The lives of women in Karamoja gold mines.

A woman grains sand to get gold after panning. To get a cent, she works all day with her two little children besides her.
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Globally, gold mining can change lives and the economy of a country as one of the most precious and expensive minerals. But for  22-year-old Kuno Napeyot, a Karimojong artisanal gold miner, this fact is far from true.

Kuno is a mother of three. She lives with her children in Kakingol Village in Rupa Sub County Moroto district. Kuno is a married woman and in the Karimojong culture, she is the bread winner who builds the houses and cares for the family while the man looks after animals and some do hunt for wild meat.

Kuno’s husband, like many men whose wives work in the gold mine, stays home with the two older children aged 5 and 3 years, while she has to work with her three months old baby at Nakabat gold mine. The mine is 30 kilometers from Kakingol.

Their animals are few and are on a free range grazing though her husband occasionally looks after the goats and cows during the day.

He only comes to the gold mine to pick money from her. Kuno has built a small house with tiny stick walls and pieces of tarpaulin on the roof to keep her baby warm and just in case her husband decides to spend a night with her in the mines. The house is less than 20 meters from the seasonal Nakabat river bed, where a young boy is struggling to pan gold from sand in a basin. A distance away where she sits breastfeeding her baby, another baby is sleeping on a rock covered in a piece of cloth. The baby’s mother is grinding sand on a rock to extract gold after panning.

She says he goes back after picking money from her. He spends some money drinking alcohol and he does not cook for the children. The Karimojong culture does not allow men to cook at home.

Sometimes, he uses part of the money to buy food for the children. Other times the children are forced to wander in the village looking for anything to eat.

Kuno also worries for the education of her children. She says she cannot afford both food and school fees of 25,000/= per term for her young boy and girl to study in a distant UPE school. Neither the village nor the mining areas have nearby schools for children.

Like most women in Karamoja who have no alternative for formal employment due to illiteracy, Kuno works hard for her family sometimes making no money in a day or 2,000/= for a point of gold. More than 95% of artisanal and small scale mining in Karamoja is highly manual.

Since she has children back home, Kuno has to spend her weeks moving from the gold mine, staying for three to five weeks before she returns home to stay with the children as expected of a Karimojong mother.

While at home during the rainy season, she plants some crops like maize and sorghum but she says the yields are too low to sustain her family. Kakingol village is in the dry belt of Karamoja and farmers often complaint of low crop yields. This helps to reduce the cost of food. At the mine, a kilogram of beans cost 3,000/= and a kilogram of flour at 2,500/=. It is costly for the miners who most times make less than 4,000/= in a day after selling their gold.

On her way back to Nakabat mine, Kuno joins the group of women from her village for safety. The women walk for about three hours taking short cuts through the bushes in the mountains. The women cannot afford the 20,000/= by boda boda to the gold mine. There are no vehicles for public transport due to the poor roads on the steep slopes and escapement around Mount Moroto.

At the gold mine, food is sometimes more precious than the gold. For those who cannot afford to buy food from the center, sachet warangi, the local maize brew “kututu” is handy for lunch.

Kuno like many breastfeeding mothers prefers “Kututu” to sachet waragi. Food is eaten once a day and somedays she goes without eating if she has no money.

For many karamoja women working in the artisanal mines like Kuno, gold mining is a worthless sweat. The money they get is mainly to buy food since their land hardly supports agriculture.

Kuno says she is only in the mines for lack of an alternative source of livelihood. Whereas she is tired of working in the mines, she has to feed her family.

“I only come here to make 2,000/= or 4,000/= for food. If my crops could do well, I would not be here but I have no other means of getting food for my children so I work here. Like now, I have not got any gold since morning, I don’t know what my children will eat today,” Says Napeyot with her head dropping down with frustration as she continues to breast feed her baby.

With warn hands from grinding and digging gold, a pale looking 11 year old minor with dry cracked lips who refuses to tell her age confided in the translator in a side conversation saying she cannot go to school because she has to feed her parents back home.

“If I go to school, who will feed my parents. They are old and my elder brothers are just drunkards. If police comes, we shall run and hide. When they are gone, we continue digging for gold.” She is among the many young girls of school going age working at the gold mines in Moroto. They follow the older women to come to work in the gold mine.

Meanwhile, the Miners know no other gold market apart from the middle men who come to buy from their mines at between 1,500/= or 2,000/= per point of gold.

Nangiro Simon Peter, the Chairman Karamoja Miners Association which has more than 600 members says government is painting a false picture of Karamoja to deceive the world that the gold mining is changing lives of people.

Nangiro adds that the gold in Karamoja has no standard market or pricing. That, he says, makes it difficult for the gold miners to profit from their sweat.

With no formal training and marketing skills in the gold mining business, the association is like a toothless barking dog for its members.

“Anybody is buying gold and you wonder how they arrive at price…We don’t know the technicalities in this trade, it is the ministry of Mineral Development to handle this.” Nangiro laments.

Gerald Eneku, the Inspector of Minerals in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development told says due to the huge number of speculators and middlemen in the gold mining business, the ministry has not yet streamlined how the business can be conducted to benefit the local artisan miners.

“Those are some of the challenges I have been facing. I’m trying to get some registered buyers but it is hard to let them come here because they look at Kampala as a central point.”

Eneku adds, “There are buyers, I have been talking to them. I am taking these things slow because if I stop the buyers, the miners, the warriors will ask me, where is the market now. Who will buy our gold? Most of them do this activity for survival. So I am trying to see registered companies to come and open offices in Karamoja so that the associations of the locals can now monitor the production and sale to the registered buyers.”


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