As the resettlement process of persons that lived near the oil refinery site drags on, there is not just confusion on who was promised a house or not, but also conflicts brewing among the displaced people and pastoralists, writes ALON MWESIGWA.
Three words – regret, misery, and hopelessness – can best describe families affected by the oil refinery project as they accuse government of not keeping true to its promises as the resettlement process drags on.
Some people accuse government of building houses for only 46 households out of the 93 that opted for resettlement. They also accuse government of not respecting the timelines it set of when the affected people would be resettled in a new place.
More than 90 families opted for resettlement in 2012, rejecting cash payments to pave way for the construction of a refinery in Kabaale, Hoima district. Most of those who opted for cash were paid but the future looks increasingly bleak for those who chose to be resettled.
Elderly woman Joyce Kaikara is one of the people facing an uncertain future over resettlement. At a village meeting at Nyehayo primary school in Kabaale with reporters and the NGO African Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego), Kaikara said she had opted for cash compensation but she was told she was vulnerable and could not be allowed to handle money. She was told government would give her land and then construct a house for her.
Kaikara, who now lives at her sister’s home, says she was recently told she would only be given land and would not receive a house since the land that government took did not have property on it.
“I am not happy with what is going on,” Kaikara said.
Government is finishing the construction of the 46 houses but those who will not get a house are running out of patience. Last month, they set up huts adjacent to where government is constructing. The huts were burnt at night but residents say they will construct new ones again.
Margaret Nankya, another affected person, said they had met with area members of parliament but haven’t been helped. In 2012, government stopped the affected persons from growing crops that take long to mature, such as coffee, cassava and trees pending resettlement. They were told they could only grow seasonal crops like maize and beans.
Five years later, they have not been taken to the new places. Government had promised that the affected persons would enter their houses at the start of this year. They are still not sure when they will be resettled.
According to government’s resettlement action plan, a total of 7,118 people were affected by the project. Some 2,708 had property and 2,615 of these opted for cash compensation while 93 asked to be resettled.
Government acquired at least 533.6 acres in Kabaale for resettlement. In the budget framework paper for 2017/18 financial year, government said it would “focus on the implementation of the refinery development activities including the development of the oil pipelines, aerodrone, and the implementation of the oil and gas policy.”
The government says it will allocate at least Shs 114.2bn for the refinery land and other related corridors for other infrastructure such as the pipeline in the upcoming national budget for 2017/2018.
The accusations that project- affected persons are throwing at the state have become fodder for non-governmental organisations, who see the situation as a complete disregard by government of basic human rights.
Meanwhile, a conflict between the affected persons and the pastoralists is brewing. The refinery-affected people say pastoralists have since invaded the plots where they are living temporarily. They say the pastoralists come from Kyankwanzi and other western Uganda districts searching for pastures.
Abel Tugarukayo, who is waiting for resettlement, says he now hires people to guard his maize from pastoralists’ cows. Tugarukayo said the pastoralists were arrogant and intentionally graze animals on people’s crops.
“Our situation is worse than refugees,” he said.
Dickens Kamugisha, the executive director of Afiego, said the affected persons represent a community “that is completely stuck”.
“They were promised to be relocated six years ago but up to now they haven’t,” he said. “Their children are not going to school, no health centre, they can’t grow crops. Most of the families are broken.”
Innocent Tumwebaze, the leader of the oil refinery residents association, said government “delays were making us regret the choices we made”.
Government’s refinery project is expected to stand on 29 square kilometres of land and would process at least 60,000 barrels of oil daily, although government’s target is to start with 30,000 barrels per day.
Last year, the project suffered a setback when the lead investor RT Global Resources, a Russian firm, pulled out of the deal, saying Ugandan government was dragging its feet. Government is looking for a new investor.