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Oil: land grabs fuel deaths in Hoima

Two people were burnt to death on a disputed piece of land in Hoima that has been leased to McAlester Energy Resources Limited to construct an oil waste management facility.

The couple, Enock Darakarim Buchali and Yunis Akumu, was discovered on the morning of October 10 in Rwamutonga village, Bugambe sub-county, Hoima district. Their bodies were lying together in the ashes. The land in question is being contested in court after some 150 families were evicted by businessman Joshua Tibagwa and his daughter Robinah Kusiima.

During a press conference organized by human rights activists in the oil-rich sub- region, Bashir Twesige, the executive director of Civil Response for Environment and Development (CRED), said the evictions occurred as a result of a long-held land conflict between customary landowners and Tibagwa.

A court order used to front the evictions came from a consent judgment dated September 17, 2013 between Tibagwa and business partner Robert Bansiragaho in an effort to consolidate ownership for their two pieces of land. However, Tibagwa used the eviction order issued by the High court in Masindi to also evict customary owners and other occupants from the land.

The same order was used to evict all people living on neighbouring Block 5 Plot 34 measuring 382 hectares. The evicted persons on this land include Tibagwa‘s own registered tenants but also customary owners that have occupied and used parcels from as early as 1970.

For reasons unknown, Buchali and Akumu were not evicted and remained on the contested land as lone settlers while their former neighbours were displaced.

Allegedly, on the morning of the murder, Buchali was negotiating with Tibagwa to buy his small plot of land for Shs 25m. They could not agree on a figure and multiple witnesses claim that Tibagwa threatened Buchali with violence. The next morning Bucahli and Akumu were found burnt to death amidst the ashes of their hut. The police in Hoima has arrested about five people in connection with the arson.

State House involved?

Sources say multiple government entities are implicated in misconduct and malfeasance contributing to this land-grab, including the Hoima District Land Board, Area Land Committee and the High court.

“The government has been deeply involved in resettlement of the people but the action we have seen from government institutions and individuals is divided. The chairperson LCV and RDC have been trying to mediate. But we also have evidence of correspondences from the State House land department and we know the deputy RDC and the district police are the ones who commanded this eviction. The lack of common unity shows that, as government, we have not prepared ourselves for oil exploration and its effects,” Twesige said.

The displaced persons now sit in a nearby town centre, stranded in temporary shelters. Many of them sustained injuries during the violent eviction. Some of them said they had no prior notice of the eviction, and did not prepare any belongings or food to take with them. Many individuals have nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Paul Twebaze of Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists says the situation has changed from eviction to livelihood emergency and relief. People in the camp have no food, little access to clean water, and no shelter or medical care.

McAlester speaks out

In a statement issued by McAlester, the company says it signed a lease agreement with the landowners, Kusiima and her father Tibagwa, in 2013. As per the terms of the agreement, funds were released to the landowners, obligating them specifically to settle the squatters’ claims and not to evict them.

“McAlester will not conclude the purchase of the 49-year lease on Plot 44 until the matter is resolved to the satisfaction of the court. We expect it will be concluded before the end of the month,” the statement reads.

But activist say that oil companies should come up and pronounce themselves on why they are dealing with a company involved in human rights violations, which has left hundreds of people starving.

“Oil companies should associate themselves with companies that respect social justice. Let them come out and say if they have contracted McAlester Energy Resources. We shouldn’t see Ugandans beating fellow Ugandans because of oil. We should be working to build our country as one. But if someone is causing the death of people, this should be avoided. Let people be compensated in a timely manner before they are moved,” said Ms Winfred Ngabiirwe, the executive director of Global Rights Alert

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