East African Crude Oil Pipeline is slated to pass through 10 districts in Uganda, but many who own property in its path haven’t seen a cent from the government.
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.
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.
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