People’s views about the ongoing Oil developments in their communities and how they are affected because of irresponsible oil activities being undertaken on their territories by total and the Atacama consulting

Every community member from all over the villages of Ngwedu sub-county in Buliisa district is experiencing the same complex problems. The problems are mostly linked to the theft of their land, water sources and cultural sites. Land grabbing and forceful evictions accompanied with low compensation rates which are not affected in times as well as lack of transparency in valuation of property and crops. Communities are not given the chance to witness what is being recorded and how it’s being valued by the Atacama a company contracted by Total to undertake the property valuation exercise in Buliisa district.

Albertine Watch interviewed over 500 community members who expressed themselves openly that they have never seen and are not seeing any values and opportunities as a result of the oil and gas developments activities in their territories as the immediate affected communities who are within the oil drilling fields but rather they continue to be subjected to unjust treatments as a result of Oil and gas development project being undertaken by Total on their territory.

These communities are frustrated with a huge hip of grievances and questions which require immediate responses. However, the responsible parties to such concerns just keep distancing themselves from the communities, ignoring and denying any responsibility for being accountable to the increasing human rights violations, forced evictions and mistreatments of local communities as well as destructions of communities cultural sites including theft and confiscation of crops by Total and Atacama employees. The whole populations both adults and young have an endless list of problems they are facing due to the oil activities taking place on their territories.

The Albertine Watch is well informed that prior to their coming, Total and Atacama never informed the local communities of the procedures they were going to follow and what they would exactly do on to the community’s lands in the process of Oil and gas exploration and establishment of Central Processing Facilities. Communities were not informed of what was going to take place on their lands and what they needed to do in regards. Then land grabbing, destruction of crops and harassment of community’s members and their leaders started manifesting without the involvement of local people and due diligence and any agreements. The community was forced to sign documents they did not have the knowledge of the contents. These documents were written in complex and technical legal terms which needed to be translated to the peasant’s communities who never attained any level of education. Total, Atacama and wealthy members of the communities in Buliisa district took advantage of local people’s ignorance and started acquiring lands and processed land titles claiming ownership and evicting people who had stayed there since times in memorial.

Communities are also not happy with the less and inappropriate compensation rate being dictated upon their properties by  Atacama and Total. At first, the rate for one hectare of land was at 2.1 million  Ugandan shillings. This was very confusing and very much less compared to the values of communities land. On 5th of February 2018, the government approved the new compensation rate of Uganda shillings 3.5million. However, this rate according to the communities is still very little compared to the price of land in other areas where people have to relocate to in case they are evicted by Total and the government of the Republic of Uganda.

Apparently, a lot of damages have been registered by communities in terms of crops destruction, raiding of homes and intimidation of communities and their leaders by Total and Atacama employees.

The inappropriate evaluation methods being used by Total and Atacama in Ngwedu is a challenge. For example, a single pineapple plant is valued at 150 shillings yet in an actual sense on average one pineapple costs 2000 Ugandan shillings. One cassava plant which is also the communities’ staple food is said to be valued at 150 Ugandan shillings yet in actual sense the yields of one cassava plant can earn the locals around 10,000 Ugandan shillings on average. In many cases also, during the valuation process, some crops are found to be missing on the valuation forms because they were not recorded by the Atacama and Total employees hence people ending up largely not being compensated for their crops.

There are too many intimidations of local communities by the leadership of Atacama and Total. This is usually evident when the employees of Atacama and Total are around in the community. The Albertine Watch was told that the Atacama and Total always come in the community in large numbers along together with their legal teams comprise of many commercial lawyers, enumerators, agronomists, evaluators, and private security companies contracted by Total and the Atacama.

Albertine Watch was told that in most cases if the communities try to complain or express their dissatisfaction about the manner in which Atacama and Total are handling them, they openly tell communities to take their complaint to France where Total E&P comes from or to complain to their lawyers who will forward the complains to the courts. Total and Atacama usually behave in this way because they know that the communities are very poor and do not have the abilities to access legal support. Therefore, the Total and Atacama use intimidation as a tool of exploitation and to spread fears among the vulnerable communities.

The “ATACAMA” is the company that belongs to the daughter of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. The company was sub-contracted by Total company to take charge of the acquisition of land from the local communities for the establishment of Oil Central processing Facilities.

The people of Ngwedo sub-county are particularly vulnerable and exposed to severe State sponsored long drought and hunger. This is because of unsustainable practices by the oil corporation Total on their territories. All these have resulted in severe and harsh climatic condition leading to environmental degradation and famine.

For example, if total develop an interest in any land, they coerce the landowners to sign forms which they don’t understand. Many people were forced to sign documents they did not have knowledge about. Once you have signed the forms (Cut Off Dates Forms). This means that from the date you have signed those forms, you are not supposed to do any other productive activity on your land yet the compensations also delay to come. This has brought much confusion among the locals because it is from those same pieces of lands where they do farming to sustain their families and earning their living from as well as paying tuitions for children’s.

Since October 2018 up to date, the values of crops destroyed by Total and Atacama are immeasurable. Indigenous Trees are being cut down without provisions of replacing them with new ones in order to conserve the environment. This scenario is getting worse especially in the areas within the Central Processing Facility where the affected families are being given 5 Kgs of Posho and beans on a monthly basis which is not enough to sustain their lives.

Communities in Ngwedu are going through a difficult time. They are being denied information’s by Total. In most cases when the employees of Total and Atacama goes to the communities, they usually force people to sign forms which they are ignorant about. For instance, if you tell them you have 150 jackfruit plantations on your land, they tell you that all those plantations were not supposed to be on your land and the valuer ends up recording only 60 and declare the rest illegals and communities are not allowed to access the recorded information for their personal uses. There is a lot of secrecy in the property valuation process of the project Affected Persons. Local people are being suppressed, not given the right information and whatever they deserve as the owners of the land.

The Total has got agronomists whose job is to advise and sensitize people on the modern ways of carrying out agriculture depending on the size of land that one has got. There is always the conflict between the Total agronomists and the local peoples who feel they are being cheated in broad daylights. Communities feel that, first of all, Total did not engage them or trained them on the modern ways and how they should plant their crops and proper crop spacing to avoid being affected and besides that, for decades back, the locals have been planting their crops in the same way and were yielding in plenty. However, one could ask, how are the agronomists and Total are concerned about the way communities plant their crops and yet since times in memorial, this is how they have been planting? This question still remains unanswered. This act is likely to prompts a break out of a severe hunger among the families in the communities.

One of the affected person ( Name withheld for security reasons) testified to the Albertine Watch about the scenario. “I am a victim of this experience when they came to our land they claimed that the crop spacing is not good and not at standard. They started giving excuses for the low valuation of the crops they found. I planted my trees and they started asking me funny questions like; how can you plant all these crops in this small piece of land? The big challenge now is that our land was taken forever and the compensation rate was very less which cannot even enable us to find somewhere else for settlement and we are very confused”.

There is also a very wide information gap between the oil developments entities in the region and the local peoples. This originates from way back before even the developments could start to be implemented. During the time when Oil was discovered in the Albertine region, local communities as the immediately affected persons were not engaged and informed about what is yet to happen due to the discoveries. Also, local government leaders are said to be of less support to the communities, especially the most affected ones. Most times they are quiet about the effects of the developments onto the local territories. Leaders are not bothering about informing the communities of what they should do. The local people are mostly applauding the NGOs which have taken steps ahead in engaging them on issues concerning oil developments and their effects to the communities.

There have been cases of family misunderstandings and disputes caused by the ongoing developments in the communities. For example, during signing the forms, if you are married you have to go together as husband and wife but in most cases, women were denied access to ownership of property like land which puts them at the forefront of facing violations of their rights to resources ownership in the communities. Conflicts amongst locals themselves are also escalating mainly because of disagreements over land divisions as most land is under communal land tenure system making it a problem for them to agree on some matters.

There is a loss of cultural identity and belonging within the society. The Oil corporations have done much in neglecting and destroying cultural heritages and traditional sites belonging to the local communities in the oil region. Cultural beliefs are believed to be very strong systems in African settings especially to the indigenous peoples found in rural communities because they bring people together for common goals and provide a sense of attachment to one another. For instance, to the tribes found in the villages of Ngwedu sub-county (mostly the Alur), traditionally a person is not supposed to be buried twice or thrice according to their beliefs but this has been neglected by Total and Atacama who keeps destroying family burial sites and requiring the locals to shift and re-bury the corpses in another place.

The fact that most of the communities in Ngwedu sub-county are illiterate and poor people, this has rendered them to significant violations of their rights as peasants by Total and the State due to the Oil developments that are taking place in their territories. Under article 2(1) of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, it provides that “States shall respect, protect and fulfill the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. They shall promptly take legislative, administrative and other appropriate steps to achieve progressively the full realization of the rights of the present Declaration that cannot be immediately guaranteed”. However, with the case of communities in Ngwedo, the State seems to be teaming up with the Oil giant in disrespecting and violating the rights of communities.

First and foremost, having been poor and mostly illiterate, the local people are requesting and desperately yearning for whoever could be in position for the provision of legal support so that they can be able to access courts of laws and find justice for the violations of their rights. In this case, they asked Albertine Watch to publish their concerns maybe this would help to bring to the attention their challenges. They need legal support so that could file a lawsuit against the state and Total.

Photo by: Atacama

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