Armed with hoes and spades, hundreds of locals, some with babies strapped on their backs, have converged at Namwalala stream in Mawero East B Village following the reported discovery of gold deposits in the area about a week ago.
Mr Twaha Tebayise, an artisan miner, who has since relocated from Tiira gold mines to the area, on Wednesday said some men who were digging a pit latrine discovered the rare rocks.
“We were called from Tiira to verify whether the rocks had gold. We tested them and established that the area has gold deposits,” Mr Tebayise said.
Mr Hassan Wesonga, the village chairperson, is optimistic that the discovery will change the fortunes of an area that has been known for crime.
“The discovery of gold has provided an opportunity for many unemployed youth to earn income and reduce crime,” Mr Wesonga said.
Other residents have abandoned their businesses and camped at the site to earn quick income.
“I have been hearing that there is a lot of money in gold mining; so when I heard that it had been discovered here, I left the charcoal business,” Ms Rose Kateme said.
Mr Mutwahiru Wesonga, a driver, who has been plying the Busia-Tororo route, also parked his taxi for the gold rush.
Ms Pamela Nabwire, who lost her capital during the lockdown, said gold mining is an opportunity for her business to recover.
“The lockdown forced me to close my business, but I hope to get money through this gold mining business so that I can reinvest in my business,” she said.
Ms Diana Ajambo, whose banana stall was razed down to pave way for the construction of modern health facilities, said resorting to gold mining might offer her an opportunity to get quick money.
Majority of the small-scale miners prefer gold owing to the ease of extraction and processing the ore to the final gold resource.
Other businesses, especially food-vending, have also sprung up in the area. Ms Madinah Kabeyo, a food vendor, said more than 50 food stalls have been set up.
Mr Paul Kalikwani, the deputy Resident District Commissioner, cautioned the artisan miners to use mining methods that do not endanger the environment and people’s lives.
Ms Sarah Opendi, the State Minister for Minerals, said the discovery is not surprising because Busia is a gold-rich belt.
“All we need is for a licence holder to complete the exploration and apply for the mining lease so that they commence the mining,” she said.
“We, however, discourage backward mining methods that we have seen in many areas and the use of mercury by artisanal miners,” Ms Opendi added.
Uganda is amending the mining law of 2003 to legalise operations of artisanal small miners currently deemed ‘illegal’.
The amendment will make them a preserve for nationals only. They will be issued with location licences and will be allowed to trade legally with large scale miners companies.
Research in mineral-rich districts of Moroto and Busia and Mubende reveals that immigrant miners from DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania are also earning a living from the same resources.
For the majority of new entrants into the gold mining business, many cannot differentiate between the gold-bearing rocks and the non-bearing ones. Ms Rose Kateme and Mr Mutwahiru Wesonga said for the past three days, she has been picking rocks but does not know how to process them for gold. “We are crushing and picking stones but the challenge I have is differentiating the gold-bearing rocks from the ordinary ones,” Mr Wesonga said.