Mining in East Africa

Mining is a term generally used to mean all the processes involved in the extraction of valuable minerals either in liquid or solid form from the earth’s crust for economic use. Minerals in East Africa are found in regions where ancient rocks have been affected by volcanic activity.


  • The annual output of minerals industries is small compared to agricultural production.
  • The output of minerals is very low due to use of crude technology in extracting the minerals.
  • The poor transport and communication network in some parts of East Africa has led to valuable deposits being unexploited e.g. coal in Southern Tanzania.
  • Limestone (for cement), quarrying of rocks, sand and clay are, however, on the increase throughout the east African region and they are consumed locally.
  • Some minerals have not yet been found in great quantities to be exploited for commercial markets like iron ore, coal, tin, wolfam but they are being mined on small scale.
  • Vermiculite gold and cobalt are the leading exports of value for Uganda: Diamond and lime stone for Tanzania, and soda ash, limestone (cement), fluorspar for Kenya.
  • Oil drilling in western Uganda (Semlik valley basin) in its final stage.

There are three major types of minerals. These include:-
a) Metallic minerals: Iron ore, lead, Niobium, tantaleum (columbite), Tin, Tungsten, Chromite, Beryllium, copper.
b) Non metallic minerals: Clay, feldspar, Glass, (Silica sand), limestone, marble, phosphates, Trona, Vermiculite
c) Fuel minerals. Oil, natural gas and coal.

The major minerals found in East Africa

The distribution of minerals in East Africa is not uniform because of in differences in geological events like earth movements

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Mining is an extractive industry; once the minerals are extracted from the ground, they cannot be replaced. The deposit in which minerals are contained is called as an ore and these vary considerably in how rich they are. For a mineral to be mined:
– There must be a high demand for it.
– The ore deposits must be sufficiently rich and large.
– There must not be great problems of extraction, processing, and transportation.
There must be large sums of capital to invest in the extraction.
A wide variety of different methods of mining are employed in East African countries ,in some cases mineral bearing rocks are easily accessible but in other cases, deposits are less accessible hence they require expensive equipment to work on them.

The main methods include:
Open cast mining, Drilling, Adit mining, Underground mining, Placer mining and Panning method


Open cast is the exploitation of minerals that occur close to the surface. It involves the removal of the overburdening materials that is the vegetation and unwanted material and damped nearby. The rock ores are blasted using explosives, and then huge power shovels are used. The mineral ore is removed from the blasted rocks and taken for processing


This is the open cast mining where terraces or benches are constructed to remove the Ore found at deeper levels. IT ensures that the sides do not become so steep and it helps in transporting of the Ore.


Underground mining is used in areas where the mineral deposits are covered by a great thickness of earth rocks. In this method, most minerals occur in deep rocks that are extremely hard to remove using mechanical shovels.
Vertical shafts are sunk downwards for several meters to reach mineral seams.

From these shafts, horizontal tunnels are driven outwards to reach the seams of the mineral bearing rocks. Explosives are used to blast the minerals being extracted Railway tracks are used to transport ore and waste materials to the foot of the shaft for hoisting to the surface.


This is employed where minerals occur in gently sloping seams with outcrop on the side of the high land or valley. They are horizontal or gently inclined tunnels that are driven into the hillside.


This is employed when minerals occur in alluvial deposits. It is done by mixing the alluvium with a great deal of water and tilting or rotating the gravels until the lighter practices(sand, mud, dust, stones) are washed off, leaving behind the heavier ores like gold, tin, chromium, platinum which have a higher specific gravity. Depending on the extent of the alluvial deposits, the quality of the mineral particles and the nature of the underlying surface, one of the following methods are employed:
– In small deposits, streambeds’, panning is used. It is done by hand, the material being swirled round in a circular pan until the lighter material has been washed away.
– A dredge
– Hydraulic mining


  • Presence of Rich minerals deposits in different parts of East Africa has enabled mining to take place.
  • Presence of adequate capital provided by governments of East Africa, the private sector and donor agencies to purchase the equipment for mining, paying the workers.
  • Presence of large market for the minerals because of their high quality or grade.
  • Improved transport and communication networks like Road, Railways plus communication
  • Availability of difference sources of power/energy like Hydro Electricity Power and thermal Power in the East African region which is used in the processing of the minerals
  • Presence of abundant unskilled, semi skilled and skilled labour used in the mining, processing, transportation, marketing and distribution of the minerals.
  • Presence of appropriate technology used in the mining and processing of the minerals.
  • Nearness of the minerals to the earth’s surface like lime, vermiculite alluvial gold has made the extraction of the minerals easier.
  • Geological research carried out by the minerals departments of East Africa.
  • Relative peaceful region/ politically stable region.
  • Favourable government Policies like liberalization and privatization, giving of incentives to the investors. This has encouraged both local and foreign investor to invest in the mining sector of East Africa.


  • It has development of industries because minerals are raw materials.i.e. Bamburi cement, Tororo Cement Industry.
  • It is sources of foreign exchange after exporting the minerals
  • Provision of employment opportunities to surrounding communities which has enhanced the improved standard of living of the people.
  • It has enhanced educational and research activities.
  • It has led to development of towns/urbanization in EA for example Kasese in Uganda and Mwadui in Tanzania.
  • It has led to development of social amenities like Schools and Health centres in the mining areas.
  • It has led to development of infrastructure such as has roads and railway lines.
  • It has led to economic diversification
  • It has contributed to generation of government revenue through licences and taxes imposed on the mining companies in East Africa.
  • It has led to exploitation of other natural resources like soils, water and vegetation.
  • Improvement of international trade relationship
  • Tourism industry development because the mines are tourist attractions.

Problems facing the mining industry

  • Minerals exist in small quantities for exampleiron oreand coalin Southern Tanzania.
  • Low quality of minerals for example gold in Mubende
  • Competition from other mining countries for example gold mining in Republic of South Africa.
  • The use of inappropriate technology- crude technology in the extraction of minerals for example use of hand hoes and shovels in the extraction of lime in Muhokya-Kasese.
  • Inadequate capital to invest in the mining industry.
  • Remoteness of the minerals that is minerals are found in areas without social services.
  • Limited local market for the East African minerals due to poverty among the people of East Africa.
  • Inadequate power and energy supply because there are few power station and they are low capacity.
  • Inadequate transport network and unevenly distributed communication networks have hindered the transportation of the minerals.
  • Shortage of the skilled labour due to the nature of the education system.
  • Hostility of some tribes like jie and Matheniko tribes in Northern Uganda
  • Political insecurity mainly Uganda and Kenya
  • Nature of the terrain for example rugged land scape hinders mining.
  • Accidents
  • Unfavourable climate conditions for example areas experiencing very hot temperatures of about 30oc discourage mining.
  • Smuggling of minerals across the East African boundaries.
  • Profit repatriation because most of the mines are owned by foreigners
  • Restrictions from environmental conservation like National environmental organization.
  • Misallocation of government resources or embezzlement/ corruption.

Problems created by the mining sector

  • Industrial pollution-air, water and land.
  • Excavated hollows created due to mining of minerals in different mining areas have become breeding grounds of for mosquitoes
  • Destruction of the agricultural land by dumping of molten slag
  • Deforestation is on increase in the mining areas.
  • Growth of slum areas and their associated evils i.e. Kasoli in Tororo
  • Unemployment and under employment due to the decline in the mining activities for example copper mining at Kilembe mines in Kasese.
  • Destruction of the wetland ecology i.e. in Bushenyi.
  • Accidents-loss of life
  • Destruction of the beautiful landscape through dumping of mineral residues/molten slag.
  • Profit repatriation because the mines are mainly owned by foreigners.

Steps being taken to improve the mining sector

  • Encouragement of foreign investor in East African countries,
  • Liberalization of the mining industry
  • Extension of hydro electrical power to mining areas
  • Recycling of minerals by products i.e. cobalt from copper pyrites
  • Training of manpower in geology mapping and extraction of the minerals,
  • Improvement of the transport and communication system
  • Fighting corruption.
  • Accessing loans from local and International banks i.e. Africa development Bank, Work Bank.
  • Empowering of local investors