Forty-two families in Uganda’s oil-belt are staring at displacement after a court ordered that the households be evicted from their land before compensation to make way for Tilenga Project – the country’s biggest upstream development that is operated by French energy giant TotalEnergies – which will produce 190,000 barrels of oil per day.
The High Court in Hoima ruled on December 8, 2023 that the families’ compensation be deposited in court, to be processed after TotalEnergies E&P (U) BV has taken over the land. The French company is acquiring the land on behalf of the Ministry of Energy.
Uganda government sued the landowners on December 4, 2023, and its main prayer was that court allows the Ministry of Energy to compulsorily acquire the land and deposit compensation for the project affected persons (PAPs) in court, pending resolution of their disputes.
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The ruling, which was delivered on Friday December 8 2023, came after Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development filed a court case against 42 households whose land in Buliisa District is being compulsorily acquired for the Tilenga oil project.
According to court records, 16 landowners rejected the compensation value on the grounds that it is low; 18 are claimants to land over which there are running ownership disputes, while seven landlords are unknown.
Justice Jessy Byaruhanga delivered the ruling within four days of filing of the case and after one hearing. Among the evictees are landowners who have battled the energy giant since last year. One of these is Fred Balikenda, whose land TotalEnergies fenced off in 2022 before agreeing compensation, even though the French supermajor built a replacement house for him.
“My family [land] was fenced off, my pigs, which were my source of income, died. I was fenced off illegally and summoned to High Court in Hoima. The judge said I will be compensated where I am staying now,” he explains.
“If I am forcibly removed from the land where I am staying, I will not enter the house that Total constructed for me. I will pitch a tent outside the fence that Total built on my land and I will live there in protest,” he adds.
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The residents argue that the fast-tracked hearing and judgment denied them justice.
“We want justice; we have the right to be heard. We will go to the next step,” says Seremos Kamuturaki, one of the PAPs that were sued and attended the hearing.
He adds: “Today we were called to High Court in Hoima, so that we are informed that our compensation money will be put on the Court’s account so that whoever wins the dispute will be given that money. Many of us have not agreed with that but the judge has just ruled that that is how it will be.
Only 18 households attended the hearing and of these, 14 were represented by lawyers while the others did not have money to procure their own lawyers; other families did not participate in the hearing because some were unaware that they had been sued.
Other PAPs could not travel to the 94km distance from Buliisa to Hoima as they were given short notice and had no money to transport them to court, community leaders say.
During the hearing, Herbert Alinda, lawyer for one of the evicted landowners asked the judge for more time to prepare response to the Attorney General’s application on behalf of the Ministry of Energy, but this was turned down by the government lawyers and the judge.
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“Poor community members were not given a chance to defend their rights after they were ambushed with the hearing,” says Abdul Musinguzi of Tasha Research Institute Africa.
Frank Muramuzi, Executive Director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists concurs, observing that injustice meted out against communities confirm that the government is working with oil corporations to abuse citizens’ rights.
“We will continue to fight,” he said, without elaborating.
Tilenga and Kingfisher are the two oil production projects that started drilling works this year and are slated to produce the first barrels of oil 2025.
Source: The East African