Uganda: Farmers fear losing all to refinery project (New Vision, Uganda)

| June 4, 2012

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Flavia Katusabe depends on her parents’ land to feed her husband and their seven children. She was born 21 years ago in Kitegwa village, Hoima, in western Uganda. But her zeal to start a new garden and grow more food disappeared when she heard rumours that the land was earmarked for the petroleum industry.

Mrs. Katusabe says, “Why waste my energy, knowing the land is going? I don’t know when and if they will pay us because I hear it is a government project for [the] petroleum industry.”

Soon, Mrs. Katusabe and other householders in the area will have to surrender their land to the government to establish an oil refinery.

The project will cover 2900 hectares of land, and include an airport, refinery buildings and staff quarters. The land where Mrs. Katusabe lives was considered suitable because, according to the feasibility study, it was “sparsely populated.” It is claimed that this eases the relocation and compensation process.

The government estimates that 14 villages will be affected, with close to 40,000 households. But the project is already taking a toll on communities. Fred Kasangaki is a local sub-county chief. He sees young boys and men drinking alcohol every morning. He says, “They are on a drinking spree. They have abandoned farming. The danger is [that] food shortages and hunger will hit us terribly.”

There has been no consultation with the community. Confusion and anxiety reign. Little information has been made public.

Oscar Beddi is a local village chief. He says, “The refinery is a good project, but people need to be informed and sensitized.” He believes the compensation issue needs to be handled with care, as it raises expectations. He continues, “It is annoying that we are not updated about the whole process. No agreements have been made. This has caused fears.”

James Isingoma is a resident of Kitegwa village. He fears that he will not be compensated because he has no title for his land. He says, “When I start the process of obtaining the land title, I am stopped. The land board is no longer processing new land titles. We are in darkness.”

Fred Kabagambe-Kaliisa is the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. He said “First, we are demarcating the land through a survey. Then we shall enumerate the people who will be affected by the project.”

But before decisions can be taken on compensation or resettlement, several conditions must be assessed or established, including land ownership, properties and loss of economic activities. Mr. Kabagambe-Kaliisa adds, “But now who is stopping them from growing seasonal crops like beans, maize and other cereals which grow fast?”

Women like Mrs. Katusabe have requested that households headed by women and children, the elderly and the disabled receive special provisions. She says, “I request that the Government looks for land and builds a permanent house with iron sheets, gets land titles and connects us to piped water and electricity.”

She adds, “This way I will be sure for my safety and children’s future. Otherwise, my husband will drink all the money. I need land to continue growing food.”