Communities want to guard oil wealth

BY SHIFA MWESIGYE

By this time in 2012 Agnes Afoyorworth’s daily routine rotated around the house, garden and kitchen. Every morning, she picked up her hoe and summoned her children to follow her into the garden were they spent the day tilling the land to grow crops for sale and for feeding the family. Then in 2008, Agnes learnt that government was going to take away her family’s land to build an oil refinery. Suddenly, the oil that had excited her community was turning into a thorn in the lives of the people in Nyahaira, Buseruka sub county in Hoima District. This did not only render her homeless, her source of livelihood was also changed.

She was told during negotiations for compensation that only her husband could participate in the negotiations because he was the rightful owner of the land. Yet it was Agnes who tiled this land and used the income to feed her family and pay school fees. Like a good wife, Agnes did not object as she watched government set up meetings with the men in the community as the women waited for their fate.

Agnes Afoyorworth

But things started to change, through their work in the communities Global Rights Alert informed the women that they have a right to defend their land rights as wives. They had a right to be part of the compensation. GRA gave them a platform to stand up and speak out.

And speak out they did.

Today, Agnes’ confidence and resolve have been reawakened that she has decided to join a team of 40 community monitors to help in human rights monitoring in the oil region.

 

 

 

 

 

Buliisa joins monitoring

Coming from Buliisa is no mean fit; at the crack of down as the sun rises from the rolling hills; the first mini bus starts its journey; circling hills and winding back along dirt roads and across fields.  

On a good day, this journey which would otherwise take Janet Alinda less than an hour, takes two hours because of the hilly terrain and the dilapidated road. But on a bad day, and these are many, the journey can take her over four hours on a rainy season.

Cars stack in the mud hold traffic for hours on end because the road is so narrow that if one car is stuck, everyone will not leave.

But none of this deterred Janet and other community members from braving the long journey to do their due diligence. Many who arrived in the early morning waited patiently for the training organised by GRA.

The Community Monitors discuss human rights during the training

They don’t want to be referred to as just the refinery affected people, or the compensated people, or the evicted people to pave way for the exploration, production and refinery of oil. They are slowly taking the oil debate out of the boardrooms of government, private oil companies and CSOs and incorporating it into the community by ensuring that in the wake of the oil discovery, people continue to enjoy their inherent human rights.  They want to see to it that the oil revenue benefits every Uganda especially the people in the oil region.

They want to stand up as human rights watch dogs, start community policing, a neighbourhood watch and demand for their rights in the oil debate.

They want to ensure that every community member’s land rights are respected, every woman is involved in compensation, every youth knows the opportunities in the oil industry and that every garden, piece of land, forest, game park, water body is protected from oil waste contamination.

These monitors want to be trained so that when they go back to their communities, they can help people access information on their various human rights and where these rights are abused, the community members have pledged to help people to access justice. They wanted knowledge and skills on observing human rights. They also wanted to share experiences on what is happening in their villages.

Janet Alinda presents during the monitors training in Hoima

“I have gone to the community to collect information and I have witnessed harassment by those who are violating human rights. There is a lot of insecurity in the public and intimidation by security people and some community members,” says Janet.

Community monitors also reported that people who are going to be relocated will need seeds for farming so that they can ensure food security where they are going.

GRA will provide seeds so that people plant them where they are going to ensure sustained food security.

“We are supposed to sensitise women on their land rights so that they know they have a share in the land. As a monitor, I have to sensitise people so that they unit because when someone is aware of their rights, it is easy to defend themselves from the violators,”

Some of the issues to monitor in Buliisa include animal and human conflict, food insecurity, access to justice for social issues like rape and defilement, domestic violence and compensation issues. Community monitors also want to help to bridge the gap between communities and leaders to create interaction between rights holders and duty bearers

In Hoima, some of the issues to monitor include, land grabbing, access to information and land protection, communities affected by the oil refinery and oil pipeline as well as social and cultural issues.

It is important to keep an eye on emerging gender issues, are men leaving their wives after being compensated? Are women running away from husbands to follow oil workers? Because this oil is introducing social dynamics, communities are disintegrating, families are breaking up,”

They also want to ensure environmental protection as well as guard the oil against corruption because this oil is coming from the land and should be benefiting the poor local communities and not a few rich Ugandans.

Today, Agnes’s face is wreathed in smiles and she speaks of a brighter future. Like her community, she speaks of a future were oil revenue will provide a better education for her children, better roads for them to get to the school and better healthcare.