#16 food & farming
Maliam Acio

Black Gold?

While the discovery of oil means revenues for governments, local residents are displaced and often left in despair. The story of Sabina, an Ugandan widow.

The discovery of oil in a country is often accompanied by high expectations for accelerated economic growth and broad development. Experience has shown, however, that resources generally do not directly translate into improving human development in most developing countries. Quite the opposite has proven to be the case in countries like Sudan and Nigeria, where oil discoveries have led to greater insecurity and war outbreaks. Additionally, oil is often discovered in areas where indigenous and marginalized, poor segments of society live. These discoveries usually change people’s livelihoods, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Displacements and evictions pave the way for exploration and a range of related activities, thus further marginalizing indigenous communities around the world. The Albertine region in Uganda is one example of this process.

 

The government is currently preparing for production, which involves a number of construction projects for hotels, offices and other oil-subindustries, including building a refinery and waste treatment plants...

In 2006, Uganda discovered commercial quantities of oil, making it one of the most recent discoveries in Africa. The government is currently preparing for production, which involves a number of construction projects for hotels, offices and other oil-subindustries, including building a refinery and waste treatment plants as well as private developers who are rampantly acquiring land in the Albertine region.

Eviction and displacement

These construction projects are generally accompanied by evictions and displacements. Uganda is currently planning to construct a refinery in the Hoimia District, where a 29km² piece of land has been acquired for the project. This land was home to more than 7,000 inhabitants who have now been displaced from their homes. Only about 2,400 of these households were identified as the land’s rightful owners, allowing them to apply for compensation. The government has granted them two options: compensation in cash or land.

About 200 households are still left behind awaiting their cash compensation.

Only 93 households opted for the land-for-land option, while the rest opted for cash. A number of households were paid off and have already moved out of the area, some migrating to neighbouring areas while others moved far away. About 200 households are still left behind awaiting their cash compensation. Those 93 households who opted for a resettlement package (land for land), are still squatters on this land as they wait for the government to build their new homes where they are to be relocated to which is about 15 kilometres from their original village.

Having to survive with no income or food

For households left on the land slated for the refinery, life has never been the same again. It is now full of uncertainty, depression, poverty and insecurity. Since the majority of the people have moved away, the area is becoming less civilized and wild animals are taking over and terrorizing the few remaining households.

During that time, they have not been allowed to cultivate any crops that take more than three months to mature.

This has already claimed the life of one person in the area and others have been attacked but survived. The remaining habitants have been waiting for their relocation or compensation payment for more than a year now. During that time, they have not been allowed to cultivate any crops that take more than three months to mature. Since the main source of food is cassava, which takes up to one year to mature, the farmers are struggling with food shortages and missing income. They have to buy most of their food from the neighbouring village and offer to work in return for low wages. Source of water have also collapsed and degraded (see picture), because there is no longer enough manpower to maintain them. This has all made the community very vulnerable and prone to waterborne diseases and malaria, since the area is overgrown with bushes, creating an attractive habitat for mosquitoes and wild animals since it is situated near a national park.

Issue #16

A widow’s plight in the midst of displacement

Sabina Aromborac is about 55 years old. Her parents migrated to the community when she was a young girl less than five years old. She grew up here, got married here, and has lived here, happily married to her husband, ever since. She and her family were told by the government that their land was needed for an oil project and they were expected to leave. Given the two options, land or cash compensation, they opted for cash compensation so they could relocate to a new area.

With her neighbours gone, her home was soon surrounded by thick bush and wild animals. She was not able to farm.

Their land was surveyed and found to be 11 hectares, but when the official list was published, it listed the land as only 9 hectares. Sabina’s husband lodged complaint which eventually delayed their payment. Unfortunately he then passed away before payment was received, causing yet another delay in the ongoing process, since the claim had to be refiled in her name alone. Sabina asked community leaders to help her with the paperwork, but her compensation is still being processed. Now a widow, Sabina has to take care of 10 dependents without the help of her husband, who she had always looked upon as both protector and provider. Her neighbours have already been paid and left the area. With her neighbours gone, her home was soon surrounded by thick bush and wild animals. She was not able to farm. She also could not leave her home, nor leave her children home alone for fear of wild animal attacks. The family was unable to protect what little they were able to grow from being eaten by wild animals.

Issue #16

“Even if we were poor before, I could afford to have food from my garden, live in my own house and manage my life with ease.” (Sabina)

That is why Sabina decided to relocate to a nearby trading centre where other residents have moved for similar reasons. Most of the owners of the buildings at the trading centre have been paid and have since left the area, but still demand rent from the occupants of the houses for which the government has already compensated them for. Sabina managed to find a rental house. The need to earn money for rent and food forces her to labour in other people’s gardens in the neighbouring village. “Even if we were poor before, I could afford to have food from my garden, live in my own house and manage my life with ease. Now we do not know what to expect next and when we will get out of this situation. People come here from the ministry, give us hope, and then leave and never return again”, Sabina reports.

Sabina with her children and grandchildren.

Conclusion

Left in a desperate state, the people are still waiting for their compensation. Whenever a vehicle arrives in the area, the inhabitants run out to meet it, hoping for news. They all have a story to tell that is similar to Sabina’s and pull out documents to show how long they have been waiting. This community has seen no benefits from the oil discovery. For most developing countries, oil governance and management have always been associated with poor governance and mismanagement of the process and even oil revenues. There is a huge imbalance of power between officials in charge of oil operation and the communities displaced by them.

This community has seen no benefits from the oil discovery.

Participation by the affected communities, involving them from planning to implementation, would help solving a number of issues that arise in the process. This calls for transparency, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of project management and overall management of oil resources, which have the potential to transform Uganda’s economy, elevating it not just to a middle-income, but to a high-income economy.

Links

This article is a contribution in cooperation with Right Livelyhood College Bonn.

Photo: “When the time is Rright” by Thomas Hawk
2000 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

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