Compensation claims more victims as men abandon their families
HOIMA: It has been a year since Evelyn Mwambe saw or heard from her husband. The 37-year old mother of two was married to Lawrence Ocowun for eight years until December last year when the couple’s fortunes turned, albeit in different directions.
As part of the 7118 people living on the 29 square kilometres of land that the government parcelled out for its planned crude oil refinery, they were entitled to compensation for their land and property in Kyapuloni village, Buseruka sub-county.
The family owned seven acres of land on which they had planted cassava, beans, maize and built a semi-permanent house.
But when their turn to be compensated came, Ocowun picked the money and never reported the windfall.
“My husband secretly signed for compensation without my consent,” Mwambe, who has since relocated to her parents’ home in the neighbouring Nyamasoga village, told Oil in Uganda.
Although she is not certain of the amount of money her husband received, Mwambe said she got suspicious when he went on a spending spree, purchasing a new motor cycle and a boat engine. He also started trading in fish which he would buy at various landing sites on Lake Albert and transport it across the Lake to Panyimur market in Nebbi district for sale.
“My mother-in-law told me that Ocowun told her he had started purchasing assets to prepare a new life after he got compensation. She warned me that I should demand for my share but whenever I would talk about compensation, my husband would tell me not to worry and I would keep quiet,” Mwambe narrated.
One evening, recounts Mwambe, her husband bid her farewell claiming that he had gone to socialize with his friends at Nyamasoga trading centre and that was the last time she ever saw him.
According to Mwambe, the couple had planned to build a permanent home with the compensation money and start a business to support them to educate their two children.
She said prior to the compensation, her husband was a loving and caring man.
She now survives by selling charcoal, hardly saving enough to feed her children. Although the government has not officially claimed her land, she stopped cultivating on it because residents were warned against planting crops since they would be relocated soon.
It appears that Mwambe will soon be homeless as well. Her ninety-year old father is expecting to be paid his compensation soon but he has not catered for her in his plans.
“That daughter of mine is an adult. She got married, produced children and left this home,” he said. “Am hosting her here temporarily but when I get compensation, I will relocate from this area and start a new life elsewhere. I will not allow her to follow me.”
Birds of a feather
Oil in Uganda came across another woman in Nyamasoga village who also ‘lost’ her husband in similar circumstances in February this year.
36-year old Rogelin Pachudaga had been traditionally married to Ajarova Adoki for five years until the compensation money abruptly ended their union.
According to Pachudaga, her husband signed for the money when she was away in Mulago Hospital tending to their sick daughter. The couple owned a three-acre piece of land.
“I did not get an opportunity to co-sign for compensation. They even did not disclose to me how much our family was entitled to receive,” she said tearfully.
She added that she has heard that her husband lives in Masindi district where he has married another woman.
Pachudaga told Oil in Uganda that she feels betrayed by her husband’s actions but is even more worried about her daughter’s health that requires her to be reviewed by doctors in Kampala periodically.
She has already missed some scheduled medical appointments due to lack of money for transport.
According to the Refinery Communication Officer in the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD), Bashir Hangi, such cases are few and the affected women have not officially reported their complaints to the government.
“Those are isolated cases and they are regrettable but issues of family abandonment have not started today and they are not only in the proposed refinery area,” he said.
Mr. Hangi said government will take a decision depending on the facts the women will present while filing their complaint.
The Hoima Police Officer in charge of the Child and Family Protection Unit also told Oil in Uganda that police will track the men down if a case is opened against them and they could be charged with family neglect.
Civil society activists have continuously urged government to protect the interests of women in the compensation process. Several families in Hoima have been broken up by the compensation money, in most cases because men refused to involve their wives in managing the funds.
Report by our Hoima Correspondent