As the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) land acquisition advances with bank accounts already opened to some Project Affected Persons (PAPs), a family of six has its hope for livelihood and prosperity waning.
Alongside downplaying their expectations to benefit from the oil industry, they are living in fear of being evicted by the person they have longed to know for three months in vain.
They have a disclosure form indicating that they will be compensated the crops alone but the compensation for the land value will be paid to the unknown to them, James Ngali.
During an interview with Kazi-njema News on the affected land at Kijungu cell in Mpasaana town council, Kakumiro district, Mr Willy Bosco Olishaba, 46, said he has remained perplexed by EACOP final assessment report that deprives him of his land rights he has legally enjoyed for the past 20 years.
According to him, his complaint has neither been given attention by local leaders nor the EACOP land acquisition team.
“I have complained to the village EACOP Grievance Handling Committee and the village chairman but to receive no response until today”, he says.
The genesis of fear
“Initially the surveyors measured our land and gave us forms to fill with my wife as land and crop owners. After a meeting ahead of individual disclosure in Kisiita town, I found a mark stone in the garden three days later. I was puzzled about it and became suspicious that it could be that my land could have been fraudulently titled”, says Mr Olishaba.
He requests leaders to intervene and assist him to ensure the issue is solved before any payment is made in relation to properties under contest.
Ms Medias Katusiime, wife to Mr Olishaba says the uncertainty over land ownership coupled with delayed compensation has frustrated all their dreams as a family.
“Our children are growing up and we can no longer live with them in a commercial house at the trading centre. Our plan was to build a house here and get established but to hear that we are tenants on the land I bought jointly through struggle with my husband”, she explains bewilderingly.
Expectations to benefit from the EACOP have turned into tears and worry, she adds.
The cut-off date that means scaling down of works on the affected land and cessation of planting perennial crops and establishment of permanent infrastructure was announced in 2019.
Mr Emmanuel Ngabirano, the village chairman EACOP Grievance Handling Committee, says he forwarded the complaint to community liaison officers but to see no response until now.
Mr Siraj Tusingwire, the Kijungu Cell Chairman, acknowledges receipt of the complaint – identifying James Ngali as a ghost resident.
His predecessor, too, could not identify James Ngali.
“Olishaba’s case has triggered fear and suspicion on the compensation exercise. Other people could also be living on the land to be claimed by anonymous people. The EACOP must take this issue seriously to avoid making mistakes which distablise residents. They might compensate a fraudster at the expense of poor residents”, says Mr Tusingwire.
The Mpasaana Town Council Chairman, Mr Erick Bairira, says the family could be a victim of absentee landlords which some land grabbers take advantage of to evict the poor.
“The government could provide easy access to land titling services for all to avoid frustration resulting from absentee land lords and fraudsters that take advantage of it”, he says.
Mr Denis Obbo, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Spokesperson, too, suspects it could be an absentee land lord’s issue that must be verified by the EACOP land acquisition team and inform the affected person as soon as possible.
“The PAP can also move to the regional office of the lands in Kibaale to get facts about James Ngali in case he has a land title but it will be upon payment of Shs10,000. As long as the name exists, they will establish whether he owns a land title and its details. He will be advised on the next move”, says Mr Obbo.
Efforts to get an official comment from EACOP were futile as their promises for it exceeded our editorial comment seek limit.
However, one of the EACOP land acquisition team member had said they were working on impending grievances especially in Kikuube district and he looked not familiar with Mr Olishaba’s grievance.
Some Kakumiro district leaders including the EACOP focal person at the district and the district chairman, Mr Joseph Senkusu Sentayi, showed no interest in commenting about Mr Olishaba’s issue during phone calls made by our reporter.
Each could hang their phones and ignore follow-up calls after being told the interview was about EACOP.
The 1,444 kilometre long EACOP that will run from Hoima in western Uganda to Tanga Port in Tanzania will be the world’s longest heated oil pipeline once complete.
In Uganda, the project passes through 10 districts including Hoima, Kikuube, Kakumiro, Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Gomba, Ssembabule, Lwengo, Kyotera and Rakai.
The sweeping grievance amongst all EACOP PAPs is delayed compensation that is triggering the demand for fresh property valuation.
The 3,045 households and a total population of 20,631 are the residents along the pipeline corridor referred to as EACOP Project Affected Persons (PAPs).
However, the project is expected to generate revenue for Uganda and Tanzania alongside creation of thousands of employment opportunities especially during its development.
Ever since the discovery of commercially viable oil reserves in Uganda, land rights have faced terrible threats due to human errors and fraudsters whose negative effects rest on the ordinary residents.
Of course, many lessons could have been generated from the previous compensations to avoid similar experiences like that of Mr Olishaba.
Ms Diana Nabiruma, a Senior Communications Officer at African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), says they have identified many aggrieved EACOP PAPs but fearing to come out due to fear imposed on them that they will be perceived to be fighting the government.
“All along from Kyotera, we have identified PAPs with different complaints ranging from under valuation to delayed compensation. They fear the experience of the nine TILENGA PAPs that rejected the payment and later court ruled in favour of government”, she says.
According to her, they also have reports that PAPs that tend to reject are intimidated on grounds that they might lose it all if they dare challenge government.
She recommends that the government and its contractors should take community concerns seriously and timely such that they do not hate the oil projects from the start.