This is not our place anymore: evictions and oil exploration in Uganda

by Pablo Pereira de Mattos*

Imagine that you are at your home with your family and someone knocks on your door. It is a representative from your government. He explains that the government is taking over your land and everything on it. He does not give a clear deadline for you to leave, but explains that it must be soon. He gives you two options: monetary compensation or resettlement. However, he cannot tell you how much money you will receive or to where you are to be relocated. Amidst uncountable doubts you make your “blind-choice”, upon which you are told to wait until someone else comes and carries out the occupation of your land. Finally, you are told to accept the situation as part of your country’s development. In short, this is the scenario in Hoima District, western Uganda, where thousands of people are on the edge of being displaced in order to open room for an oil refinery.

A new contrast in Lake Albert, Uganda. Source

Over 29,000 square kilometres of land were earmarked for the refinery development. Part of the land will also be used to set up infrastructure and other facilities. Overall, its construction is expected to displace, according to independent analysts, almost 30,000 people in nine villages in Kabaale Parish. The government of Uganda (GoU), on the other hand, argues that only 7,118 people are going to be evicted from that area.

Like in many other regions of Uganda, most of the affected population depends on subsistence agriculture. In general, they are smallholder farmers, growing crops like bananas, cassava, maize and some legumes. Livestock is also an important source of livelihood in the region. To a lesser extent, a good amount of people have their livelihood linked to small business or fishing. The land is held mainly on customary basis, passing from one generation to the next. Among cattle keepers it is widespread to use grazing land on a communal basis. Due to an increase in population, land availability is becoming limited. Furthermore, considering the lack of land titles, there is a general fear in the region that people will not receive proper compensation for their land.

According to a survey carried out by the Ugandan government, 98 percent of the residents preferred to be compensated, while 2% wanted resettlement. Villagers, however, provide different perspectives. Among several concerns, the lack of information regarding compensation rates and relocation sites is the issue raised most frequently.People have been asked to choose between one of the options, without receiving adequate information about any of them. In other words, people were asked to choose between monetary compensation and resettlement without knowing how much money they were entitled to receive or where they would be relocated.

Under these circumstances, it seems that the procedure carried out by the GoU is a violation of international treaties ratified by the Republic of Uganda, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Great Lakes Region Protocol on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons, also referred to as the Kampala Convention. Evidently, these mechanisms do not provide a “right not to be displaced” in absolute terms; however, the “right not be arbitrary displaced” is sufficiently assured. In view of this, actions that precede the eviction of people demand, among other guarantees, provision of full information concerning compensation and/or resettlement schemes.

In brief, it seems that the main point is not to support or to oppose the construction of the refinery, but to assure that the process, as a whole, is carried out by standards and guidelines provided by both national and international law. After all, people and communities - not the state itself - hold the right to development, and because of that their needs should always be taken into consideration.

Pablo holds a law degree from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande/FURG, Brazil and a post-graduate diploma in Human Rights from the University of Coimbra, Portugal. Currently he is a master student from the European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations/EMMIR.

Readers are encouraged to quote, reproduce and share this content for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HR&D team.


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