Ugandan Environmental Activist Abducted Amid Escalating Tensions Over Oil Project

Stephen Kwikiriza, a member of the Kingfisher community and advocate of environmental justice, vanished in thin air in an enforced disappearance.


  • Environmental activist Stephen Kwikiriza disappeared in Kampala on Tuesday in what is believed to be an enforced abduction by Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). Kwikiriza, who worked with the Environment Governance Institute and opposed the Kingfisher oil project, managed to send a distress message before all communication ceased. His disappearance follows recent arrests of activists protesting the oil project.

Environment activists in Uganda, particularly in the Albertine region, are living in fear after one of their own disappeared in what appeared to be a covert operation in Kampala on Tuesday. Stephen Kwikiriza, a member of the Kingfisher community and advocate for environmental justice, vanished in an enforced disappearance” sources told Examiner

Kwikiriza, also an employee of the EGI, was active in the contentious oil project area on the shores of Lake Albert. This is part of a disturbing pattern where individuals are taken from their communities by state officials or those acting with state consent, and their whereabouts are subsequently denied

The Kingfisher project, an oil venture on the shores of Lake Albert in western Uganda, is developed by the Chinese company China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), with TotalEnergies as the main shareholder,” another activist stated .

According to his close associates, Kwikiriza traveled to Kampala on the morning of his disappearance without any inkling of the danger he faced. He managed to send a distress message to his colleague, Samuel Okulony, identifying his abductors as officers of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF)

Since then, all communication has ceased, heightening fears for his safety and well-being,” added Okulony .

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The Kingfisher Oil Project has been a flashpoint for human rights and environmental concerns, particularly due to the involvement of CNOOC and TotalEnergies,” noted a member of the StopEACOP coalition. “As the international community turns its gaze towards Uganda, there is an urgent call for Kwikiriza’s immediate release and an end to the repression of those defending human and environmental rights

Legal teams are actively calling and visiting various military and police detention centers to locate Kwikiriza and intervene accordingly,” reported the coalition’s spokesperson .

The StopEACOP coalition is deeply concerned, especially since Kwikiriza had been staying at a Safe House in an undisclosed location since mid-March due to threats from the UPDF deployed in Kingfisher .

This incident follows the arrest of seven Ugandans on May 27, 2024, outside the Chinese embassy in Kampala. They were detained while attempting to deliver a petition highlighting the adverse effects of the oil project, including land loss, environmental degradation, and human rights violations,” said another activist .

The Kingfisher Oil Field. PHOTO/COURTESY

The StopEACOP coalition and its partners condemn this latest abduction and the recent escalation of intimidation and arrests. They urge the Ugandan authorities to release Kwikiriza immediately,” the spokesperson concluded .

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