Fred Balikenda, a resident of Kirama village, in Kigwera Sub County, Buliisa district is a bitter man. His anguish stems from the discovery of oil and gas in his home district Buliisa.
While the country is basking in the possibility of reaping billions of American dollars from the discovered oil and gas, Balikenda is counting losses and homelessness.
When the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the government of Uganda embarked on the development phase of the country’s oil sector, Balikenda’s land in Kirama village was identified to host an oil well.
The process to acquire his land commenced and has since dragged on to no end leaving him distressed, bitter and broke.
Balikenda and TotalEnergies, the operator of the Tilenga Project in Buliisa, agreed that he, and his 12 children, should be resettled at a piece of land which had been identified in Kirama.
But years later, this hasn’t been achieved because, according to TotalEnergies, there were delays in acquiring land to resettle Balikenda.
This has left Balikenda with no place to confidently call home because of the delays in resettling him.
While TotalEnergies is building a house for him at a new site, the oil company has fenced off his old land leaving him to live in a cage of sorts.
This restrictive fencing off by the French company has led to the death of his two (pregnant) pigs that have been a source of his income.
Also, because TotalEnergies has started developing his old land to prepare for the digging of the oil well, Balikenda cannot undertake any economic activity on the land.
His children are not going to school because he has no income to facilitate their education and the family constantly hopes to be relocated.
Balikenda is now demanding that TotalEnergies compensates him for the lost pigs and poultry, land, time and rights abused.
TotalEnergies which is in constant dialogue with Balikenda has offered to rent him a house in Kirama village as it waits to complete the construction at the site where he is supposed to be resettled, an offer Balikenda turned down.
The story of Balikenda is one of the many oil and gas Projects Affected Persons (PAPs) in Buliisa, Hoima and Kikuube districts have faced and live to tell, with sad faces.
To get redress, Balikenda and other PAPs, with the help of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) have taken these matters to court, but even there, justice has not been forthcoming.
Recently, AFIEGO and partners wrote to Dr Flavian Zeija, The Principal Judge, informing him of their planned protest showing dissatisfaction with Uganda’s judiciary for the delay in deciding Civil Suit No. 059 of 2021.
The affected PAPs, with support from AFIEGO, in March 2014, filed a case under Article 50 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution seeking redress over the violation of their constitutional rights including the right to receive prompt, fair, and adequate compensation before the acquisition or possession of their land.
And today, 9th March 2023, AFIEGO and some of the PAPs addressed a press conference in Kampala at Hotel Africana indicating that they had petitioned the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Norbert Mao, the chief justice Alfonse Owinyi Dollo and his deputy, Richard Buteera, over the delayed hearing of their compensation cases.
Through the petition, the PAPs and AFIEGO want the judiciary officials to intervene and stop the ongoing injustices caused by delayed hearing of their cases to save the oil-affected communities from further suffering.
They also issued an ultimatum.
“Within one month from to date, if the judiciary fails to respect the people’s constitutional rights such as a right to a speedy trial, hundreds of the oil-affected persons will walk from the villages and protest at the offices of the Chief Justices, Deputy Chief Justice, Principal Judge, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Inspectorate of Government and other authorizes,” the PAPs warned.