Colonial agreement on resources still stands, says Bunyoro king
In an exclusive interview with Oil in Uganda, the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, and his principal private secretary, Yoram Nsamba, continue to press the kingdom’s claims for a much larger share in oil revenues than the central government appears ready to grant.
They argue that a 1955 agreement between the then colonial Governor of Uganda and the then Omukama guarantees the kingdom a substantial share in revenues from mineral resource extraction and continues to have legal validity.
They add that international oil companies have promised much by way of support for the Bunyoro region, but that this has translated into “negligible” action. They further complain that outsiders are “distorting our culture.”
Key excerpts appear below, followed by a historical note putting the 1955 agreement in context.
How do you feel about the discovery of oil in Bunyoro?
Omukama Iguru: I am extremely happy but also cautious. Happy because it will spur development; but cautious because the state is not addressing our needs well.
All the kings and cultural leaders must be given a percentage so that they can continue doing something good for the people. For example, building schools, hospitals, roads—and culture and behavior will be addressed using the resources. HIV/AIDS is spreading fast, so how do we stop it? We need that money to teach our youth how to behave well. Young people must also have skills to address issues of poverty that are spreading like a wild bush fire. We need money for this.
What is the state of development in your kingdom?
Omukama Iguru: The kingdom is poor and my people are very poor, yet we have a lot of resources. This region has a huge potential for the development of agriculture, but the sector is not well developed because we have no tractors or silos to practice commercial farming and move away from primitive, subsistence farming. The roads, schools, water and energy are really not developed – so we need affirmative action to develop.
In agriculture, there was a time we supported our people with two tractors to grow crops. However when they planted the crops, heavy rains came around and they destroyed everything. There were no silos to store the crops and there was nobody to come and buy the produce. The roads are bad, when it rains, people get stuck on the road for months. In the old days, the roads were well maintained and nobody used to get stuck – [but now] they are not maintaining.
There are also people who have entered Bunyoro and destroyed the environment, all the forests have been destroyed. My people planted some crops recently but they all dried due to poor weather. That is why we need to plant trees to absorb carbon and also modify weather.
What do you expect from the discovery of oil in your backyard?
Omukama Iguru: We are happy that government tried and those people explored and discovered the oil. The only problem is that my people told me that, to get the oil out, you need a lot of water. Now, will this fresh water be enough to get that oil out? And what will happen if there is an accident and there is an oil spill into the water? Will the fish survive, or drinking water survive? There was an accident in the USA’s Gulf of Mexico. How will they prevent this? There are more questions than answers. As much as the oil is good, I am scared for the future of my people and the environment, so I hope they have the best environmental protection measures to prevent disaster.
But I expect a lot of development to take place in my region and Uganda as a whole. There are so many things in the oil, by-products, but our people do not have skills to get the benefits. I request that government helps to train our people. We expect the money from oil to build schools, hospitals, roads and energy.
Many people think the Banyoro may not be equipped for employment in the oil industry. How have you prepared your people to benefit from the oil boom?
Omukama Iguru: The people are not skilled enough to work in the oil industry. That is why we are asking for 12.5 per cent of the resources from the oil industry in Bunyoro region to train our people with skills. There will be lots of jobs in the oil sector but we do not have people educated to work there.
However, we should also get the money to train for the future. If this oil gets finished in the future, how shall we survive and what will happen? So we must train for the oil industry as well train them to work in other areas so that when oil is finished, development continues.
What contribution have oil companies made to your kingdom?
In the first place, when oil companies and government entered in the region to do exploration, we were not consulted. This is violation of the 1955 agreement signed between the colonial government and the kingdoms on behalf of the government of Uganda – to consult the kingdoms in case of any exploration of resources.
Oil companies have not done much. They are building some cultural center and supporting a few schools and health facilities.
Principal Secretary Nsamba: But that is negligible, they have not done anything significant.
They had told us that they will help us but it is not written down. What they are doing is negligible – they gave us a few millions to fence the cultural center, but this is nothing. They are not serious. Is that what people need? Maybe they should construct a referral hospital so that we do not go to Mulago. We need something to show for the oil – but not those small centers.
What role does your Kingdom play when it comes to deciding on oil and land allocation?
Omukama Iguru: The 1955 agreement, which the colonial British government signed on behalf of the government of Uganda with kingdoms, is very clear. Anybody who comes to do mining or oil exploration must consult the kingdom: but we were not consulted – so they violated the 1955 agreement.
Principal Secretary Nsamba: Those agreements were inherited by the successor governments of the colonial administration. So they are still binding, despite whatever is in the constitution, because they were inherited. The agreements are there.
Omukama Iguru: We are trying to involve the government; we have given them the old documents. We are reminding them to respect the agreements that were signed by the colonialists.
The Government is planning to treat the oil as a national resource. What is your view on this?
Principal Secretary Nsamba: What are we talking about? This issue of oil is not about Bunyoro but Uganda. Whether the oil is in Bunyoro or Acholi or Buganda, the cultural leader there is entitled to that royalty. Stop Bunyoro-ising oil! The trustees, wherever they are, are entitled to 12.5 percent of oil resources. The oil is not only in Bunyoro. The trustees are entitled to that royalty.
Do you have a regional development plan as a kingdom to revamp your region?
Principal Secretary Nsamba: We have a strategic development plan that was developed five years ago. It takes seven years. In that strategic plan, our focus is to strengthen the culture here because we have had an influx of outsiders here, who are distorting our culture. People will want to turn us into so many bad things. So, we plan to strengthen our culture – it is the top priority for using that money.
If districts have failed to get technical people to use government resources wisely, does your kingdom have technical people qualified to spend to spend the 12.5 percent wisely?
Principal Secretary Nsamba: Manpower for what now? To siphon off the money? They may eat our money like they are eating government money. We have the capacity. This kingdom has existed for over 600 years under Babito, and 2,000 years in history. If we did not have capacity, how were we surviving? The British came yesterday; they found this kingdom existing and already working.
Omukama Iguru: Some of these young people do not know. Before the Europeans came, we had an iron and steel industry here. We didn’t import hoes or razorblades. Even operating on a woman who is about to undergo caesarian section, the British did not know. We gave them that technology because we were already operating on the women here in Bunyoro.
What will happen to your relationship with Government if they decline to your request?
Principal Secretary Nsamba: That is a tricky question. Are you asking we shall force government to give us? Are you asking us to rebel? We shall not rebel because the government is sovereign. We hope they will use their good sense to respect the constitution and give the trustees their share. The king could have gone to court bur preferred presenting a petition.
The Government is planning to re-locate people from the oil refinery site in Kabaale, Hoima. What is your kingdom doing in trying to help the people resettle or get fair compensation?
Principal Secretary Nsamba: Why should the kingdom guide the people if we are not the ones removing them? It is the government removing them and they should guide them where to go. The kingdom is only concerned about the compensation. How are they compensating the people? How are they giving them alternative livelihoods? They are planning to compensate them for the crops only and the house but not the land, because they are accusing them of not having land titles.
The whole basis of compensation is wrong. Those people own that land and they should also be compensated for the land and not only for the house and the crops. The colonial government fixed an agreement with kingdoms in the 1955 that all adult male Banyoro should have land titles. However, they did not respect it and to date, many of our people have no land titles.
This kind of injustice continues even with the present Government. They have failed to give our people land titles. All along there has been injustice and injustice continues in Bunyoro.
Omukama Iguru: We have no land titles. We have absent landlords. Even here, where we are seated, in the seat of the Kingdom, we have no title, yet this land was surveyed by the British colonial masters in 1933.
What role do you want your kingdom to play when oil production begins?
Principal Secretary Nsamba: These are questions of empowerment. If people are not empowered, they cannot do much. Right now, there are people who are already empowered. They have set up banks to siphon money from the oil.
People have set up companies because they are already empowered. But our Banyoro people are not employed. And if you do not empower the Banyoro, the Banyoro will have a grudge against the government of Uganda and any other person taking up the oil in Bunyoro region.
They will have a grudge against you and history will be the arbiter. It will be like the case of the Niger Delta, where the people are fighting government and oil companies for leaving them out.
Interview by FW and CM
Historical note on the Bunyoro Agreement
The Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom—which today comprises the districts of Hoima, Buliisa, Kibaale, Kiryandongo and Maisindi—was a major economic and military power in the Great Lakes region for several centuries prior to British colonization, but had already entered a period of relative decline. In the late 18th century, the neighbouring kingdom of Buganda had annexed the Bunyoro provinces of Kooki and Buddu, and in the early 19th century the province of Toro seceded from Bunyoro, becoming a separate kingdom.
Bunyoro fiercely resisted colonial occupation in the late 19th century, but was overwhelmed in a military campaign that was followed by a catastrophic epidemic of sleeping sickness, decimating the pastoral economy and much of the population. In a further humiliation, and in apparent reprisal for Bunyoro’s military resistance, the new colonial administration awarded further lands—‘the lost counties’—to Buganda.
The diminished kingdom remained nominally intact under the British colonial system of ‘indirect rule,’ but was to a large extent economically and politically marginalised throughout the colonial period.
The 1955 agreement mentioned in the interview above was signed by the then Omukama, Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV, and the then Governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen. Cohen is now widely portrayed as a progressive Governor, tasked with preparing the colony for independence.
The articles of the 1955 agreement that seem most pertinent to the kingdom’s claims today are:
35. The property in a[nd] control over all minerals and all mining rights in the Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara are vested in the Governor. In the exercise of such control the Governor shall consult the Omukama and the Rukurato and shall give consideration to their wishes and in particular to the interests of the people of Bunyoro-Kitara . . .
36. In the event of any mineral development taking place, a substantial part of the mineral royalties and the revenues from mining leases shall be paid to the Native Government of Bunyoro-Kitara.
Uganda’s independence brought the Bunyoro kingdom some initial cause for celebration. Two ‘lost counties’ were reincorporated in 1964, following a referendum among their populations, who chose to revert to Bunyoro rather than remain part of Buganda.
However, in 1967, Uganda’s kingdoms were abolished by the government of Milton Obote.
In 1993, the kingdoms were formally restored—but as a ‘cultural’ institution rather than a political or administrative unit—by the government of Yoweri Museveni.
The 1995 Constitution states that “A traditional leader or cultural leader shall not have or exercise any administrative, legislative or executive powers of Government or local government.” (Article 246 [f])
A 2005 Amendment to the Constitution states that “where a traditional or cultural leader exists” that person “shall be titular head of the regional government,” the legislative intent seemingly being that these ‘cultural’ institutions should serve as regional, constitutional monarchies.