The continued land related disputes in the oil-rich Buliisa district are likely to affect the development of the oil industry, Buliisa residents have said.
Since oil was discovered in Bunyoro sub-region in 2006, the value of land adjacent to the oil sites have increased dramatically. The discoveries triggered a rush for land acquisition by investors and speculators.
Oil wells were discovered in communal settlements, game parks and on the shores of Lake Albert. The area is mainly inhabited by fishermen, subsistence farmers and hunters, who lived on customary land and had no formal documentation to prove the ownership.
Consequently, investors continue to acquire land for oil-related projects such as oil waste treatment plants, central processing facilities, pipelines, industrial parks and other petroleum- related investments.
Blasio Mugasa, the former Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom lands minister says this has raised the stakes for land ownership and the rights of customary land owners are at risk as the wealthy and influential elites attempt to gain titled land in what is called the Albertine graben.
Customary land ownership is one of the three ways acknowledged by Article 237(3) of the Constitution, along with freehold and mailo tenure systems.
He states that the presence of the resource has seen a number of people face land rights abuses which range from land grabbing by speculators, denial of access to community land fenced by oil companies, delayed compensation, and change of Bagungu traditional customs over land.
In an interview with Earthfinds, Mugasa explains that the weak land governance systems are also to blame for the continued land rights abuses in Buliisa district. He adds that many residents have lost their lands to tycoons without any compensation.
John Kyomu and Tom Kahibwa residents of Bulisa town say the District is heading for a disaster if the government doesn’t intervene to sort out land wrangles. They note that Uganda’s land laws are clear but oil companies and few rich individual speculators are doing the contrarily as the government remains silent.
Other residents Earthfinds spoke to partly blame the overwhelming land rights abuses to corruption tendencies among the government officials in the Energy Ministry. The residents fear that if oil production begins, there will be shedding of blood as people start fragmenting community land into portions.