By Peter Akugizibwe Araaali
Residents in Buliisa district are leaving in fear after unconfirmed reports hinted that government and oil companies plan to relocate them to free up the entire Buliisa district for oil and gas exploration, development and production.
According to residents from Ngwedo Sub County, who requested that their names are not published by this magazine, stated that a number of strange faces have frequented the area surveying different parts of the land. These strangers have not given much details to residents who now live in fear.
A male resident explained that a surveying guide told them government plans to relocate them because the entire Buliisa will be inhabitable once oil and gas production commences. “He said government plans to take us to a safer place. He did not specify when oil and gas production will start,” the male resident said. Government extended the start of oil production tentatively from 2020 to 2022.
When the process of exploring and extracting oil is not well managed, it distorts the eco-system and biodiversity of the production area and neighboring area. This destroys the environment, animals, birds, vegetation and humans in extreme conditions. Once this happens, it becomes hard for humans to stay in such a dead place.
FEARING FOR THEIR LIVES
This information is scantly finding its way into the Buliisa community and is causing panic. Many people are fearing for their lives and wouldn’t want to be relocated as this will alter their way of life, culture and norms. Many of the residents in Buliisa depend on Lake Albert as fishermen. Relocating them to a new place would be hard to adapt as they would lack the needed skills to survive.
However, when Western Media for Environment and Conservation (WEMECO) contacted the Buliisa District Community Development Officer Mr. Bernard Barugahara, he had no information in relation to that development but promised to investigate and come up with facts.
Mr. Barugahara challenged the residents of Buliisa to desist from rumors because it will not help their development agenda. “Oil and gas developments do not work like market days. Stakeholders are involved before any step is taken so people of Lower Buliisa take heart,” Mr. Barugahara said
The Buliisa LC 5 chairperson Mr. Simon Kinene says there is no meeting that had ever taken place to that effect saying that whoever is vending such rumors is an enemy of government looking for personal gains and cheap popularity.
Mr. Kinene adds that community members have been engaged by Joint Venture partners and the Resettlement Planning Committee a number of times at community meetings to get their views on several oil and gas projects including the Tilenga Project operated by Total E&P Uganda.
He also noted that early January 2019 the presidential Advisor on Oil and Gas Dr. Kaliisa Kabagambe chaired a meeting that involved both residents of Nywoya and Buliisa districts who are going to be affected by Tilenga Project in Bulisa. “Why was that issue not raised?” he questioned.
OIL PRODUCTION CAN’T CO-EXIST WITH HUMANS
Mr. Rajab Yusuf Bwengye, the Senior Project Officer in charge Oil Governance and Projects Coordinator at National Association Of Professional Environmentalist (NAPE), says relocation of Buliisa residents has been long overdue.
“World over there is no way oil and gas development can co-exist with communities in harmony especially with the nature of the land space of Buliisa where majority of the land is filled with national endowments such as parks, game reserves and Lake Albert,”
Mr. Bwengye further explains that construction of a central processing facility, feeder oil pipelines and park yards among others will leave the communities squeezed and without any alternative for their livelihood.
“This can force them to go into illegal activities such as poaching in Murchison National Park and Bugungu Wildlife Reserve,”
He points out that Buliisa being a fishing community and oil companies targeting to use lake water during oil and gas activities, oil activities will not only drive members communities from fishing but also pollute the water in case of oil spills.
“When we talk about environment we don’t mean only plants. We talk about plants and also aquatic life. All this will go,’’ Mr. Bwengye warned
LAND GRABBERS SCARE
Mr. Bwengye stresses that with the existing oil developments, land speculators are likely to increase in search of new opportunities. This, he said, is likely to cost the host communities. “They will lose their ancestral land to land grabbers because they’re coming with big money and are conniving with greedy leaders to steal land.’
Of recent past, residents of Kasenyi led by their chairperson Mr. John Tundulu refused to take 3.5 million that was offered by the government for each acre of land arguing that this was not enough to enable them buy same piece of land in Upper Buliisa or Hoima.
On the issue of Kasenyi, Mr. Kinene says the leadership of Buliisa has played their part and now the matter sits in the hands of government and the chief valuer waiting for decisions to be taken regarding land valuation. He said the district authority cannot influence determination of land rates but he is optimistic government will offer the best.
The writer is Executive Director Western Media for Environment and Conservation