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Compensation should go beyond money and resettlement

By Daphne Okama

I have been attracted by recent reports in the media that people affected by oil activities are not being adequately compensated, but what is ‘adequate compensation?’

It should be recognised that the affected people who are losing their land and being relocated elsewhere are, in most cases, the indigenous communities of those now lucrative areas.

Under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, persons are regarded as indigenous “on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic and cultural customs.”

Adequate compensation to such a community should include the participation of the affected people in policy and go beyond mere provision of money. Any compensation process that ignores the views and feelings of the affected communities as well as the challenges they may face in adjusting in another society is likely to be deemed inadequate by the affected people.

For example, in relocating a fishing village from the shores of Lake Albert to a fertile area not near any water body, the government may imagine that the indigenous people are getting a good deal. But to a fisherman, tilling that fertile land is something he may have no idea about and hence may fail to exploit fully.

Adaptability to the new community should also be considered because moving people to another village to live with another ‘indigenous’ community does not guarantee that the new people will be welcome. Instead, members of the already existing community may feel some resentment towards the newcomers, whom they may perceive as coming to compete for their limited natural resources.

Communities that may be moved to areas where the land use is different from what they are accustomed to should receive some training on alternative farming techniques. This calls for vocational teachers and setting up teaching and demonstration farms to guide the communities.

Ultimately, a better planned resettlement of affected communities will build the capacity and independence of the relocated communities, boost their productivity and reduce their dependence on government resources.

This, in addition to the financial payouts, would indeed be ‘adequate compensation.’

Miss Okama is a Legal Advisor with Stanbic Bank (Uganda)