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Compensation: Some refinery area women could lose it all

Some of the Kabale Parish residents who turned up to register their complaints about the compesation process

Some of the Kabaale Parish residents who turned up to register their complaints about the compensation process

“He came back because of oil. When he heard about the refinery plan, he returned to get the compensation money.”

This is what forty-year old Stella Kihangwe narrated to Oil in Uganda in Kabaale Parish, Hoima District a few months ago.

At the time, Stella was a member of the local verification committee, stationed at one of the information desks where she helped her less literate colleagues register their complaints regarding the compensation process.

But unlike many of her contemporaries whose complaints related to low compensation rates for crops and undervalued land, Stella’s grievance was different.

Hers is a struggle with her husband over control of the money the government will pay them for their 32 acres of land in Nyahaira village, one of the 13 villages that lie within the 29 square kilometers of land that the government has identified to set up an oil refinery.

The land is mainly vacant, just bush, where a handful of goats graze. According to Stella, she once owned more than forty goats but she was forced to sell them off to raise school fees for her children.

She explained that her husband, Leo Kato, with whom they have eight children, deserted the family two years ago after piling up debts in the village and relocated to Entebbe, forty kilometers from the capital, with his second wife and four other children.

“He went to Entebbe; he came back because of oil,” she said. “When he heard about the refinery plan, he returned to get compensation money,” she noted.

Big dreams

With government offering at least 4.5 million shillings (1800 dollars) for each acre, Stella was looking forward to setting up a new home in another area as well as setting up a profitable business.

“I also want to be able to look after myself and my children,” she told Oil in Uganda. “I want to build houses for renting (sic) so that I rely on them for money. I cannot dig any more, I am weak.”

But her husband has a totally different plan.  Although he ‘plans’ to share the proceeds equally between his two wives and twelve children, he insists that all the money, including that due to his wives should be deposited on his account.

Women in Kyapaloni market which lies with the refinery area and will be re-located too

Women in Kyapaloni market which lies with the refinery area and will be re-located too

Same script, different cast

Oil in Uganda can report that several other women are facing the same problem, largely driven by a combination of greed and the desire to cash in on the nascent oil industry.

In Kyapaloni village, Tumwebaze Bulangira, a widow, is involved in a similar battle with her in-laws who are determined to prevent her from obtaining a coin from the compensation money.

“My husband’s brother, Kasangaki Robert, registered our seven-acre piece of land in his names without our knowledge,” she revealed. “When I went there to try to get my son to sign since the land belonged to his father, the uncle refused us. Even up to now, we have not been allowed to sign for the money for that land, it is the father’s brother who is going to benefit,” she said.

“And I am infected with Aids,” adds Tumwebaze. “I am worried about my son, I do not know how he will be able to stay alone without any thing. Bashir (Refinery Communications Officer) has said that we shall get land in Buseruka, but it is far. I am so worried.”

Yet according to Bashir Hangi, the Ministry does its best to settle such cases.

“That gentleman’s case (Leo Kato), for example, we have tried to settle it but he wants all the land to himself.  There are many such scenarios here which we have tried to settle with the help of the local council leaders,” he notes.

The seventy billion shillings (about 27 million dollars) compensation project is being implemented by Strategic Friends International, a local consultancy firm.

It has been criticised by civil society organisations for not being gender sensitive, often neglecting to involve women in the initial processes. The project is expected to end early next year, with the 7118 refinery area residents being physically relocated or receiving cash compensations depending on their preference.

Report by Flavia Nalubega