By Dickens Kamugisha
Between February 25 and 28, 2019, I was part of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) team that visited some of the people who were displaced by the Kabaale-Hoima oil refinery project. The people resettled in districts such as Kiryandongo, Masindi, Kakumiro, Kagadi, Buliisa and others.
During the same period, we also organised a meeting with over 100 refinery-affected people at the Kyakaboga resettlement camp. The resettlement camp was set up by government for the refinery-affected people who were relocated. It was painful to see old men and women crying because of the misery, desperation, poverty and isolation they are living in.
Before the displacement by government, families used to live a humble life but they had pride
and dignity. Their land was fertile and supported them to get sufficient food. They also had 15 water sources in the refinery area which enabled access to clean water. The people were also able to generate income to send their children to school and lived with hope for a better future.
Then the displacement to allow oil activities happened! The refinery-affected people’s lives changed forever. Government displaced them in a hurry to commence oil production to the extent that it could not wait to conduct a participatory and acceptable Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) to ascertain impacts and put in place a framework for mitigation. This failure explains why the refinery-affected people are suffering today.
MESSY, INHUMANE OIL RESETTLEMENT CAMP
During our field trip to Kyakaboga, parents, especially women, narrated how their children were failing to stay in school because they were spending most of the time looking for water, food and other basic needs. Others are sickly due to poor hygiene and diet. It should be noted that to date, the entire resettlement camp of over 70 households that were relocated does not have a nearby clinic. It also does not have any viable means of transport. The resettlement also lacks water and other necessities.
More so, the 46 pit latrines constructed by government are close to the main houses and kitchens. Families that government refused to build for houses struggled and built their own homes but they do not own toilets. The entire camp is a messy.
Sadam Tekakwo, the Kyakaboga resettlement LC 1 chairman says, “Life in this Kyakaboga camp is miserable. The place is smelling because of many toilets being near houses. Our children are also sickly due to congestion, lack of food, poor hygiene and lack of water. I want government to come and pay me compensation and I leave this place”.
CASH COMPENSATION FAMILIES NOT ANY BETTER
The refinery-affected families we visited in Kibaale, Kakumiro, Kagadi, Kiryandongo and other districts are also suffering. These families opted for cash compensation from government.
We visited the family of Mr Tom Mpabaisi, his wife Esther Abigaba and their nine children which received cash and relocated to Kiryandongo district.
Mpabaisi first rejected the unfair compensation government gave him. For instance, his five-roomed permanent house was valued at Shs2.4 million! However, the negative impacts of the cut-off date of June 2, 2012 placed on his land by government forced him to accept unfair compensation in 2017.
He was paid the compensation based on unfair,obsolete and outdated compensation rates of 2010/2011. As a result of poor compensation, Mpabaisi and his family ended up in Kiryandongo, which is over 250km from Kabaale-Hoima.
Mpabaisi had hoped to buy land and resettle near Kabaale-Hoima. However, the compensation money he was given could not enable him to get land in Kabaale-Hoima as he had wished.
Today, he has spent over Shs20 million on constructing a new house. Yet government paid him only Shs2.4 million for a similar permanent house that he had on his land in Kabaale.
His house is unfinished with no doors, windows and others but he and his family, including a baby, are staying in it. “Life is very difficult. We used to have fertile soils in Kabaale-Hoima but the land I bought here in Kiryandongo is infertile because I received little compensation. It cannot support growing of crops for our food and income. We are starving!
Only those with money can buy matooke [green bananas] from Kigumba town. My
2-year old son you see here is sickly because of poor feeding. My old sons have certificates in electrical courses but they have failed to get jobs. Our life is miserable,” Mpabaisi said during our visit.
WOMEN’S LIVES CRUSHED
In Kakumiro where we visited Ms Stella Kahaingwe and her two granddaughters, there were also tales of suffering. Kahaingwe was also forced to relocate to Kibaale, which is now Kakumiro district. She had wanted to buy land near her community in Hoima but due to the unfair compensation paid to her by the government, the only place she could afford to buy land was in the remote areas of Kibaale.
We reached her home at 11 am and found her with her two young granddaughters. The young girls had been home for over three weeks because they had failed to pay Shs11,000 and Shs18,000 respectively to attend school. “Dickens, it is sad that I cannot help my girls to go back to school. I am weak but I have to feed these children. I no longer have enough energy to grow food for the home and sell to pay school fees. My youngest son is also here at home because I have failed to pay fees at his secondary school. I need help,” Kahaingwe said.
Kahaingwe was abandoned by her husband in 2013 when he received compensation. AFIEGO engaged the Ugandan Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to ensure that her sons became signatories to the bank account that received the compensation money. This is how she managed to save some of the money paid to her husband to buy land in Kakumiro.
CHILDREN’S FUTURE BLEAK
The refinery-affected adults are not the only ones suffering. Children are too.
During a meeting with community members and teachers at Nyahaira Primary School in Kyakaboga, it was saddening to here that in 2018, there were 11 girls in P.6 but only one girl progressed to P.7 at the school. While no one knows the whereabouts of the rest of the girls, the teachers suspect that the conditions in the resettlement camp are hostile for the elder girls to stay in school.
Parents are too poor to provide critical basic needs such as sanitary pads to their girls. Girls are also responsible to fetching water where they spend four to five hours in lines at the only water source in the camp.
In addition, all the households at Kyakaboga have been facing a food crisis for months and girls have to stay at home to support their mothers to feed their families.
Parents also have no money to pay between Shs5,000 to Shs25,000 required to cater for the nursery school teachers, buy school uniforms and other basic needs.
The writer is CEO, AFIEGO