The vast continent of Africa is made up of 54 countries today. As this landmass has traditionally had a low human density for ages, colonization notwithstanding, it has retained an enormous treasure trove of abundant natural resources. Throughout Africa, massive quantities of valuable natural resources remain unharvested within the continent’s interior.
While diamonds and South Africa are traditionally intertwined, Africa boasts other precious resources like nickel, uranium, titanium, oil, gas, precious gem minerals, and of course, gold. Lots of it.
Where does the Gold Go?
Gold is a vital precious metal for manufacturing jewelry, even though other imaginative metals are being utilized with today’s innovative designers. Reports from 2019 claim the jewelry trade used more than 2,200 metric tons of gold, which amounts to over half of all gold demand worldwide. India and China are the largest consumers of gold for jewelry use.
Ancient Trails of Gold
The current gold discovery is nothing new to the continent. West Africa’s gold was already a big commodity in the 5th century BCE. Once commercial relations were established at that time, West African gold made its way from trading islands to the north, eventually toward the Mediterranean cultures who used it for coins, personal adornment, and treasures for the wealthy. From the 5th to the 8th century, African gold was its main export owing to foreign demand for coinage. From the 15th century onward, African gold became the world’s go-to-source for many nation’s gold coins.
Morocco and Benin have had a remarkable history of gold mining over the centuries, and Benin’s government has renewed its efforts to revive gold mining there.
Now Uganda has come into focus with exploratory surveys revealing its gold deposits are about 31 million tons – an extraordinary treasure trove. This estimate is the result of extensive aerial exploration conducted across the country along with geophysical and geochemical analyses. The spokesman for the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in Uganda estimates over 320,000 tons of refined gold could be extracted from the gold-bearing ore.
Previous Gold Rush
The rush for gold is not new in Uganda. In 2017, BBC reported that the Ugandan government was shutting down a rush in the hills of Mubende District for lack of oversight, claiming unsafe practices and the presence of foreigners in its makeshift camps. Reports of artisanal gold mining had been emerging from the region since at least 2013. No one had licenses they said. Over 70,000 people left their normal homes and headed to the hills in search of a fortune from gold. More often the eager miners were just praying to find enough gold to feed their families.
Move ‘em Out
Ugandan soldiers armed with tear gas did shut down the Mubende mines during that era. Acting on orders from their government, miners and their families were told they had just hours to get out of the area. The government responded to its citizens and outsiders by saying that there would be licenses issued to conduct the mining properly. But some insiders said that the government believed they could attract investors and make loads of money that way, rather than allow the local artisans to eke out a living by what little gold they could find using primitive methods.
A Ugandan in that first wave of artisanal miners said, “we are jobless.” Explaining he held a degree in electrical engineering, he claimed he wanted to work, but no one could pay him. Local make-shift miners remained skeptical that the government kept their interests in mind. Their simple way of mining or panning was nothing less than a lifeline.
Global Witness, an international NGO watchdog, criticized the behavior of Uganda’s mining industry, calling it “infested with corruption from top to bottom.” Now, with the latest discovery in June 2022, Ugandan gold is top-of-mind once more. And watchers are keen to learn how this massive gold discovery will unfold.
According to Uganda media reports, President Yoweri Museveni broke news of the find in his State-of-the-Nation Address on June 7, 2022, providing scant details. However he pointed out that the discovery would fetch the country more than US$12 trillion.
Locating Uganda’s Deposits
The Ministry of Energy & Mineral Development spokesperson Solomon Muyita reported that the gold-rich areas of Uganda are spread out, including Alupe in Busia, and Karamoja, both in Uganda’s eastern region; Kameleng, Kisita, and Ngugo in Kassanda District in the central region; plus, Bushenyi’s Tiira sector located in western Uganda. The immense volume of these reserves which is estimated to net 320,158 tons of gold, should yield a value of US$12.8 trillion.
According to Muyita, a Chinese-run firm called Wagagai, (named for the highest peak of Mt. Elgon) expects to commence refining at least 5,000 kilograms of gold daily in Busia alone, by year’s end.
Uganda’s Big Business
Uganda’s gold exports have been steadily rising since the development of Africa Gold Refinery in Entebbe in 2017, according to official reports. Records from 2019 to 2020 indicate Uganda exported gold worth US$1.9B to the United Arab Emirates, US$1.4B to South Korea, and US$28.7M to Hong Kong. Uganda imported nearly US$2B worth of gold, in 2020, (its top import product) mostly from other African nations. Companies send gold into Uganda for refining and re-exportation. Uganda acts as a transit hub for gold exports from neighboring countries, making it the 18th largest gold importer in the world.
What’s Next to Discover?
Since news first broke in June 2022 of the massive gold discovery, little in the way of updates has been written regarding Uganda’s find. However, it is supposed that Uganda’s gold news releases were intended to generate interest from foreign investors. Gold commodities are known to soar in times of conflict, and the much sanctioned country of Russia has kept an eye on these events. As far back as 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea, the country has sought ways to circumvent loopholes in sanctions against it by way of strengthening its reserves in commodities like gold.