MUBENDE, Uganda — The hunt for gold takes the men 100 meters (yards) underground, past contraptions of wood and rope rigged to function like pulleys, past hard rock that they attack day and night with demolition hammers. When they emerge at the end of a shift, the miners carry stone samples that will be examined for the dark veins that suggest presence of gold.
The gold rush is on in a big way in this central Ugandan district of Mubende. So big that tens of thousands of people make their livelihood from it. Makeshift tents of blue tarps dot the green hills that are pockmarked by pools of muddy water where ore is washed, separating the gold. Four mining camps have sprung up in recent years, featuring brothels and restaurants.
Now, Ugandan government officials are considering evicting the miners, saying they are not licensed. The government would evict them under eminent domain, compensate them and then open the area to bidders with development plans.
“These people are scratching across the surface, like rats,” Edwards Kagimba, the director of geological surveys and mines at Uganda’s Ministry of Energy, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “These are small-scale miners living hand to mouth. They cannot set up a proper mine.”
But Kagimba and some other officials believe it would be a politically unpopular move, and perhaps a dangerous one, to try to force some 50,000 people from the land. Uganda holds presidential elections next February or March. Any evictions, if they happen at all, would likely be after the vote.
Some miners say they would fiercely resist any eviction attempt. Many would prefer to be licensed, pointing out that that would also benefit the government as they would consequently be paying taxes.
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