For eons, the people of Kikagati parish in Isingiro district survived on farming as the predominant source of livelihoods. For quite some time, a few treasure hunters tried their luck with tin mining. Tin is one of the many minerals found in the southern district of Uganda.
Poor transport, coupled with rudimentary tools used by the miners and a lack of a ready buyer made tin mining as just another hard job, which people resorted to as a by-the-way.
But things took a sudden turn for the better in early 2000s when the government commissioned a road and a bridge across river Kagera that effectively linked the area to the main transport routes and markets.
The completion of the road attracted several companies to venture into exploration for minerals.
African Panther Resources, is one of the of companies that sought to transform Kikagati’s tin to another level. It secured a permit to mine, buy and export the mineral.
Since the advent of APR in 2011, tin mining has become a highly lucrative venture in this erstwhile lazy village. APR brought with it some equipment that made mining easier. The new road also opened up the village to more people from other parts of the country to venture into tin mining.
As miners increased, so did the demand for the mineral. The price for a kilo of tin rose from an average of UGX8000 to UGX25,000 currently.
Over the past couple of years, tin mining activities have generally transformed Kikagati from a village into a very busy town. Testimonies from some of the early settlers in the area reveal that tin mining has greatly changed the lives of hundreds of people in the area.
“Miners started setting up other businesses like hardware shops and restaurants, and sent their children to school. Many others began to improve their homes from mud and wattle house to brick and iron-sheet roofed house,” recalls one of the elders in Kikagati.
Charles Mpumba Ssalongo 62, is one of the few people who have been at the job for over a decade. He told our report that his life has transformed greatly, from a simple builder, to someone many people in the village envy. A father of nineteen children, and a husband to five wives, Mpumba says he does not plan to retire soo.
Mpumba recalls that: “Before I joined Kikagati, I was a builder in Mpunzi. I used to move from region to region to fulfil my duties until 2002 when my friend John Kororagire advised me to join him in tin mining, to earn myself a better living. He showed me how tin looks like and taught me all the skills of having a successful mine. Since then, i’ve managed to pay my debts and am in position to pay school fees for all my children.”
His years of experience have earned Mpumba a social status of landlord. Now, instead descending in the mines, he hires people to extract the mineral for which he pays them depending on how much they’ve gotten.
In order to maintain control of the business and prevent so many outsiders from flooding the mines, Mpumba and his colleagues started an arrangement that requires only a few people to obtain permits.
Mpumba says that although, all miners are practically free to venture into the business, they have got to secure permission from the LC1 chairman.
“Everyone is free to make money from tin. All you have to do is present an LC 1 letter from where you come from to the region LC1 chairperson who keeps your letter and writes you another one you take to African Panther Resources,” adds Mpumba.
In addition to the administrative procedures, tin mining is controlled by gangs. These are groups of individual miners who have parcelled out large chunks of land. As Mpumba notes: “The mining area is controlled by gangs. So after you get a mining card, you approach a gang leader of your choice who allows you to mine in their area.”
The tin mining business hasn’t been without its challenges. According to Umar Musana, the Spokesperson of APR, his company has tried to equip the miners with helmets, overall coats that allow miners to dig deeper and more safely.