Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development sources confirm that they have commissioned a private company to design a compensation and resettlement package for residents of Kabaale parish, in Hoima District’s Buseruka sub-county, who will be displaced by the 29 square kilometre refinery complex to be built there.
It’s not going to be an easy job for the consultants.
Since the discovery of oil, the trickle of informal settlers has been swollen by a veritable tide of hopefuls. Many of them have taken up fishing on Lake Albert.
Now, as news of the refinery spreads, longer term residents tell Oil in Uganda that more people are arriving every day, hoping to catch some crumbs from the compensation cake.
Land tenure in the area is largely informal, relying on deals with local leaders and between private individuals, so it will be no simple matter to work out who ‘owns’ what.
The five pen-portraits that follow illustrate the human complexity of an area that will soon be covered in concrete.
Bare-chested, and with a worn-out scarf slung over his shoulders, 40-year-old Stephen Rucogoza rests on his grazing stick, keeping one eye on his cattle as he stops to talk.
Lurking in the bushes are are his two brothers, who hide in the undergrowth to catch any would-be thieves.
Rucogoza and his brothers have crossed the open fields of Kyapaloni village looking for pasture and water for their herd. It’s the rainy season and grass and water seem plentiful, so they should have no worries. Yet the three brothers are troubled— because Kyapaloni lies within the area that has been designated for the construction of a 29 square kilometre oil refinery complex.
“Where shall we go?” Rucogoza asks, his palm holding his cheek. “These cattle are our only means of survival and this is where we graze them most of the year. There is no other place.”
The family relies on the animals for food, income and even building materials, in the form of dried dung.
The brothers have 20 children between them, but none has studied beyond primary school. “They go to school until they are old enough to look after cattle and then they leave,” Rucogoza explains. He himself dropped out in Primary Four to look after the family herd.
Rucogoza is of Rwandan origin. He fled to Uganda with his parents and brothers during the 1994 genocide. “We came with our parents and settled in Luwero. A certain rich man gave us a field to stay temporarily with our cattle.”
The family then sent the oldest brother, Samson Rugambwa, to Hoima to look for good grazing. He found himself in Kabaale parish, and called on the family to follow him. “It was a game reserve, with vast land and few people lived here. We built a few huts and grazed in the reserve, moving from one end to the other without any interference,” Rugambwa, 53, recalls.
Through arrangements with clans and local chiefs, the land in Kabaale parish has since been divided into family plots. Rucogoza’s family was allocated five acres in Kyapaloni village. They have tried to get formal titles for the land but, according to Rucogoza, local officials say they will not give titles to land which belongs to the community.
“Now, we are hearing from the local officials that all this will go to the refinery,” Rucogoza says. “Some officials are telling us that they will compensate us with cash but others are saying government will relocate us to another place. We don’t know where our future lies.”
“We have been here since 1994 and we do not own anything in Rwanda,” Samson Rugambwa adds. “Oil has been discovered here and we hope to benefit since we are now Ugandans.”
In the slow hours of the morning, Zebulon Kawwa opens his beer and soda shop, a few metres from the shores of Lake Albert. Potential customers are still hunting for the fish that are the staple livelihood of Kaiso village.
At noon, the customers begin trickling in like crickets on a rainy day. In this remote setting drinks go for a fortune and Kawwa’s wholesale outlet has a virtual monopoly.
“Transport is very difficult and expensive here. The journey is long and Kaiso is far from development, so I have to triple the prices,” he explains.
Over the past year, he says, his sales of beer have soared from 80 to 150 crates per week and his profits have risen accordingly, from 1.5 million to 3 million shillings per month. This has enabled him to buy his own truck to bring the drinks directly from Kampala. He also owns and rents out a commuter taxi.
Kawwa’s father, a trader from Mpigi, moved into the area in the 1970s. “He bought five acres of land from a Munyoro man and we have known no other place,” Kaawa says, adding that the family was not able to obtain formal land titles from the local authorities because of area’s status as a game reserve.
Kawwa attended the village primary school but did not progress to secondary education because his family could not afford the fees. He started out fishing and by 1992 had saved enough money to open a small shop, selling mainly sugar, salt and soap. The business prospered and grew.
Now aged 35, Kaawa has two wives and fifteen children, five of whom attend boarding school in Hoima. He has built two tin-roofed houses in the village, and owns another in Hoima. He claims to be the richest man in Kaiso, putting his net worth at between 100 m and 150 million shillings.
He owes his wealth, he says, to the fishermen on Lake Albert, who are his main customers. “They are like my heart and I am the body. If they remove the heart, the body will not function,” he says.
Yet Kaawa’s expanding business is now overshadowed by the government’s oil refinery plan.
“The refinery is not a bad idea,” he says. “But what’s bad is that they are planning to re-locate us to unknown places. I thought I would benefit from this by selling my drinks to the refinery workers.”
“I fear for my family and the future. I have invested all my life here and some bureaucrats think they will just come for a day and evict us? I am not ready to leave,” he says.
Esther Igonja emerges from her grass-thatched hut, surprised to be receiving a visit, and goes back inside for a chair – a simple two legged stool that has seen better days.
“I thought you were one of those who has come to evict us from our land,” she says.
A few weeks ago, she relates, local government officials came to her Kitegwa village in Kabaale parish, telling them that the area had been selected for an oil refinery. “They did not explain much, but they said the government will re-locate us.”
Igonja says she is 80 years old. She has seven adult children and more than 25 grandchildren. Together, they farm 20 acres of land, sowing maize, beans, bananas and yams. As the grandchildren have come of age, the family parcel has been sub-divided into ever smaller plots. None of her offspring has been able to acquire new land to add to what Igonja’s late husband, Moses Kasa-Vubu, farmed in his prime.
The couple originally hailed from Onalua in the Katakokombe region of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai Province. They came to Uganda as refugees during the Congo coup crisis in 1961, when Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was assassinated.
“We are of the same origin as Lumumba and we were being witch hunted,” Igonja says. “We fled Congo, entered Uganda through Arua and later settled here in Kabaale parish in 1965 after discovering free land.” Kabaale was a game reserve at that time, Igonja explains, inhabited only by occasional hunters.
Igonja and Kasa-Vubu found it an ideal area for cultivation. They were later joined by other families and eventually they established homesteads that still stand today.
“Government did not interfere with our activities. They only advised us not to hunt the animals or cut down trees. They requested us to co-exist until we could be re-settled to another region,” Igonja explains.
However, in the late 1960s, Uganda also underwent political instability, so plans to re-settle the refugees were never implemented, and the reserve was gradually taken over by human settlements.
It has been a hard life. Igonja never attended a day’s schooling, and her family has never risen above grass-thatched housing or earned more than a dollar a day. Her seven children were all born at home, and five others did not survive.
The situation in her village has improved slightly, with the construction of a Health Center II, but women still suffer and die in childbirth and lose their children due to inadequate supplies and health workers.
The nearest primary school, in Kabaale village, is twelve kilometres from Kitegwa. Until 2006, Buseruka sub-county did not have a secondary school.
“So my children did not go far,” Igonja comments. “They stopped in primary and then worked on our farm, growing crops just like their forefathers did. Education is important, but this hindered us.”
“Now we are going to be thrown off our land and we don’t know where we are going.”
“You cannot blame us. Government did not fulfill their promise and we find ourselves here. We request that if they are to compensate us, they should first consult us, and then re-locate us to land that is the same size like we have. Our family cannot go back to Congo, Uganda is now our home.”
Forty-year-old Winnie Ayabare has only recently arrived in Kyapaloni village. She came just two months ago and set up a restaurant in the market area.
She is reluctant to talk at first, suspicious of government investigators trying to identify bona fide residents who will be entitled to compensation when the area is cleared for the oil refinery complex. And yet she insists she has a real claim.
“I recently bought two acres of land here from my brother. That was six months ago and I have come to invest. But now I hear government is planning to evict and relocate us, so I have come here to check the status of land and if there is any compensation, I should benefit from it,” she explains.
Ayabare hails from western Uganda’s pastoralist Hima community. Her brother was the first to settle in Kyapaloni. “He came here in 2005 and bought a big chunk of land, about 25 acres, before oil was discovered. We used to visit him and had plans to also come and settle here.”
Ayabare was born in Ntungamo district but her family migrated to Luwero District after the 1986 war that brought Yoweri Museveni into government. Her parents, siblings and six children were still living in Luwero when her brother moved to Kyapaloni. She had started a restaurant in Luwero, hoping to complement cattle raising– which was doing well, she says–using milk from the cows to serve tea to customers. But the new business did not thrive so she visited Kyapaloni with a view to trying her luck there.
“I saw it was a good area, so I asked my brother and he sold me two acres of land. The government had not yet identified this area as a site for the oil refinery,” she says.
She returned to Luwero, planning to migrate with the whole family and build a small house in Kyapaloni.
But once back in Kyapaloni, she heard about the refinery project, and ended up renting a back room in the market, where she operates her restaurant.
Now she feels entitled to compensation. “They should give us money so that I can get another place. Compensation should put in place measures against inflation and price fluctuations so that we get better places for settlement.”
For now, she is busy with her restaurant, looking for money for school fees. None of her children has yet joined any local school because they are new in Kyapaloni village, she explains.
“Schools are closed for second term holidays. But even when they open, our future is uncertain because we do not know when we shall be re-located or compensated.”
Lawrence Ozelle, a bicycle mechanic in Kyapaloni market, is worried by the looming prospect of moving to make way for the oil refinery.
“Bicycle repair is the only job I’ve done,” says the 20 year old. “I don’t know anywhere else, and I have reliable customers and earnings here.”
He was born in Kyapaloni to parents who had migrated from the West Nile region in the 1980s. They were seeking refuge from revenge attacks after the overthrow of Idi Amin, who also originated from the West Nile.
At first, Ozelle welcomed the oil discovery in the area, hoping that it would bring better opportunities to provide for his widowed mother and twelve brothers and sisters. His father died in2009, leaving two grass-thatched huts and around four acres of crop land.
But Ozelle completed only the first year of primary education, and is not qualified for any job except casual labour. Mending bicycles is the only way he knows to supplement the meagre returns from farming—and he was making ends meet, he says, with about 20 customers a day.
Now, he fears that “They may not give us the equivalent of the size of the land we have here.”
“Our future lies in balance,” he says. “It has disorganized us and we cannot plan for our lives. As young people, they have to handle us carefully because it can become chaotic when we are jobless.”
Report by FW