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Mining companies in Uganda must consult to keep their licence to operate

 
tIndigenous Communities in Karamoja, Uganda

Karamojans during a food distribution in 2008. Karamoja, one of the driest and least developed areas Uganda, is home to large mineral deposits. Photograph: Walter Astrada/AFP/Getty Images

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Mining companies in Uganda must consult to keep their licence to operate” was written by Oliver Balch, for theguardian.com on Friday 7th February 2014 14.58 UTC

Uganda’s Karamoja region is sitting pretty. Beneath its dry, arid landscape lie large mineral deposits. The government wants to exploit the resources (mostly gold and marble), and three international mining companies – Jersey-registered East African Mining, Indian-owned Jan Mangal and Kuwait-based DAO Uganda – are on hand to oblige.

Not all are wowed by the prospect of a mining boom. Karamoja, which borders South Sudan and Kenya, is home to 1.2 million people. There is confusion and disquiet among the majority indigenous population, according to an in-depth field study by Human Rights Watch.

“As companies have begun to explore and mine the area, communities are voicing serious fears of land grabs, environmental damage, and a lack of information as to how and when they will see improved access to basic services or other positive impacts,” the 140-page report states.

Campaign groups typically arrive in mineral-rich areas hot on the heels of anti-mining unrest. Karamoja is different. Extraction in Uganda’s nascent mining belt is only just getting going, so the full impacts are still to be felt. For the moment, local opinion – and what the mining industry likes to call its “social licence to operate” – is hanging in the balance.

It won’t hang there forever though. The best way to avoid community antagonisms is to include local people in early, equitable consultation. As a minimum, indigenous groups must know their rights and have full information about proposed projects and their possible impacts, a best practice guide from the International Council on Mining and Metals explains.

Other sensible-sounding principles on the industry body’s list include: respecting traditional decision-making structures; including community aspirations in project planning; ensuring all voices are heard; agreeing on grievance mechanisms, and so forth.

Sensible they may be, but simple to skip over, it seems. Human Rights Watch is scathing about the initial community engagement process in Karamoja. It claims widespread evidence of the mining companies “consulting” with government agencies and political elites in lieu of local populations. When the companies do negotiate directly, the story is one of ad hoc meetings, loosely worded deals and non-binding promises.

“In each company concession area, residents consistently complained of lack of consultation and access to information from both the companies and local government officials, particularly regarding employment, land, and possible impacts on the environment,” the report reveals.

One obvious reason why companies fail to meaningfully consult is lack of government pressure to do so. Uganda’s licensing laws require limited consultation for surface rights agreements and none whatsoever for exploration. Regarding the former, the government has “wholly failed” to monitor and enforce the law, says Jessica Evans, a senior advocate at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report.

More importantly still, consultation falls well short of consent. Indigenous communities have the right to speak out on how their land is developed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; they just lack the right to say a final ‘no’ to mining projects.

Human Rights Watch is calling on legislators in Uganda to amend the country’s mining code to include a clause necessitating “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC). International lenders such as the World Bank should follow suit, the campaign group says.

Nor is Uganda alone. Governments across Africa are facing calls to implement FPIC provisions. “FPIC is emerging as a best practice for safeguarding the human rights of all communities affected by extractive industry projects,” a new report by Oxfam concludes.

If the example of Uganda’s oil sector is anything to go by, then state support may prove slow in coming. The extraction of oil on the country’s western border has brought with it the controversial resettlement of residents, allegations of corruption and attacks on civil society critics.

 

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