By Dickens Kamugisha…
On May 25 this year, more than 80 people whose land in Hoima was acquired for Uganda’s oil refinery met with officials from Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), and ministries of energy and lands.
These people, despite their land being acquired in 2012, have not been compensated or relocated yet. At the meeting, which was convened at the behest of the refinery-affected people to discuss human rights challenges arising from the refinery project, mothers and fathers were in attendance.
One of the pains of their lives, they said, was the fact that since 2012, their children had not been able to attend school. This was as a result of a number of factors. One was that when the government gazetted the 29 sq/km of land in Kabaale, Hoima for the refinery and set a cut-off date of June 2, 2012 as the deadline for considering any new compensation, residents got discouraged from engaging in any form of economic activity.
As a result, most people, including teachers, became desperate and those who managed to get compensation left the refinery area. At Nyahaira P/S and Kyapaloni P/S, which the refinery-affected children attended, only two and one teacher respectively were left following relocation of other teachers. Parents were discouraged from taking their children to school due to lack of teachers.
When these parents raised this point, UHRC and ministry of energy officials told them to wait until the houses being constructed for those who opted for physical relocation are completed. These houses are being constructed in Kyakaboga village, Hoima district. The government officials said that by next year, the children would be back in school.
The parents were unhappy with this decision. Their children had already been out of school for too long! Despite their protestations, government officials at the meeting insisted that school would only resume after relocation to Kyakaboga.
Why is these parents’ ordeal important for Uganda? In April, Uganda announced that it had chosen a crude oil export pipeline route. This route was the Tanga, Tanzanian one. Plans to begin development of the pipeline are in earnest with the front end engineering designs for the project already being drawn.
Like the refinery-affected children, the children whose parents’ property will be acquired for the export oil pipeline are set to have their education put to a complete stop.
This is because not only does government fail to promptly compensate and relocate project-affected people as required by the constitution, the same government goes about resettling people in a poorly-organised manner.
We have seen projects such as the Karuma hydropower project – where over 80 people are yet to be compensated since 2013; the 2005 Mbarara-Rwanda power transmission line project – where some families are yet to be compensated; and the 2005 Jinja-Kenya power transmission – where, ten years after their property was assessed by government, some families are yet to be compensated fairly and adequately.
With government being slow to compensate and relocate project-affected people, we expect the crude oil export pipeline-affected families to suffer the same fate of no education for their children owing to delayed compensation.
The failure to avoid disrupting the lives of families, especially the children who hold the future of our country, is a grave contradiction of the goal of the 2008 National Oil and Gas policy which is to contribute to poverty eradication in Uganda.
It also reflects our perennial incapacity to implement existing laws if you consider that the upstream and midstream oil laws as well as the ongoing efforts to put in place a local content policy for the oil sector mandate government to ensure effective participation of Ugandans in the oil sector.
What should be done for Uganda’s children to remain in school and to achieve the objective of the National Oil and Gas policy, 2008?
Government needs to make compensation processes humane to enable project-affected families live in dignity. Additionally, before a decision to displace local communities or families is made, those in charge should ensure that displacement does not disrupt education of any child; and the best way to guard against negative effects of development is through the conduct and implementation of social impact assessments (SIAs).
Finally, compulsory land acquisition processes should always take a multi-stakeholder approach involving project-affected people and other key stakeholders such as cultural leaders, religious leaders, civil society and relevant government institutions such as the ministry of education.
A national committee should also be instituted to ensure that schools, clean water, electricity, health care facilities, schools, cultural sites and others are not negatively affected by development projects.
The author is the chief executive officer of Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO).
This article was first Published by the Observer Newspaper