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Residents Demand Transparency Ahead of Rare Earth Metals Mining in Busoga

Discovered in 2016, the rare earth elements are essential for the manufacture of medical equipment, smartphones, laptops, crude oil processing, batteries for electric vehicles, and wind turbines. Code named ‘The Makuutu Rare Earths Project’, the project derives its name from Makuutu Sub-County in Bugweri District where the mineral was discovered.
Aggrieved residents listen to Ruth Nankabirwa, the Minister of Energy at Makuutu village in Bugweri District. Photo by Dominic Ochola

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The communities in Busoga region who are going to be affected by the mining and production of Rare Earth Metals – REM have asked the Government to exercise transparency while compensating them for their land.

This follows the confirmation of 532 million tonnes of viable deposits of Rare Earth Elements–REE also known as the largest Ionic Adsorption Clay – IAC, stretching 40 kilometers across Igombe Sub County in Bugweri, Bulamogi, and Nakigo in Iganga, Imanyiro, and Buwaaya in Mayuge Districts.

Discovered in 2016, the rare earth elements are essential for the manufacture of medical equipment, smartphones, laptops, crude oil processing, batteries for electric vehicles, and wind turbines.  Code named ‘The Makuutu Rare Earths Project’, the project derives its name from Makuutu Sub-County in Bugweri District where the mineral was discovered. 

The mineral deposit ranks among the largest known ionic adsorption clay outside of China. Warren Tregurtha, the Chief Executive Officer of Rwenzori Rare Metals – RRM, a private company licensed by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to carry out the mineral prospecting and exploration revealed that the actual mining will begin in 2024.

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However, tempers are flaring on the ground with landowners crying foul following the involvement of dubious individuals brokering land deals in anticipation of high returns from the Government compensations.

Jane Nalongo, 30, a resident of Buwaaya parish in Mayuge District told URN that she and her other six siblings are being forcefully evicted by the Sub-County Chief backed by some security operatives following the illegal survey of their land by Rwenzori Rare Metals - RRM.

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Through their area MP, Abdu Katuntu, the aggrieved residents, who include cultural and religious leaders sought an audience with Ruth Nankabirwa, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development to seek clarity about the land compensation process.

Jamada Kasisa, the Local Council One Chairperson of Makuutu village in Bugweri Sub-County, says the brokers, mainly Government officials are on a rampage coercing residents to sell their land arguing that the Government will take it without compensating them. 

On Monday, Nankabirwa visited the area to interact with the Project Affected Persons – PAPs and assured them that the Government is undertaking due diligence to ensure the residents are compensated.

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The Minister disclosed that her Ministry is yet to engage Government valuers to evaluate the land occupied by the affected households before they are duly compensated to allow for the extraction of the minerals to commence.

Based on the provisions of the Mining Act 2003 and Mining Regulations 2019, Rwenzori Rare Metals is required to apply and acquire a mining lease through the Energy Ministry before it can compensate/resettle affected landowners.

In order to obtain the Mining lease, the company must undertake a feasibility study, conduct an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), obtain consent from landowners to access the project land, and develop a Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) that will be used to mitigate the probable resettlement impacts to the project affected persons.

The objective of the RAP is to provide resettlement options that suitably allow them to continue their livelihood and activities. The options include outright acquisition involving outright cash compensation for a mutually acceptable amount.

Temporary resettlement will allow land owners to lease land to the Makuutu Project for an agreed period of time, compensate the landowner for lost assets, and affected households will be provided with a good house in a newly established nearby resettlement village.

The third option involves permanent resettlement; swap land for land, permanent replacement house and suitable replacement land, cash compensation for lost assets and provision of the necessary support to assume a better social-economic standard than before. 

Lastly, an option of paying a retainer fee that involves a periodic sum of money that will be paid to PAPs whose land is affected but who have not yet signed the compensation agreement. This is to allow PAPs a regular income as they wait to be resettled.