Tonnes of cobalt left behind following the closure of Kilembe Mines in Kasese district are wasting away as they are eroded by running water with the process. Kilemba mines, which was known for copper production also produced cobalt-rich sulphide concentrate as one of the waste products.
Kilembe mines had piled tones of cobalt when Copper mining stopped in the late 1970s due to the unrest in the country coupled with the fall in copper prices on the world market. With the global proliferation of electric vehicles and alternative energy resources, the demand for cobalt and other equally raw import materials like copper and nickel is increasing, which makes the stockpile of cobalt economically viable.
Robert Kasande, the outgoing Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development says that with such developments in the sector, letting the cobalt waste away may deny Uganda a lot of money. He disclosed this while handing over office to his successor Eng. Irene Pauline Batebe.
Kasande noted that there is a need to find a new investor for Kilembe mines as soon as possible to save the resource from being wasted.
Besides being a wasted resource, the Energy Ministry notes that the cobalt stockpiles also present environmental challenges as they keep on contaminating nearby water bodies. Reports show that the problem has worsened in recent years because of the repeated flooding whenever River Nyamwamba bursts its banks.
This affects people living on the riverbanks and those using lake George where some of the waste is deposited. Several environmental reports on the cobalt show that their effects are already being felt in the ecosystem in and around the Lake George Ramsar site with its heavy metals spreading into the food chain. Government has in the previous years been looking up to the revival of the mining industry in Kasese after 35 years of inactivity.
In 2013, the government gave Tibet Hima Mining Company a concession to revive the mining activities but terminated in 2017 over illicit mineral exports. Dickens Kamugisha, the Chief Executive Officer of Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), notes that as the government looks for an investor to take on the mines, they need to address the environmental issue urgently.
Besides the cobalt stockpiles, Uganda’s Department of Geological Survey and Mines, says Kilembe has an estimated 4 million tonnes of copper ore.