By Jocelyn Edwards
Buliisa residents surrounding Tullow Oils Kasamene oil field became alarmed recently when they saw representatives of the company surveying and marking off land that they see as theirs. Residents say pegs and poles started appearing on the communal land about a month ago despite their objections to giving up an area that they use for grazing and other activities.
Im angry because they should not demarcate without talking to the people, without telling us, We are going to take that land but we are going to compensate. They should be open, said Henry Tumwesige, a local resident.
Residents of the four village around the oil field use the communal land for grazing, growing cotton and collecting fuel.
The loss of the communal land will be a great burden to the community according to Tumwesige, who grazes his four cows there. If they take that land they will have made us suffer. He explained he and his neighbours may not be able to feed their animals if they loose the land. Even getting firewood will be very difficult. We dont know what we shall use for cooking.
At community meeting in January Tullow informed people that it wanted 3.5 square kilometres of additional land around the oil field. In response, community leaders sent a letter to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Energy, Kabagambe Kaliisa, to state the peoples objections. We said taking all the land was unfair, said Chief Blasio Mugasa, the Bunyoro Kitoro kingdom county chief for Buliisa.
The community is not against any land being taken, according to Chief Mugasa.Â Rather residents are requesting that the company leave them with a portion. To Tullow, Chief Mugasa said, Please come and we will show you where to start from so that you can leave us with some land and please dont displace our own people here [who live on the land] because they have nowhere to go. Six families live within the boundaries of the 3.5 square kilometres.
Land is scarce in the region, according to the chief. We have the lake on the west; we have the park on the east; we have the river in the northern part. The remaining land in Buliisa cannot accomadate the growing population.
The 2009 population density in Buliisa is estimated at 738.8 people per square kilometre, several times higher than the national average of 137.1 people per square kilometre.
Residents are concerned that they will not be paid compensation for land they dont individually own. My worry is, what if Im not compensated for where my animals have been grazing? said Tumwesige. There are people who have in the hundreds (of cows) and even if they are being compensated, this will end up forcing them to sell those animals.
Its possible that confusion may be partly responsible for the alarm in the community. For its part, Tullow responds that the pegs are there merely to mark off land for geo-technical analysis. Weve got a large piece of land that were trying to analyse and see if its suitable for what we would want to do. Weve not made any decisions about the size of land we need or the location of the land, said Brian Glover, country manager for the company.
As for community worries about loosing grazing land without payment, Glover said, Its crop compensation that is part of the legislation. The legislation is fairly clear on what can be compensated for.
Glover said the company had informed local leaders that analysis would be taking place in the area. He emphasised that Tullow had conducted a public information campaign in the area through a number of different media but, Believe you me, there is always somebody that we have missed.
Its possible that there are a lot of people Tullows campaign has missed. Issac Nkuba Akugizibwe works with the Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development, a local NGO. What people have in their minds now is that Tullow Oil is planning to take their land. Before more demarcations go on, Tullow needs to talk to people- local leaders and civil society, he said.
MP for the area, Stephen Birahwa, put the alarm over the project down to an information gap. The project is welcome but the communication strategy is very poor, he said. However, Birahwa blames the government for that and not the oil company, pointing out that its the government that is supposed to be protecting the interests of Ugandans. The Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Land should have gone there and told the people what (oil explorers) were going to do there and what they should expect.