BULIISA – Mr. Barikenda Fred, living on a clan land in Buliisa district is a Tilenga project-affected person. The land on which his house sits was compensated and he qualified for house reconstruction before he could be moved.
However, Barikende and his four children were on 7th September 2022 ring-fenced as a measure to force them out of the place even when they had not built their house as it had been agreed.
“TotalEnergies came and [ring]-fenced me and my family without my consent. They were supposed to construct my house somewhere else then I leave the site,” helpless man told press on March 21, 2023.
“They came telling to vacate so quickly that the government wanted to use the site (his land).”
Barikende says he has since gone through a lot of hardships to keep his family alive since he can no longer use the land which was his only source of food.
“Even my pigs died and they were my source of income and now my children are no longer studying. I will not leave until my rights are respected,” he noted.
However, TotalEnergies dismissed the claims, noting that Mr. Barikenda received his cash compensation in May 2022 for the value of his assets (structures, crops, and trees) along with a 30% disturbance allowance and a 30% uplift.
“As a primary resident in the affected area, Mr. Barikenda is also entitled to a replacement house to be built to modern construction specifications complimented by solar power systems capable of powering electronic appliances, a rainwater collection system, a modern wooden stove kitchen, an external toilet, and a bathroom.”
They say that prior to relocation, their project teams work in close consultation with Primary Residents to identify the resettlement sites and in particular encourage them to choose their preferred locations.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Barikenda delayed the selection of his resettement site until July 2022. Prompt action was undertaken thereafter by TotalEnergies EP Uganda to expedite the purchase of his selected land, and this was completed in August 2022, and building plans subsequently approved in early September 2022. The construction of Mr. Barikenda’s House is being treated as a priority and we should be able to relocate him to his new residence by the start of 2023. Like all PAPs, Mr. Barikenda and his household members will also be supported during relocation and have the opportunity to take part in the Livelihood Restoration activities.”
Total says in the interim, temporary accommodation for the complainant and his family has been offered including payment of rent and support in form of dry food rations.
“According to national and international resettlement good practices, temporary relocation of PAPs should be within 10 km of their current residence notably to ensure that the social networks of the household are maintained. However, Mr. Balikenda has asked that for his temporary stay, he should be provided with hotel accommodation in Hoima and his children enrolled in a school approximately 100 kilometers away from both his existing and replacement residences.”
They say that the ring fence was erected for the family’s safety with his consultation and approval.
Barikende is not alone. Mr. Byakagaba Geoffrey also narrates that TotalEnergies and Government of Uganda came and tried to acquire their land at only shs3.5m per acre.
Their request for in kind compensation, he said, were futile.
“With shs3.5m, there is nowhere in Buliisa where you can find an acre of land. The nine families that were not compensated are now landless,” he said.
The poor locals also noted that their small remaining portions of land are today unfit for agriculture, having been logged with floods from the Tilenga Central Processing Facility (CPF).
“The floods from the Tilenga Central Processing Facility have destroyed all our crops,” they said, adding that, “We have made an alarm in every corner but no help.”
Ms. Nyakato Margret, also a PAP said, “I grew up in Kasenyi village but I’ve never seen floods like these. Since this project began, the environment has severely been affected. Our animals no longer have water to drink nor where to graze. We are even scared of our children drowning there.”
The locals say the environmental impact assessment conducted by the National Environmental Management Authority – NEMA hasn’t helped them “because flooding has been happening for a year and we have made several complaints including to the ministry of health but still nothing has been done.”
When approached, Ms. Gloria Sebikari, the Corporate Affairs Manager – Petroleum Authority of Uganda said that there’s an ongoing assessment by the field teams to determine the extent of the impact (from the surface runoff) on the communities/affected households, for possible compensation.
She noted that the area has previously been prone to flush flooding during rainy seasons.
“As an additional measure to mitigate against any possible flooding, the drainage system construction works within the industrial area and well pads have progressed significantly. This is intended to minimize water run off from the Industrial Area and well pad areas with ongoing works. In addition, a long-term- hydrological and flood modelling study for the development of a suitable pond retention system and flood management plan for the lifespan of the project is at the design stage.”
Another Project-Affected Person – PAP, Mr. Bamuturaki says their area had a lot of trees but the project “never left any tree standing.”
“Buliisa has got very harsh climate, it can’t accommodate exotic breeds and so we are used to our Zebu (local cattle) which can bare the climate,” he said, revealing that the climate has been worsened by the oil project.
According to the locals, the CPF also used to be their firewood fetching area and today they suffer to get what to use.
“Yes, the government has brought electricity but it is along the road. No one has electricity in their home and we cannot even afford it.”
“We thought that oil would be a blessing to us but we are suffering with it. Our rights are violated. There is a lot of intimidation we even don’t know how you (journalists) have accessed here. Normally, the journalists are blocked by the RDC and at times arrested,” he said.
Having failed to get justice even in courts of law, the Project-Affected Persons (PAP), say their only left hope is the office of the president.
“Please hear (President Museveni) our cry and come to our rescue. We Bagungu survive on agriculture but now the life is really hard. Our children are no longer schooling, we have nothing to eat and we don’t know what next,” they screamed.
Ms. Diana Nabiruma – Communications Officer at Africa Institute for Energy Governance – AFIEGO, an organisation that has been trying to ensure the victims access justice, says that when oil was discovered in Uganda, the oil communities were told that they were going to be better.
“The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) actually, had a tagline that says, creating lasting value.”
This, she says, however, is not evident on the ground.
“We have seen communities whose gardens were destroyed or are being destroyed because of floods from that Tilenga industrial area. We have seen communities who’ve lost their land and they’re unable to use their land because of the EACOP and the finished petroleum products pipeline,” she said.
“So overall, you find that the people are worse off than they were before.”
Much as oil discovery and extraction would translate into the development of the country, Ms. Nabiruma doubts the ordinary person in the oil communities is going to benefit a great deal.
“If my garden is destroyed. If you take my land, if you create fear in my community and say I shouldn’t talk about oil. Are you leaving me better off than you found me?”
“So the communities are saying their requests are simple. Pay for my banana plantation that you’re destroying and you refuse to compensate. Should your profits come from the blood and sweat and tears of the people?” she wondered.
AFIEGO urged the Government in collaboration with TotalEnergies to thoroughly compensate the people but also relocate those who want to move away from the Tilenga industrial area, noting that the challenges are just starting.
“After the floods, we are going to have air pollution, there is likely to be noise pollution, road accidents are happening in that area. So it is not a safe place for people to live near.”
AFIEGO also wants a revaluation of the properties of those who already accepted the [less] compensation, noting that the majority were tricked into signing since they could hardly read or write, but also others were intimidated.
“A company that prides itself on creating value for a country should not be under-compensating communities. So they should hold discussions with the people and pay them the right amount of compensation.”
Ms. Sebikari stated: “It is important to understand that the compensation values are determined in line with the district compensation matrix (which is updated annually). This matrix is developed by the district land board, and approved by the Chief Government Valuer, based on known and agreed principles to ensure fairness and equity to all parties. All districts in Uganda have such matrices, and, therefore, the projects don’t determine compensation values. In addition, all PAPs are given a 30% disturbance allowance, and a 15% per year additional uplift, over and above the approved values.”
She clarified that PAPs (landowners) are given options of choosing either cash compensation or land-for-land (in-kind) compensation.
“All PAPs are encouraged to register their grievances with the project teams to ensure resolution.”
In addition to the compensation, Ms. Sebikari noted that PAPs are given food rations for 6-12 months as transitional support and are also participating in various livelihood improvement activities in agriculture, beekeeping, vocational training, and financial literacy, among others.
“Therefore, the compensation processes for Uganda’s oil projects are compliant with the best international standards,” she said.
The communities whose land and property are being compulsorily acquired for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), Tilenga and Kingfisher oil projects claim that the government started by giving them only sh2.1 million per acre and increased to shs3.5 million upon their refusal which they have also declined to collect, saying that an acre of land in their area is valued at Shs15 million to Shs21 million.
Accordingly, in 2019, the Tilenga project-affected communities filed a case in the high court of Uganda challenging the environmental and social impact assessment certificate issued by NEMA but up to now, the court has not determined that case.
These say they were shocked that the same judiciary gave a ruling in only six months in favour of the government in its 2020 case against them (PAPs) who had refused the compassion that had been referred to as unfair and inadequate.
The court allowed the government to deposit the compensation in court and proceed to evict the communities.
They say they filed a notice of appeal but the court turned a deaf ear for two years now without even fixing a hearing date.
In addition, they wrote to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the Judicial Service Commission on February 15, 2023 requesting for a meeting to enable the affected families to present their petition highlighting all the misery they face including threats of eviction, death of their animals, food insecurity and loss of land before compensation among others but have since waited for any response in vain.
In 2019, AFIEGO and the Guild Presidents Forum on Governance (GPFOG) filed a case in the High Court of Uganda challenging the legality of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate that was issued by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to TotalEnergies E&P. The certificate was issued in absence of complete mitigation plans and yet the FSIA had identified over 30 risks including allowing oil activities in Murchison Falls National Park and others. Further, prior to issuance of the certificate, key provisions in environmental laws were violated, which put environmental conservation amidst the Tilenga project at risk.
However, hearing of this case has never been concluded yet the Tilenga project is ongoing.
Back in 2022, the European Parliament condemned EACOP as a project that is full of violations of human rights in Uganda and Tanzania linked to investments in fossil fuels projects.
The Parliament expresses grave concern about arrests, intimidation and judicial harassment against human rights defenders and NGOs working in the oil and gas sector in Uganda, and calls on the authorities to immediately release anyone arrested arbitrarily.
These called for an immediate halt, noting that more than 100,000 people are at imminent risk of displacement due to the EACOP project, with inefficient guarantees of adequate compensation.
They also asked authorities to adequately compensate people for lost property and land but also demanded the Ugandan authorities allow unhindered access to the zone covered by the project for civil society organizations, independent journalists, international observers and investigative researchers.
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