Great Lakes Region might be one shit hall jungle, but this jungle knows the LME price, this jungle has internet and yes, it is also full of smarter boys with the potential to access the same market in your back yard. As you embark on this fortune merry-go-around madness in the jungles of Africa, remember to write your will and make sure your house and motor vehicle mortgages have been fully paid because Uganda might be one shit hall country but definitely not a Cheap Gold Supermarket.
To our dear President, you can fight all forms of wars with guns, but economic wars and solutions are better addressed in board rooms with policy makers, economists and technocrats. As you might have by now learnt from the progress made by our assembled team at PEPD, PAU and UNOC, the mining industry as well as the Oil and Gas industry thrive when left to trusted responsible technocrats and policy makers. To the policy makers and economists at the central bank, ministry of finance and Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, we know all your eyes and brains have been mesmerized by the forecast billion of the beautiful black golden Albertine Graben lady (Ms Oil & Gas). To reclaim the mining sector from the shackles of bafeere, we must get back to the drawing board and discover the hidden economic treasures of our pure Busia, Mubende, Namayingo, Buhwejju and Karamajong pure golden jewels with an adequate policy and legal framework that regulates refining, assaying and trade of gold in Uganda?
Bwesigye Don Binyina
The Author is the Chairman of the
ICGLR- Mineral Audit Committee
& Executive Director,
Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP)