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Refinery residents build new homes with compensation money

Stella's house

Stella Kihangwe’s newly built house in Kibaale district

Barely a year since the government began compensating property owners in the proposed refinery area, positive stories are already emerging from some of the residents who have put their money to good use.

At least 1,300 people have been paid tens of millions, some hundreds, as government moves to secure the 29 square kilometers of land in Kabaale parish, Hoima district, where the country’s first crude oil refinery will be built.

Oil in Uganda recently spoke to forty-seven-year-old Stella Kihangwe, who together with her husband, Leo Kato, received 123 million shillings (about 50,000 dollars) in January this year for their 32 acres of land in Nyahaira village within the proposed refinery area.

The couple immediately bought a piece of land in Nsorera village, in neighbouring  Kibaale district on which they have built a three-bedroomed house.

“I opted to stay in the village so that I am able to do farming to feed my family,” Ms. Kihangwe told Oil in Uganda. “I grow bananas and coffee and I am planning to venture into business to increase my earnings.”

Her children are all in school and her husband has bought himself a vehicle.

“The good thing is that he also bought a house for my co-wife,” says Kihangwe.

Another of Kihangwe’s former neighbours in Nyahaira village, Mwesigwa John, also relocated to Kibaale district after receiving 300 million shillings from government.

He has purchased a commercial house in Kibaale town and built a family house there.

 “We are all happy, most of us relocated to Kibaale, we all have our houses and our children are going to school. The refinery money has been a blessing to us,” he says.

Relocation long overdue

Meanwhile those residents that opted for relocation remain uncertain as to when they will be moved.

Out of the 2473 property owners in the proposed refinery area, 79 chose relocation.

The government has identified land for them in Kyakaboga, Hoima district, but has not yet paid for it.

But the owner of the  land, Edward Kiiza, is confident the transaction will be completed soon.

“The matter is in the final stages. I was in Kampala last week and we signed the papers. They are going to pay me,” Kiiza told Oil in Uganda by phone.

Yet the residents’ patience is running out and so are food supplies since most of them stopped cultivating months back.

“Government has delayed yet we were stopped from farming. I was growing cassava, maize and beans for my family but now we stopped farming,” said Opirichan Godfrey. “We cannot dig (sic) any more. We are surrounded by bushes and wild animals.”

Opirichan revealed that he spends at least seven thousand shillings (about 3 dollars) daily on food, which has forced him onto borrowing money to support his family.

“We are not happy,”added Richard Orendi, another resident. “In fact last time we had a meeting and the locals stormed out, they refused to listen to their leaders because they are tired of empty promises. We just want them to give us our new homes, that’s all we want.”

However, Bashir Hangi, the spokesperson for the refinery project maintains that the relocation process will be completed soon. He also adds that the residents had been encouraged to carry on with cultivation until they are moved to their new homes.

“People should continue cultivating. No one has stopped them,” he said. “We are working hard to ensure that the land for relocation is acquired and construction starts before the year comes to an end.”

Report by Flavia Nalubega and Beatrice Ongode