Historically the mineral sector contributed no less than 30 per cent to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), currently the rate is 0.3% per cent. Previous attempts at reforming the country’s mining sector have been undermined by low funding, lack of institutional capacity to manage the mineral resources, poor regulations, challenges in land acquisition, poor infrastructure in the countryside (the source of most mineral deposits) and the complex nature of artisanal and small-scale mining. Uganda’s Minerals and Mining Policy 2018, further highlights the lack of geological data, a shortage of modern equipment and insufficient local technical expertise, as additional challenges stifling the industry.
Uganda’s Vision 2040 projects that the extractives industry will be a major contributor of employment and GDP growth over the next 20 years and is expected to propel the development of the country’s manufacturing, infrastructure and information and communication technology industries. Alumna Catherine Nyakecho, an Acting Senior Geochemist for the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), is one of the drivers for this ambitious vision. She is re-writing the story of Uganda’s mineral exploits.
As a graduate of The University of Western Australia (2012) with a Master of Science in Geology, she gained skills in geological mapping, ore deposit conceptual models, materials science, geophysics, borehole logging, and mineral exploration technology as well as data integration and management using GIS software’s such as Arcmap and Datamine. Her knowledge set was applied to understand Uganda’s unique geological, geophysical and geochemical characteristics evidence from exploration. They also helped build her confidence and expertise to train geologists on the temporal, spatial distribution and geological setting of major mineral systems and their use in society.
On return to Uganda, Ms Nyakecho supported Sipa Resources Limited, an Australian Stock Exchange – listed company, to establish mining operations in Uganda. Later as a Senior Geologist, she monitored the company’s activities on behalf of the Ministry to ensure compliance with government regulations and practices. Notably, the connection with Sipa was initiated through an introduction from her course directors while she was in Australia
In 2015, she was a team member of the Geotechnical Investigations for RUSUMO Hydropower Project (a joint development by the Governments of Republic of Burundi, Republic of Rwanda and United Republic of Tanzania) where she used her knowledge of geologic mapping to assess the level of earthworks and type of foundation on the project. In 2016, she partnered with an alumni-run organisation, African Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy, on a donor-funded project to conduct a mapping study on Uganda’s artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). The study was aimed at understanding ‘the entire environment surrounding ASM, the nature of their activities, challenges, economic potential and viability in an increasingly mechanised society.’
Ms Nyakecho is also an active participant in the Development Minerals Program – a capacity building program run by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and MEMD that aims to build the profile, and improve the management, of neglected development minerals (industrial minerals; construction materials; dimension stones; and semi-precious stones).
She lauds the Award noting, “Although training is available in Uganda for those seeking to work in this sector, courses delivered do not always teach cutting-edge approaches matched with practical exposures with an understanding of current industry needs, as in Australia. The training and professional networks I established in Australia have given me the confidence and connections to contribute technical expertise to the mining sector in Uganda. I owe this to Australia Awards and the research paper I published, An Overview of Gold Systems in Uganda, Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, which has made companies interested in investing in Uganda to contact me as a starting point.”
Ms Nyakecho is a member of the Australia Awards Women in Leadership Network (WILN). The network is made up of over 350 female award Alumni who focus on leading change in their various spheres of influence, throughout the continent. For more information on the network, click here.