DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Families left in limbo as Uganda oil project earmarks land
Jacckson Katama, a fisherman by trade, at his home in Bullisa District near Lake Albert in Uganda, September 15, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Isaac Kasamani
By Liam Taylor
BULIISA, Uganda, Oct 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Two years ago, surveyors came to measure a swathe of land cutting through the Bitamale family’s homestead in western Uganda.
The family was not sure whether the land acquisition in their village in Buliisa district was for a road or a pipeline, but they knew it was connected to a multibillion-dollar oil project coming to the low plain beside Lake Albert.
“The surveyors told us we shouldn’t use the land where they passed,” Violet Bitamale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, indicating an invisible line between a nearby tree and the house of her adult son.
But since then, nobody has come to develop the land and the family has received no compensation for it, noted her husband, Isaac.
Uganda’s first major oil project has hit repeated delays, leaving families in a state of limbo that poses major risks to their livelihoods, their land rights and the environment, human rights groups said in two reports published last month.
The project is a joint venture between French energy giant Total and the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), in cooperation with the Ugandan government.
The companies will acquire land from hundreds of families around Lake Albert and 12,000 additional families along the 1,440-km pipeline route from Hoima district to the Tanzanian coast, according to the NGO reports.
In a speech this week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he expects the oil companies to reach a final investment decision on key parts of the project by the end of this year.
Officials say it will take another three years until the crude starts pumping, with government geologists estimating the country’s reserves at 6 billion barrels.
Bitamale said before the surveyors came to her village, Total had told residents they would receive compensation for any land that was bought up – but only for the crops and structures that were already there, not new ones added later.
Families were informed they could plant seasonal crops, such as potatoes and maize, but not their staple food cassava, which takes up to two years to grow – because by that time their farmland could have become part of the oil project, she added.
“What should we eat now?” Bitamale asked.
Isaac said they are growing some cassava on a different plot, but it is not enough, so they also have to buy some.
Total said the land acquisition process follows international standards, and that “considerable efforts have been made” to keep households informed about delays, for example through radio messages and posters.
CNOOC Uganda said in emailed comments that it “complies with all the relevant Ugandan laws and regulations along with its own corporate standards that have to be met (to) respect human rights”.
‘PROTECTING THE PEOPLE’
Oil companies have had their eye on the Lake Albert region since commercial quantities of crude were first discovered there in 2006. The planned development is expected to attract investments of $15-20 billion over the next five years.
According to public statements by the energy ministry and the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), a regulator, the development will include more than 400 oil wells, several processing facilities, and a refinery.
It also involves building the world’s longest heated pipeline, the $3.5-billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
On Sept. 10, after signing a pipeline agreement with Total, Museveni said the government’s share of oil earnings would support the country’s infrastructure, education and health.
That agreement signalled renewed momentum, and Total said that it is starting to “resume and expedite the compensation process” for people who will lose land to the project.
The company said land belonging to more than 600 households was marked for acquisition in the first phase of the development.
But even before the first drop is pumped, the Total project and others in the venture “have been marred by allegations of human rights violations,” said a joint statement by several human rights groups.
They include the global charity Oxfam, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), headquartered in Paris, and the Kampala-based Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI).
Families who have been affected by the projects have complained of “slow payments, disruption of children’s education, loss of traditional sources of livelihood, and opaque resettlement processes,” the statement said.
Rashid Bunya, a researcher at FHRI, said that “the government should not focus on earning from the oil. It should also first focus on protecting the people who are going to live with the oil”.
“The … initiative is a good project. The biggest challenge is how it has been handled. There’s a problem of engaging with the community and so people’s voices are not heard,” he said.
Total said it had consulted with 68,000 people since the start of its component of the project and that the pipeline route was chosen so that just 488 families would need to leave their homes.
“The rates of compensation have been approved by the relevant governments based on market research,” the company said.
Ali Ssekatawa, director for legal and corporate affairs at the PAU, acknowledged the development is facing delays and said affected communities were free to keep using their land “within limits”.
In Buliisa, the disruptive effects of oil development are already being felt.
Bitamale said oil companies working in the area initially registered only men as the landowners, causing families to quarrel over compensation and even fuelling domestic violence.
The FIDH report noted that Total now requires both spouses to sign compensation contracts and pays women directly for their personal crops and property.
Fred Mwesigwa, who has lost three acres (1.2 hectares) to Total’s central processing facility, said the 10 siblings in his family have fallen out over whether to accept resettlement or cash compensation, at rates he considers inadequate.
“That house belongs to my sister,” he says, gesturing across his garden. “You just pass by, without (her) greeting us.”
In a separate project further south, in Hoima district, the government is planning to build an oil refinery and an international airport which will fly in oil equipment.
That project has so far displaced more than 7,000 people, according to the Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA), a community-based rights group.
Although most families took cash compensation, about 70 opted for resettlement, noted Francis Elungat, a land acquisition officer at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development who confirmed the figures from the ORRA.
The families who chose resettlement now live in a government-built village, in rows of geometric houses with a faintly suburban feel.
One of the residents, Innocent Tumwebaze, said it is nothing like the homesteads they left behind, which had space to graze animals or construct separate huts for adolescent sons.
“As Africans, in our culture most families are extended families – you find the grandfather is there, the son, the daughter,” Tumwebaze said.
“When they were planning this settlement … we told them the kind of setting that we have in our community does not match with what we are doing here.”
DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Close to 20 local farmers are in jail for fighting for their land not to be taken by the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
By Witness Radio Team.
For the last 50 years, local farmers in Waaki North, Kapapi Central, Waaki South, Runga, and Kiryatete villages in both Kapapi and Kiganja sub-counties in the Hoima district have been surviving on subsistence farming and rearing animals on their land as a source of livelihood for their families.
Until 2022, when their land was surveyed for the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), this brought smiles to the faces of the local communities hoping that doors for opportunities associated with the project had emerged. Immediately, the registration of Project-Affected Persons (PAPs) started.
The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) is a pipeline that will transport crude oil produced from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania to world markets. EACOP runs 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania.
EACOP has been criticized from different sections all over the world and environmentalists expressed serious concerns as it endangers the fight against climate change and breaches the international Paris Agreement with an estimated production of 34 million tons of CO2, twice as much as Uganda and Tanzania’s emissions.
But the story slowly altered from smiling to grief. Along the way, those who had registered to be compensated for their land started getting threatened and intimidated. Others were arbitrarily arrested and detained on trumped-up charges by the area police. Later, this violence escalated after land grabbers brought in guards from Magnum, a private security company.
Future dreams got shuttered: On the 10th of February 2023, security forces including; Hoima district police, soldiers, and private guards, raided homes of close to 500 families sitting on 1294.99 Hectares in the wee hours, torched and destroyed houses, assaulted dozens of locals, looted animals and harvested grains from stores among others.
For the last three months, Witness Radio statistics show that close to 20 local farmers have been arbitrarily arrested and trumped up with charges of theft, threatening violence, and malicious damage among others.
Some victims that were produced before the court, charged, and currently in Hoima prison include; Mbombo Steven, Rubyogo David, Mulega Eria, Rangira Steven, Karongo Edward, Karongo Steven, and Kataza Sam, and others.
Criminalization of farming activities of local farmers and the work of community land and environmental defenders is common in Uganda. It is a tool used by economically powerful and politically connected individual investors/companies to put critical locals in jail and grab their land.
According to the 2022 report by Frontline Defenders, a global human rights group, criminalization is one of the biggest threats faced by defenders of land and the environment.
The report further revealed that the environmental, land, and indigenous peoples’ rights sector was widely affected at (11%) of the total cases tracked. Additionally, the arrests and detentions did put at risk the lives of the outspoken community members.
Mr. Mbombo Steven, one of those currently in jail, was arrested on 24th February 2023, a day after the Ugandan minister for lands, hon. Nabakooba Judith had visited the area and directed the community to return to their land.
His family members revealed that Mbombo had been arrested and persecuted many times for fighting for his land rights. By the time of his arrest at 8 am local time on the 24th of February 2023, he had returned to occupy and use his land.
“He had gone back to check on his land shortly after the minister’s orders but when the guards saw him, they arrested, and handcuffed him before being taken to Runga police. He was later transferred to Kitoba police,” a family member who preferred anonymity due to fear of retaliation revealed.
The escalating arrests have forced many family heads to abandon their families and go into hiding. The violence has left many mothers with responsibilities to care for their children. One of the women whose husband is in jail narrated. She added that ever since the husband was arrested, she’s been challenged with feeding children and looking for a house to sleep in.
“I have eight children to take care of. We have no food, and they don’t go to school because we have lost everything. Imagine being in this situation with no land, shelter, or no food among others. How can I feed and educate them?” She revealed. She added that they (her and 8 of her children) are currently living with their relatives.
DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Breaking: A defender is kidnapped from his home, sitting on land targeted for large-scale sugarcane growing.
By Witness Radio team
A group of people with some believed to be attached to Kiryandongo district police have kidnapped Wandiba Moses, a Nyamuntende-based community land rights defender, and taken him to yet unknown places, his family members have confirmed to Witness Radio.
According to eyewitnesses, Wandiba was kidnapped from his home the previous weekend shortly after refusing a forced survey of his land.
The defender’s home is located on land targeted by Somdium Limited for large-scale sugarcane growing. The company was incorporated in Uganda in 2011 and brands itself as one of the biggest sugar exporters to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan among others.
Wandiba is the third (3) community land rights defender to be targeted with kidnap for his involvement in rejecting the forceful acquisition of their land commonly referred to as Ranch 22 in less than two months.
On the 7th of February 2023, Kiryandongo police under the command of the District Police Commander (DPC) invaded the Nyamuntende community and arrested twelve (12) members of the Ranch 22 community. These included two community land rights defenders Mulekwa David and Mulenga Jackson. Eight (8) were cattle farmers including Kanunu Innocent, Musabe Steven, Munyankole Enock, Lokong Gabriel, Ntambala Geoffrey, Kagenyi Steven, Mukombozi Frank, one Karim, and Kuzara Frank. At the same time, one minor Tumukunde Isaac was also arrested.
“We saw some people in police uniforms together with familiar faces of land brokers in Kiryandongo district. We identified one of them as Mbabazi Samuel. When they reached his home, they told him they wanted to value his land and properties. In his response, the defender vehemently refused and stopped everybody not to enter his land,” said Caleb Mushija, the chairperson of the affected community, who witnessed the incident.
He further narrated that the defender’s refusal led him to be grabbed by men from behind and handcuffed knot before being thrown onto a white double Cabin with registration number UG0203L.
According to the Witness Radio research team, the vehicle number plate described above belongs to the government of Uganda.
The kidnap of the defender follows a meeting on Tuesday 21st of March 2023 meeting between affected residents in Ranch 22 in Nyamuntende, District leadership, and the District Security Committee, chaired by Mr. Dan Muganga, the Kiryandongo Resident District Commissioner (RDC).
According to the residents, the RDC said in the meeting that the government had brought valuers to undertake land property assessment exercises. Still, he called on all stakeholders to have it peaceful.
When contacted about the kidnap of the defender in a forced valuation exercise RDC Muganga claimed that he was unaware of the incident.
“I told the District Police Commander (DPC) himself that valuation exercise should not be forceful, people should consent first before any exercise. If that is the case, let me call him now.” He said.
The District Police Commander, Muhangi Edson requested time to establish where the defender is being held.
“I am trying to call someone to find out. I will get back to you” the DPC added.
DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
Breaking: Mwanga II Court grants bail to two defenders and a Project Affected Person (PAP).1
By Witness Radio team
A Magistrate court sitting at Mwanga II road in Kampala has granted a cash bail to two community land rights defenders and a project-affected person after spending 24 and 21 days on remand respectively.
Defenders; Kabugo Michael and Kasozi Paul Ssengendo and a project-affected person, Charles Sserugo, were charged with conspiracy and obtaining money by pretense before being sent to Luzira prison.
Before being charged and remanded to prison, Kabugo and Kasozi, on several occasions, had been in and out of Old Kampala Police on orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (D/RCC) in charge of Lubaga Division in Kampala Kampala. RCC is a title given to the president’s representative at either district or division levels.
Both defenders have been mobilizing project affected community in Kawaala, Zone II, to resist forced evictions orchestrated by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and demand justice for all project-affected persons. The project is implemented with funding from the World Bank.
KCCA acquired a loan of over USD 175 from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) in 2015 for the second Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP-2) project. Part of this money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) is to construct the Lubigi Drainage Channel.
Before granting them bail, the court gave stringent conditions namely; each of the accused had to pay paid cash of two million Uganda Shillings (equivalent to 535.06 US Dollars); attend court whenever summoned; directed them not to leave the country; and keep off the prosecution’s investigations.
Section 309 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120 states that the charge of conspiracy takes three (3) years imprisonment on conviction while the maximum sentence of obtaining money by pretense, according to Section 305 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, is a punishment of five years imprisonment on conviction.
His Worship, Byaruhanga Adam, relied on the submissions filed by the defense lawyers, which included presenting substantial sureties. Their sureties were conditioned with 50 Million Uganda Shillings (equivalent to 13,376.50 US Dollars) non-cash.
The Court will resume on the 4th of April 2023 at 10: 00 am East African standard time.
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