Locals say their customary land is being fraudulently registered in other people’s names who later use the fake titles to evict them
By Oil in Uganda Staff
Things have generally been slow in the oil and gas sector over the past year as the oil companies get to terms with the low oil prices while awaiting production licenses from government. Despite this slow down, one commodity remains in very high demand-land.
Many communities in oil-rich Bunyoro region are falling victim to fraudulent land acquisitions that have left some of them homeless. The perpetrators are either wealthy businessmen seeking to tap into the multi-billion-shilling oil and gas service industry, or mere speculators seeking to make an extra buck by acquiring land from unsuspecting villagers and selling it expensively to wealthy individuals.
According to newly re-elected MP for Buliisa, Stephen Mukitale, many local and international actors are interested in acquiring land in the district, a trend which has left the locals fearing that they will be evicted anytime.
The MP claims to have faced a stiff challenge in the February elections from candidates who were funded by rich oil speculators that want him out of the way because he threatens their business interests.
“There are oil speculators who funded candidates at various political levels with a hope that when they win offices, they will safeguard and advance their interests. This applied to me. I was fought but I narrowly survived,” said Mukitale. “The oil politics is already at play.”
The legislator added that many of his voters are currently embroiled in conflicts with wealthy businessmen over ownership of their land. Some of the land under contention has been proposed to host a Central Processing Facility (CPF) near the Kasemene oil field in Buliisa Town Council.
“There are politically connected businessmen including my relative Kaahwa Francis who are claiming huge chunks of land those communities own customarily,” he told Oil in Uganda.
Mr. Kaahwa has a knack for prime land in the district particularly that which is in some way linked to oil developments. He is involved in disputes over other pieces of land that are said to fall along the route that the oil pipeline that will evacuate crude oil from Buliisa district to the proposed refinery in Hoima will take. He also claims ownership of several pieces of land harboring oil wells.
Kaahwa’s exploits have caused a lot of fear and anxiety amongst locals who fear that they will soon be evicted.
“We have already received complaints from locals alleging that he has dragged them to court while others have been served with eviction notices,” said Isaac Nkuba, the Buliisa district NGO Forum Chairman.
Kaahwa denies the allegations, maintaining that he legally owns all the different pieces of land that he is laying claim to. He admits that at least 18 oil wells are located on his land.
Pressure group sues government
In the meantime, court cases are piling up as more affected people seek legal redress to either protect or regain control of their land. In one recent case, the Bunyoro Kitara Reparations Agency (BUKITAREPA), a pressure group in Bunyoro, sued the Government of Uganda and the three oil companies claiming that the process of oil exploration and development is tainted with illegalities and irregularities.
In the suit, Bunyoro Kitara Reparations Agency Limited Vs Attorney General of Uganda, Tullow Oil Uganda Operations Pty Ltd, Total E&P Uganda Limited, and CNOOC Limited No CS-023 of 2016, the plaintiffs want an injunction on oil activities until the case is resolved, affected people compensated and fraudulent land titles cancelled.
They argue that in the process of giving exploration rights to oil companies, government failed, ignored or omitted to provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for actions in the suit land which has effects of disposing the indigenous people from their land and resources.” The plaintiffs want Court to declare that indigenous people are entitled to a share of the oil royalties.
According to the Public Finance and Management Act 2015, individual land owners have no share of the royalties from oil and gas. The royalties are shared by central government, local government and gazatted cultural institutions.
President steps in
At the peak of the presidential campaigns early 2016, opposition politicians capitalised on the land issue to discredit the ruling party in Bunyoro region. This eventually forced President Museveni to dispatch a team of state house officials to investigate the incidents. The team was headed by Florah Kiconco, a state house legal officer.
According to Kiconco, the team set out to verify all land titles in the region stretching from Kibaale to Hoima and Buliisa. “We shall ensure that all irregularities in the process of land acquisition are investigated,” she said. She explained that her team would investigate the circumstances under which some of the disputed land titles were acquired. “We have started this exercise without fear or favor, we shall not allow people to be evicted anyhow, we must go deeper into the core of the issues regarding land grabbing and any titles we find were got in a fraudulent manner shall be cancelled.”
Oil in Uganda is yet to receive information about the findings of that investigation.
In Hoima, rural communities are now very apprehensive towards any oil infrastructure plan for fear of losing their land. Hoima has been the scene of the most violent land conflicts in the Albertine Region over the past few years given its central role in Uganda’s oil industry.
Over 250 families remain homeless two years after they were illegally evicted from their land in Rwamutonga, Hoima in 2014. The families endured a gruelling legal battle since then until August 2015, when Court ruled that they were indeed illegally evicted. It however hesitated to reinstate them on the land and they continue to live in a temporary camp under very difficult conditions.
Such incidents have left residents suspicious. The mere sight of strangers in their villages causes unease. A survey to determine a pipeline route from the proposed refinery in Kabaale Parish to Buloba, Wakiso district, close to the capital Kampala, that was concluded mid-2016 was almost blocked by some villages who questioned the motive of the surveyors. During the exercise, surveyors met resistance from sections of residents in Kiziranfumbi Sub-County who demanded that government consults them first. According to the area Chairman, Francis Bwesigye, the Surveyors were not well received in Kikyaya, Rumongi and Kikube villages. The study was carried out by Newplan Uganda and Ramboll, a Danish firm.