Seven days to the 52nd independence celebrations in Uganda, President Y.K. Museveni while at the Conference on Mineral wealth, in Kampala Uganda, took the country five decades back in the struggle for human rights. As reported in one of Uganda’s Dailies, the president said that government will change the law to allow intending investors in the mining industry to access private land that contains minerals without negotiating with the land owners. One cannot be faulted for saying that this is barely different from what the British Governor of the Ugandan protectorate must have said as he introduced the Mailo, Native and Crown land system to Buganda a century ago.
Upon discovery of oil deposits in the Albertine Graben, as reported by the Uganda Human Rights commission, in its 2013 Report on Oil in Uganda, the people in the Bunyoro sub region got unrealistic expectations and excitement. However, this seems to be back firing on them, right from the onset telling by the trends.
First, was the involuntary resettlement of residents of Buseruka and Kabaale in Hoima whose land was taken to pave way for the construction of the Oil refinery. Subsequently, residents of Bugambe Sub-County Hoima District were also inhumanly evicted, for the construction of an Oil Waste Treatment Plant. Most of the displaced “Villagers” remain in suspense up-to-date with only Civil Society Organisations trying to advocate for their rights. How worse will this get if the investors are assured of protection from “above”?
Uganda has a law on Compulsory land acquisition, stemming from Article 26(1) of the 1995 Ugandan Constitution on the right to own property. The constitution further provides under Articles 237(1) and 242 for land to be owned by citizens and for Parliament to make laws and policies to regulate land use, respectively. Parliament has thus passed Laws such as the Land Acquisition Act, and the Mineral Act among others all of which uphold the autonomy of the land owner irrespective of the purpose for which the land is sought.
It is upon this background that I find the president’s statement in respect of denying land owners a say while their land is being taken, for whatever reason, was not legally premised; especially in a post-independence era of human rights. More so, his assertion as to change the law is clearly usurpation of the powers of parliament by the Executive, which also is not post-independence like.
This therefore brings me to the fears exhibited by the Bunyoro Youth of Faith, in a conference organized by Global Rights Alert and the Inter Religious Council of Uganda on the 7th Of October, 2014 in Masindi District. The youth in Bunyoro are afraid that they may actually live to get nothing but evictions and pollution from the Oil in their region. Joseph Wafula, a member of the Bunyoro Youth of Faith from Kiryandogo district said that, “It is not only the Technical Jobs in the Oil Companies that are given to experts and foreigners, but even the casual Laborers come from Kampala”.
All that the natives of Bunyoro, (98% of whom live in Rural areas with agriculture as the source of livelihood), are looking at is their land for survival. It is hence essential that they have a say in matters concerning the surrender of their land rights to investors. Anything less of this is typically “African Hospitality” where guests are given priority and extra attention at the cost of the host’s comfort.
As we boost in having spent over half a century under self rule, there are some standards below which Uganda as a nation should not drop. Human rights of which the rights to own property is, are inherent and not just enjoyed at the mercy of the state. I thus recommend that government implements the National Land Policy’s objective of remedying historical injustices and colonial legacies, as opposed to taking us back in time.
[author image=”http://ugandaoil.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Muhindo-James-.jpg” ]James Muhindo is a lawyer, Researcher and Human Rights advocate. He is currently working as a Project Officer at Global Rights Alert. You can reach him through these emails firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com[/author]