Do Ugandan Mining Companies Ignore the Social License to Operate? Reflecting on Community Perspectives

During a recent civil society consultative meeting held in Karamoja sub-region in North Eastern Uganda to discuss with locals the review of mining law and policy in Uganda, participants from the community made cynical statements about mining operations in the region:

One participant stated; “As we talk here trucks and trucks ferry marble and the people of Rupa swallow dust.”

Another participant said; “ they come here and cordon off large pieces of land beyond what is allowed under their licenses and the locals have nowhere to graze their cattle. They forget we are a pastoralist community. No one asks us whether we want the mining in the first place. We just see companies show up in our midst.”

A female artisanal miner stated; “ Companies pay us 30,000 – 40,000 USHs for a full truck of marble, yet we have been informed that it should cost 3,00,000 USHs. Sexual abuse also happens in our community.” “How does the law help a person who exchanges one trip of marble for one jerrican of waragi (local brew)?” asked yet another participant.

While not all assertions are proven, they indicate a climate of mistrust, dislike and contempt for extractive companies operating in Karamoja by the local communities.

Karamoja sub-region in Uganda is endowed with a number of minerals including gold, marble limestone, gemstones and silver among others, and plays host to roughly 20 companies involved in the mining sector at different stages. However, the region, largely home to nomadic pastoralist and agro-pastoralist indigenous communities, is characterized by chronic poverty and has the lowest human development indicators in the country. It is believed that the mining industry has the potential to spur development and transform peoples’ lives within the sub-region.

However, as evidenced by the aforementioned comments, there exists a disconnect between local communities and these mining companies. Community members said they had very limited information about the sector, and complained of lack of consultation, exploitation and human rights abuses by the mining companies.

The social license to operate, generally referring to the acceptance within local communities of mining projects, is a critical factor for the success of the mining industry in any country. Indeed regional and international voluntary initiatives within the extractive industry have also recognized the importance of community engagement and consultation throughout the mining process. Local communities and indigenous people have the right to be consulted about mining projects because they bear the brunt of the negative impacts of mining, and ensuring Free, Prior and Informed Consent is now a well recognized international best practice.

Furthermore, lack of social acceptance is also a driver of conflict and insecurity in mining countries and regions, negatively impacting development.

As Uganda embarks on revamping its mining industry, companies must not under estimate the need for acquiring and maintaining their social license to operate in the communities where they work. Companies should also support the establishment of effective mechanisms for community engagement and consultations.

There is need for a legal and policy framework to require clear evidence of free and informed consent from indigenous communities and include robust procedures to consult the affected communities throughout the mining process. Countries have adopted different ways of ensuring community consultation and engagement that Uganda can learn from. For example, the Tanzania Mining Act of 2010 has ensured that no discussions of mining can be engaged in without the representation of CSOs and local small scale miners. In Ghana, New Mont Gold Company has adopted the use of Community Agreements. The World Bank has published a Source Book – Mining Community Development Agreements, 2012 on how to develop and implement Community agreements.

Continuous and genuine engagement is necessary for mining and extractive industries to maximize the benefits for the country, the companies, and the communities affected by the mining projects.

Salima Namusobya, Uganda


Salima Namusobya is the Executive Director of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER). She is a lawyer and human rights advocate who has specialized in international human rights law and forced migration. She earned her LLB from Uganda Christian University, Mukono, a Diploma in Legal Practice from Law Development Centre and a LLM degree in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Columbia in New York, participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program, and also completed courses on litigating social and economic rights from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Institute for Human Rights at the Abo Akademi in Turku, Finland. She is a co-author for the textbook on ‘Civil Procedure and Practice in Uganda’. Previously, she worked in various capacities with the Refugee Law Project (RLP), School of Law, Makerere University and also served as the Eastern Africa Coordinator for International Law in Domestic Courts (ILDC) - an online project of the Amsterdam Center for International Law and the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, published by Oxford University Press. She is a member of the Uganda Law Society, the Federation of Female Lawyers in Uganda (FIDA) and the East African Law Society.

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