Uganda’s appetite to generate enough electricity to power the growing economy and a large population commenced the construction of Karuma Hydroelectric Power Station.
To effect this, the government needed land. The 600MW Karuma HPP is located on the Nile River in Kiryandongo district in mid-northern Uganda, 110km downstream of Lake Kyoga, and 270km from Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
To acquire such land, the government must fairly and timely compensate the Project Affected Persons (PAP) so that they can relocate to a new location of their choice. Sometimes the project relocates the PAPs to an agreed area.
More than a decade after the project started, reports of unfilled compensation and illegal evictions are marring the Karuma dam project which is being undertaken by Synohydro, a Chinese company.
On July 6, 2023 the government published a notice in the New Vision newspaper telling the local communities around the Karuma hydro project reservoir to leave their homes within 30 days from the publication date of notice or face eviction.
A report released by Just Finance International (JFI) said the government’s move is an unusual action, negligent in the best case and an outright deceptive because the newspaper in which the notice was published hardly any audience among the project-affected people living around the Karuma reservoir.
“I just heard from outside when people were discussing this issue – but nobody has ever come to my home to explain anything,” a man interviewed by JFI said.
Other respondents told JFI said they received no other notice from any representative of the government or from Sinohydro, the Chinese state-owned contractor for the Karuma project.
Civil society organizations told JFI that publishing such important announcements in a newspaper is a contravention of the official resettlement process.
The CSOs said that the proper procedures require all affected people to be contacted in person and in their local languages before any eviction can take place.
While resettlements caused by the Karuma hydro dam area began in 2014, JFI reports that the construction of the Karuma dam deprived hundreds of people in Uganda’s Nile delta of their land, homes and livelihoods.
Many people have been waiting almost ten years for relocation and fair compensation for their land, JFI said, adding that there is still an ongoing court case contesting what the communities should be compensated.
Some project-affected people say that the compensation they received was insufficient for buying new equivalent land elsewhere. Others say they did not receive the money they were promised.
Many continue to live on smaller parts of their old land, even as they face lost income and other hardships since the land acquisition began.
Without access to their old farming plots, many families have nothing to sell on the market to earn a living. Children have dropped out of school because their parents could no longer afford the school fees.
In the weeks before the eviction notice appeared in the newspaper, some project-affected people reported visitors alleging to represent “investors” with offers to buy out the land. One community member told JFI that some of these representatives visited his village offering twenty million shillings, a price was much lower than the market price.
When the villagers rejected the offer, the representatives said that their resistance was useless. “The government is coming to evict you because the government is promoting foreign investment,” the villagers were told.
JFI visited the Karuma area at the end of July 2023. There had been no signs of any eviction activity at the time. No evictions had yet taken place as of mid-August, according to JFI sources.
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