In an article published by the Daily Monitor, on Thursday October 2, 2014, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said the 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.
The President is quoted to have said “the people who have to give you consent are the people who own the minerals, and that is the government. The other man [landowner] has no consent to give because the property is not his.”
He then referred to the land owners as “mere villagers” who cannot stop the government from accessing “its assets”. To some this may be a shocking declaration from the country’s head of State but those that have been in this country long enough know that this is not the first time that Museveni is taking a hard-line stance in favour of investors disregarding all the appertaining interests accruing to the land in which the investors are interested.
Most Ugandans are familiar with the infamous attempted 2007 Mabira Forest give-away in which the President was giving away the country’s biggest forest to an investor, disregarding all the possible environmental costs of such a decision. Thanks to the public protests that halted the process.
That’s just one of the many examples. In Uganda’s own capital, stories have been told of how land is being grabbed from individuals and dished out to investors some of whom even lack the capacity to develop the land. Many Ugandans are familiar with the story of Shimon Demonstration School where the government displaced a school only to give out the land to an investor who could not develop the land until the land was given to another investor.
It is just the way things work here in Uganda, all people are equal but some people are more equal than others. In other words all villagers that own land are equal and indeed their rights deserve to be protected as long as no investor is interested in their land. However, in cases where investors are interested in the land, the investors become more equal and the rights of land owners or rather the villagers are no longer of any consequence. Like the President says “You just tell those villagers to get out”.
Speaking of the Oil and Gas Sector, it is clearly evident that the government has little or no interest in the adequate compensation of land owners who are losing their land to the refinery project and there are good two reasons to support the claim.
The 2014/2015 budget does not prioritise compensation and resettlement of remaining people the refinery will affect that according to a briefing of Global Rights Alert on Oil and Uganda’s Budget for the Financial Year 2014/15.
In the recently released report of Global Witness on the 2012 Oil Contracts, it was noted that the contracts had gaps which could risk leaving communities affected by the oil drilling and pollution without compensation.
Possibly such gaps in the contracts are only because to the government the question of compensation is just one of those other distractions from the big bucks flowing in from the black gold. No wonder that the contracts have been found to have a good financial deal but lacking in adequate environmental and human rights safe guards. All that mattered was the money you know.
But any way, the government has always not cared much about compensation. It is the kind of attitude that it has had for sometime but the difference now is that the government has got a law being channeled in the pipeline to completely sideline the interests and rights of landowners in favour of investors. The government wants a law to condone the injustice. And if those that are fighting for the rights of landowners in regard to adequate compensation for their loss of land do not move fast to block the law, that may just be the proverbial straw that will break the camel’s back.