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Compensated families struggle with their millions

Leo and Stella

Leo Kato and first wife Stella Kahangwe with one of their children

2473 property owners in Hoima’s Kabaale parish are presently receiving compensation for their land and property to make way for the country’s first crude oil refinery.

Families that have never held a million shillings ($ 400) are now proud owners of ‘fat’ accounts in some of the commercial banks in Hoima town, some well over one hundred million shillings. This newly acquired ‘wealth’ has created some challenges and tested the character of these hitherto modest locals.

Break ups and make ups

Leo Kato was paid 123 million shillings in December last year for his 32 acres of land in Nyahaira village. He dully divided the money amongst his two wives and twelve children and is currently planning to relocate to another area where he will set up new homes for them.

Kato and his wives seem to have finally come to an understanding after months of sharp disagreements on how the money should be shared.

When Oil in Uganda visited this same family late last year, the story was much grimmer. At that time, they had failed to agree on how to split the money, with Stella Kahangwe, Kato’s first wife, worried that her husband would take all the money to his second wife who at the time was residing in Entebbe.

“He (Kato) is a nuisance,” Innocent Tumwebaze, Kato’s eldest son said then. “All he does is drink and now he also wants to take all the money from this land.”

However, it appears sanity prevailed following the intervention of government officials, the district land board and Strategic Friends International (SFI), the private consultant implementing the exercise.

Now Kato plans to relocate to neighbouring Kibaale district where he will build two houses for his wives.   The remaining money, he says, will be used to pay tuition fees for some of his twelve children.

“I went to the land two weeks ago and I booked it,” he told Oil in Uganda, adding that the full payment would be made a “few days later.”

But Stella remains worried that her husband may not have the financial discipline to save the money and continue paying fees for her seven children.

“He is the signatory on the bank accounts so he has control over the money,” she explained. “I am worried that he may waste the money and fail to pay my children’s school fees. He has already withdrawn 2 million shillings and that worries me.”

Families broken

Yet Stella’s worries are trivial in comparison to the suffering that the compensation money has brought upon another family in the neighbouring Kabaale II Village.

29-year old  Ukwani Musana has never seen her husband of ten years, Musana Medard, ever since he received 100 million shillings in December last year.

“He left me here with the children, with no money and no food to help me survive,” she said. “I hear he even married another woman.”

The locals here are all aware that Medard has started another home in Nyamasoga village not far from Kabaale II.

Musana’s neighbour, Evelynn Atugonza, told Oil in Uganda that talk in the village was that Medard had got another wife and rented a house there.  “When Ukwani called him to inquire about his whereabouts, he told her to go away. She collapsed from shock,” says Evelyn.

Yet according to Musana, he abandoned his wife after learning that she had set out to bewitch him and his entire family so that she could have the compensation money all to herself.

“She tried to kill me and when I recovered, she tried to kill my uncle,” he told Oil in Uganda. “Even my sister was bewitched and she is now missing.  Her compensation money is lying in the bank.”

Inadequate counselling

Several people Oil in Uganda has spoken to blame the behaviour of some of the compensation recipients on inadequate counselling.

Last year, while speaking at a meeting organised by Global Rights Alert in Buliisa, Harriet Akello, a senior Literacy Officer in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development decried her ministry’s noninvolvement in the compensation and resettlement process.

“We should have been the ones to speak to these families to prevent these marital problems that are arising,” she said. “The process has affected many women yet these are issues that should have been addressed from the start if we were involved.”

But government maintains that the counselling was done, and that the locals received financial management training to prepare them for the windfall.

Bashir Hangi, the refinery spokesperson says that the ‘refinery affected persons’ were taken through aspects of financial management, enterprise selection and modern agriculture, as well as family unity.

“I took off time to speak to some families, to try and counsel them on how to manage their money,” he explained. “And before anyone signed for money, we ensured that it was fair to the entire family. Like Nyahaira’s family, I directly intervened,” he added.

Yet it remains likely that many other families will face a similar fate like Ukwani’s and by the time the dust settles in the thirteen villages that constitute the 29 square kilometer ‘refinery area’, a host of other social problems may have emerged.

Report by Flavia Nalubega