Emerging Human Rights Concerns in the Albertine Graben in Uganda.
The availability of Oil and Gas resources was discovered by Hardman Resources Company at Mputa in Hoima ditrict in January 2006. This was immediately followed by the official announcement by the president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni acknowledging the availability of Oil and natural gas deposits in Uganda, more so in the Albertine Graben , stretching from South Western Uganda ,siting on Lake Albert up to West Nile in North western Uganda .
Since the exploration works began by the various oil companies including Tullow, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Total exploration and Production Uganda on behalf of the government, several human rights violations and severe abuses of environmental has been reported. The activities of Oil companies are characterized by gross human rights violations, environmental degradation and forceful eviction of the local community from their own land.
Many people have been displaced as a result of government decision to construct Oil refinery plant in Kabaale parish ,Buseruka sub county , Hoima district . Though the government has a plan to ensure fairness and transparency in resettling the affected communities, the affected persons alleged that the compensation exercise is marred by irregularities and their rights is being violated.
There is allegation of low compensation rate. Residents of Bullisa district and Kabaale Parish in Hoima alleged that they are to be paid compensations that range between Ug. Shs. 15 million to Ug. Shs. 21 million per acre of land, depending on the location.
Residents of the oil-rich district of Buliisa have rejected government’s proposed compensation for their land to pave way for the Central Processing facility (CPF) project. Government released a programme for relocation and resettlement of the affected people but the residents say the government compensation rates are too low for their land. Government, Total E&P Uganda and Tullow Uganda operations Pty Ltd have completed assessing properties for the project affected persons (PAPs) in the villages of Kasenyi, Kisomere, Uduk II, Kibambura, Mvule, Ajigo, Kirama, Kigwera north East, Kigwera south East and Bikongoro. The land, measuring about 310 hectares, will host a CPF, access road and a base camp during petroleum development activities, according to the Resettlement Action Plan.
The Ngwedo Sub-county chairperson, Mr Gilbert Kaliisa, says the affected residents claim the compensation rates which government plans to pay them are inadequate.
“The residents have insisted that the Shs2.1m which government intends to pay for each acre of land is low and instead they want Shs21m per acre,” Mr Kaliisa said.
In some Oil exploration and refinery areas, people were never consulted during the determination of the compensation rates .The compensation for the destroyed crops, mostly the perennial crops did not take into consideration the fact that such crops provides incomes to the local people .
Valuers never consulted the local communities on the truth about their properties .There is increasing complaints regarding the environmental concern. The people of Bullisa district are still complaining of pollution of the environment from dust,noise and a stench which is affecting people’s health .Evidence indicates that such pollution mostly affect vulnerable persons like pregnant women, children and older persons.
One of the Oil Company some time had dumped waste containing large amounts of lead in Bugana near river Zoria which connects to another river whose water is used for domestic and animal’s consumption. Since then it has had a very devastating effects on the life of local people . More than 15 people in the surrounding areas of Bugana have lost their life and at least hundred cattle’s have perished as a result.
In Nebbi district the machine used by Total in the exploration activities was too heavy in that it caused vibrations as far as 2 Km away ; it was operated both day and night ; it made a lot of noise and people could not sleep well for close to three consecutive months.The exploration work that began in a dry season also led to excessive dusts that eventually resulted into suffering from cough and severe flu .The fumes from the machines caused cassava to rot but the farmers did not have where to report their loss to until the Uganda Human Rights Commission approached them .
Total Exploration Uganda dumped waste on a private land in Purongo village with the consent of the owner Mr. Denis Olwoch.It is alleged that the victim was blind folded and had consented in ignorance of the waste content and its likely side effects. The man whose land the waste was dumped on is now desperate to have it remove because the society is isolating him and his produce and two of his wives had deserted him for fear of producing children with deformities .However, it’s too late for him to have the waste removed .
There are high concerns on alleged sexual harassment of workers within the Oil camps; alleged sexual abuse and exploitation of girls by the moneyed foreign nationals working in the Oil activities especially road construction. There is also increase in population and influx of sex workers attracted by the Oil workers and the dangers of fueling the spread of HIV/AIDS. Some of the Turks who constructed the Kaiso-Tonya road were procuring prostitutes and they also in the process ended up inviting numbers of their colleagues to gang rape women .The government officials are aware of this allegation and they have never taken any step to investigate the matter.
Increasingly, there is seemingly hostile relationship between members of the Civil Society Organizations operating in the Albertine Graben and security agents on issues pertaining to the exploration of Oil activities. The government agents think that the NGO’s are sensitizing the population to riot against the government .The government is labeling NGO’s as “Anti Government” and “Saboteurs “of government programmes .Although the Civil Society organizations are doing their best to sensitize community members on the ongoing activities and pointing out flaws so that people do not become victims in the process, they have become a suspect of promoting terrorism. There are various accusations and counter accusations between some government officials and the members of Civil Society Organizations.
The African Institute of Energy and Governance ( AFIEGO) is one of the organization whose activities is under official investigation .The government accused AFIEGO for sabotaging government activities. And also the Civil Society Organizations is accusing the government for failing to listen to the concerns of the people in the Albertine region.
While the discovery of Oil and Gas provide a luxurious opportunity for the community .Nonetheless, there are concerns being raised on the long time devastating effects of oil and gas activities on people and the environment. According to a recent report by International Alert, Oil and gas activities in the Albertine region will have very dangerous effects on the people of Albertine graben and their environment. For example, drought, noise,itching and skin rashes, the discomfort generated by the light from 24/7, flaring, the black dust and soot that will settle in people’s homes and on food and clothes will all undermine the quality of life and the right of the people of Albertine to live in a healthy environment in which to fulfill their potential.
The Oil and gas activities in the Albertine region will causes acid rain, which will acidifies Lake Albert and streams and will damage crops and vegetation. It will leads to corrosion of roofs. People will die as a result of miscarriages and congenital malformations, increasing the frequency of respiratory illnesses and cancer, among other ailments that will send hundreds to an early grave. The dangerous sulfur will lead to low farm yields, affecting the farming livelihood of the people in the Albertine graben and some part of Democratic republic of Congo.