GOMBA, UGANDA — Years ago, Steven Pepe, a cattle farmer, believed he was about to get a windfall. Pepe, the local chairperson of Karyabuhoro village in Kyahi subcounty, Gomba district, has a farm that sits on several acres of land. In 2018, government appraisers surveyed the land and earmarked 10 acres to route the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.
Running from Hoima, in western Uganda, to Chongoleani peninsula, near Tanga port in Tanzania, the EACOP is expected to be the longest heated pipeline in the world, measuring 1,443 kilometers (897 miles). About 20% of the pipeline will be in Uganda, crossing 10 districts. Since 2018, the government has been acquiring land for the pipeline and has promised to compensate the landowners, known as project-affected persons (PAPs). The most recent payments to PAPs were made in February.
Pepe was to receive 7 million Ugandan shillings (1,891 United States dollars) per acre, according to computations by the chief government appraiser. This figure is exclusive of adjustments made for a “disturbance allowance,” an increment for each year that goes by before compensation. It’s been five years since his land was surveyed, and Pepe is yet to get a cent.
Worse still, he has been left in limbo as his land appreciates in value each year, and he says he’s been unable to use it after he was asked to vacate it for the EACOP in 2018.
As construction of the pipeline begins, close to a quarter of the 3,648 PAPs — who occupy 2,740 acres — are yet to be compensated. By mid-June, 77% of PAPs in Uganda had already been paid, says EACOP communications lead Stella Amony. But hundreds still awaiting compensation are frustrated about how long the process is taking; some find themselves embroiled in legal and administrative tussles related to their title deeds and proof of ownership. Some of those who were compensated feel dissatisfied with what they received. There are also allegations of false claims, which have further complicated the process.
Why the different EACOP compensation figures?
Pepe’s case is one instance where a tussle over land ownership is in court.
“I haven’t been paid yet. I was told the person who sold the land to me had no right to sell it. Yet the land title was in his name,” Pepe says.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
He claims that the sons of the person who sold him the land took him to court after realizing there was money to be made from the project. Pepe believes he should also have been compensated for houses and a cattle kraal close to the land earmarked for the project. He is concerned about noise levels and what this will mean for keeping livestock in the nearby kraal or occupying houses near the construction site. Pepe says he will have to relocate the homes, kraal and four graves of his loved ones, which were never taken into account for compensation.
“The pipeline passed through four graves: those of my late wife, mother-in-law and two grandchildren. They didn’t tell me the value of the graves and how much they will pay for them. They want to use my land before I have been paid,” he says, standing on the mound of soil where the previous houses were and pointing to two newly constructed ones in his compound.
But officials Global Press Journal spoke to say there are systems in place to ensure that all rightful claimants are compensated adequately, such as the Resettlement Action Plan Committee, based at the village level, which verifies PAPs’ compensation claims.
The committee consists of a youth representative, a local council chairperson, a women’s representative and a representative of vulnerable populations, such as those living with disabilities.
Pauline Irene Batebe, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, says her office works closely with communities to standardize the compensation process and can weed out false claims.
Batebe says exact figures may vary, as compensation is calculated in association with district land boards and takes development, crops or trees on the property into account.
She says the ministry continually engages PAPs and, when disagreements arise, revisits properties to confirm their valuation. “If there is a complaint, we address it at that point. If they disagree, they are allowed to bring their independent surveyor. Compensation packages are not displayed; we discuss them with individuals,” she says.
Claims in the era of EACOP
The discovery of oil along the shores of Lake Albert, in Hoima district, western Uganda, in 2006, brought hope that extraction would be underway by 2013. This has been postponed for various reasons including the Final Investment Decision and disputes between the Ugandan government and oil companies with regard to charging recoverable costs. FID is the stage at which major financial commitments are made and contracts signed. For the EACOP, participating oil companies decided in February 2022 to invest 10 billion dollars into the project. That also marked the beginning of the project’s detailed engineering, procurement and construction phases.
Paul Twebaze, an environmental activist, says some people could be buying land in districts where such projects are yet to be implemented, in anticipation of government compensation.
He claims that people moved from Kampala to buy land in greater Masaka, hoping to get paid. He also says that in Buliisa and Hoima districts, some built houses, planted crops and even buried animals almost overnight, “to say my people are buried here and I need to transfer them.”
He cites examples of people buying land during construction of the Entebbe express highway as part of the trend of people seeking government compensation.
Thomas Byarugaba, the mayor and a resident of Kigabagaba B village, Kabale subcounty, Hoima district, was already compensated, as the pipeline route goes through his village.
He echoes Twebaze’s sentiment, saying, “In a space of a month, locals who own land around the area turned it into a slum overnight, constructing houses at night, hoping to obtain compensation from government when the road goes through their property, including houses. Some cases are in court. These houses were constructed there in 2022, immediately after the survey,” he says, pointing to a line of newly constructed houses, some surrounded by eucalyptus trees, a sign that the area could initially have been a tree plantation.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
Some houses stand at odd angles, calling into question the quality of their construction. The 2022 survey Byarugaba refers to is related to the road to the Kingfisher oil field, meant to separate and treat oil in preparation for its transportation through the EACOP. Byarugaba says none of the people who put up houses were compensated.
He claims that some of his neighbors buried animals and eucalyptus trees in coffins, claiming they were relatives, hoping they would get more compensation to relocate the bodies.
“One was reported [to the Ministry of Energy and the local council chairperson], and he never got compensation,” he says.
Global Press Journal was unable to independently verify these claims, but the Ministry of Energy is aware of some of the delays and issues around false claims. Batebe believes they are able to catch at least 98% of the false claims by working with community representatives. This, however, has delayed verification and compensation for those with genuine claims.
“They can easily tell us this is not a grave since they don’t know any member of the family who died recently. We can tell this is a fresh grave because of fresh soil,” Batebe says, adding that there are also opportunists who try to take advantage of those eligible for compensation.
Allan Ssempebwa, the spokesperson for Uganda National Roads Authority, which is responsible for compensation on road projects, says only legitimate landowners will be paid.
Frustrations of those with claims
Dorothy Anyai, a resident of Nyahaira village, in Kabale subcounty, says she hasn’t been compensated for five graves. Her property stands in the way of Kingfisher, an oil field in Kikuube district owned by the Uganda National Oil Company.
Anyai says she hasn’t been able to transport her dead to her new home due to the costs of hiring a vehicle. Government officials initially proposed 150,000 shillings (40 dollars) for the graves, but she protested that it was too little. She has yet to reach an agreement with the relevant authorities.
“I am so stressed over it. I have nightmares. My dead relatives may think I have abandoned them. I will only be at peace if I transport my people to my new home,” she says, creasing her face and cupping her chin in her hand.
When questioned about the general issue of people awaiting compensation, Ssempebwa says, “I also acknowledge that we have not done full compensation for all affected PAPs. However, with finances coming through, they will be [compensated].”
He adds that the government would never use someone’s land before compensation unless it had been mutually agreed upon to speed up work.
Anyai is aware of false claims about the size and value of land.
“You find someone with a small house made of local material claiming its value is hundreds of millions,” she says. “It’s disturbing.”
Global Press Journal reached out multiple times to EACOP and the Ministry of Energy about allegations regarding unfair and inadequate compensation but did not receive a response.
Some PAPs are content with the amount and manner of their compensation.
John Okumu, a local council chairman in Kabale subcounty, says all 30 people in his village were compensated in April 2022. They were paid 10 million shillings (2,656 dollars) per acre, save for one resident whose land title was in dispute.
Okumu feels the compensation process in his village was transparent and well organized. The Ministry of Energy conducted quality control and socioeconomic surveys before granting approval to ensure that the right PAPs were adequately compensated.
Okumu says he was on the committee that was moving around with the team from the Ministry of Energy to ensure the rightful property owners were compensated, and adds that there were no false claims in his village.
In other instances, the compensation process is delayed by reasons outside the hands of the ministry. Ronald Akandwanaho, who was on the PAPs committee for Kyetume village, Kyahi subcounty, Gomba district, says 58% of the people in his village were compensated, but the rest haven’t yet been paid due to delayed letters of administration. Letters of administration are required to change ownership when an asset is jointly owned with someone who is deceased. He says he hasn’t yet been paid because his land title has four family members’ names on it and one of those is deceased.
What is fair compensation for EACOP?
While some have been compensated in part, there is also an argument about what counts as fair compensation, with PAPs and human rights activists joining the debate.
Godfrey Muganda, a resident of Kyetume village, says he had to wait four years to get compensated for the 9 acres of his land where the pipeline will pass. His compensation came through in 2022. He was paid for the trees and land, but not for the destruction of the habitat. He owns two cattle kraals close to an area earmarked for the EACOP, and these weren’t provided for during evaluation for compensation. He also says that although the area where the pipeline will pass will block him from accessing certain watering points for his animals, he wasn’t compensated for this.
Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director for the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a nongovernmental organization, says they have engaged with Total Energies and other stakeholders regarding compensation. Total Energies is one of the shareholders of EACOP.
Stephanie Platat, the communications manager at Total Energies, says steps have been taken to address concerns. “We seek to promote dialogue and exchanges with human rights defenders and have carried out a human rights impact assessment. Action plans have been put in place, and we have published policies to that effect.” In October 2022, Total Energies organized a field trip with NGOs so they could learn what was going on in the region, access information and better support the NGOs’ work. She also says that webinars were organized with NGOs “to discuss issues raised such as human rights, gender equality, land acquisition and transparency, among others.”
Sewanyana points to the difficulties of appeasing various PAPs who are all affected in different ways. “What amounts to fair compensation is relative,” he says. “What about disrupting their way of life? Some are fishermen, cattle keepers or agriculturalists.”
Apophia Agiresaasi is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Kampala, Uganda.