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Gold Mining Changes Life Of Former Cattle Rustlers

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NAKAPIRIPIRIT: Its thrashing down at 7.30am as Poul Loputhyang stands next to a deep dark hole at the gold mining site in Acerer in Nakapiripirit district ready to dig for gold.

Loputhyang, wearing his shorts, is eager to get started. Like human moles, he and his companion have been working these holes for the past five years after he handed over his three guns to Uganda’s army. And they are not alone. The area around them is pockmarked with small mounds of earth.

Loputhyang with his colleagues entering inside the deep hole to scoop some soil of gold- PHOTO BY STEVEN ARIONG

Until a few years ago Loputhyang was a cattle rustler who could move up to Turkana, Teso, Bugisu and Sebei region to carry out cattle rustling. He was arrested by the UPDF soldiers carrying out disarmament exercise in Karamoja, he was beaten until he surrendered his guns, when he surrendered his guns his life was not easy since he was depending on cattle rustling.

He went through hard challenges but later he joined the gold rush that has the potential to transform Karamoja – a remote region in the north-east of Uganda that is not only the country’s poorest, but also its most marginalized.

“When I handed over my three guns, life was very difficult first of all I was not used to be with people because killing and cattle rustling was the only mooned on my face but as time went by, I kept on forcing myself into activities which I used not to do, I started gold digging after seeing some of my friends getting money from gold,” said Louputhyang, who like most Karimojong people prize cattle above all else as a sign of wealth and prestige.

As he prepares to burrow deep into the red earth, women and their young girls further down the dirt track carry water in yellow plastic jerry cans on their heads for sifting out the precious metal. Others, sitting on their haunches, carefully swirl the dust in shallow plastic buckets. One has already found some specks of gold, the tiny particles glinting bright yellow in the sunlight.

Meanwhile, young men on motorbikes from as far as Mbale hundreds of miles away, arrive to buy the day’s finds at a makeshift market of a few wooden stalls at a crossroads in the scrubland.

This morning scene, a couple of miles outside the Nakapiripirit district , shows a region – the site of one of Africa’s most spectacular nature reserves – getting back on its feet after decades of conflict.

A famine in 1980 killed a fifth of the population, including 60% of infants, and near-anarchy followed when Karamoja’s clans gained access to the Moroto armory after the fall of the dictator Idi Amin. They
used the guns they found there to rustle cattle in neighboring Kenya and what is now South Sudan.

Then the people of Karamoja turned on each other, transforming the area into a wild west of cattle raids and ambushes.

Despite Foreign Office travel advice warning against visiting the area, it is now largely peaceful and secure after years this follows successful disarmament programme in the region in which 49000 guns
were collected.

Several investors have started prospecting and mining for gold and other valuable minerals – such as uranium and cobalt. Karamoja could be sitting literally on a gold mine, with individual miners and large companies hoping to cash in. But residents fear that the elites will vacuum up the benefits while the rest of the population remains poor.

“We don’t know where the gold is going,” said Paulina Nachan, a young Karimojong with strong nationalist sentiments. “We hear the land is sold to investors and we are afraid we will not see any benefits from the gold. They have not told us anything.”


The problem is that not much is known about mining interests in Karamoja, and residents are ready to believe the worst after years of neglect from the central government.

“It is almost impossible to get information on government contracts with the private sector in the extractives industry,” said Simon Lokol, a youth.

Loputhyang is oblivious to such concerns. His focus is on making enough to feed his family. “This is the only place where I can make money,” he said, adding that he intends to buy cows once he saves enough.

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