A new study has revealed that the operations of the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) are causing massive suffering to local residents in Kikube district.
When Just Finance International (JFI) arrived at the site in February 2023 the roadblock at the top of the mountain was unmanned and all cars were able to pass. During the visit, JFI members were able to meet with around 100 project-affected people from two different locations.
The JFI team was able to move around within the community and came close to the oil operation activities. The oil operations were located surprisingly close to the fishing community’s residential areas—sometimes just a few meters apart. In some places, stray cattle prodded around in the middle of the construction site.
In front of Lake Albert, a newly paved road wriggles down a steep mountainside. From halfway down the hill, the strong haze from the sun makes it hard to determine where the shore ends and where the lake begins. What is distinguishable is a settlement comprising hundreds of small traditional houses, one tall oil rig, and a large blue-roofed compound at the settlement’s center.
The massive change appeared in Kyakapere beginning in 2008. Within this small traditional fishing community, houses were rapidly demolished, land ownerships changed hands and workers showed up from China and other regions in Uganda. In another two years, this small fishing community, with its original 6000 inhabitants, will not only concede more land to hundreds of additional workers from abroad but to four well pads, 20 production wells, and 11 water injection wells.
The Kingfisher project area is operated by China’s parastatal oil company, CNOOC. Compared to French TotalEnergies, its partner in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project (EACOP), CNOOC has kept a low prole and largely avoided all media contacts.
Until recently, the mountain road leading to the Kingfisher area prohibited all visitors except for those working or living there. Therefore, virtually nothing about the conditions of the Kingfisher project has been reported by civil society organizations or independent media.
Before CNOOC’s oil operations commenced, there were no land titles in Kyakapere village.
Villagers paid no heed to who had the legal ownership of the land they all collectively used. Generations passed without any major disputes, an arrangement recognized in the constitution of Uganda.
The villagers began to hear about plans for oil extraction in 2008. Negotiations between the village and CNOOC were led by a small delegation of elders, which later resulted in many complaints of mismanagement. Instead of creating one land title for each family, CNOOC transposed the whole scattered village onto one big land title.
People who had to be relocated were told they could choose to either move to a new house or receive compensation in cash. But those who chose the house did not get a chance to see the house—or even sketches of their promised residence—in advance.
Instead of building traditional Ugandan houses, comprised of several small buildings, the company constructed chain houses with very small plots.
Many of the villagers say they were disappointed when they were brought to their new homes. All the relocated persons JFI met with said the houses were unsuitable for their needs and did not meet their traditions and customs.
“I am not satisfied. I want my land back,” said one man. His residence came without any furniture, and he received no money to furnish his new home. He also shared that he only had electricity for six hours a day.
Meanwhile, relocated persons who chose to receive cash reported that their compensation payments were far too low. One woman was given 600 000 UGX (about 160 USD), only a fraction of the expense of building a new house in the area.
When President Yoweri Museveni officially launched the oil drilling activities at the Kingfisher Development Area early this year, it was celebrated as an important milestone in Uganda’s multibillion-dollar pipeline and oil drilling project. But in the villages located next to the oil wells, nobody is praising the drilling.