- Uganda is actively developing its oil and gas sector to spur economic growth and create jobs. However, there are concerns about community rights and reprisals against activists. Procedural errors in legal judgments and arrests of critics threaten the project’s success. To ensure meaningful development, Uganda must respect human rights, engage with communities, and foster accountability.
Just like any country concerned about development, Uganda has been proactive in addressing the temporary challenges of increased youth and general unemployment. Through the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the government has made deliberate efforts and commitments to increase energy production and fully utilize its natural resources to spur economic development and create jobs for the ever-growing youth population. This responsibility has been entrusted to the oil and gas sector.
According to the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), Uganda’s Oil and Gas (O&G) sector has transitioned from solely exploration to the new exploration and preparation of discovered oil fields for production (development). These developments also include establishing infrastructure for the commercialization of the discovered 6.5 billion barrels of Oil and Gas in the sector. The Final Investment Decision (FID) for Uganda’s O&G projects, worth approximately USD 20 billion, was made in February 2022.
Proponents of the oil industry, including legal minds such as Elison Karuhanga and Ali Ssekatawa, have often asserted that the oil and gas sector offers potential benefits to Ugandan citizens. These benefits range from employment opportunities with oil companies and service providers to increased Foreign Direct Investment, training for Ugandans in the sector, improved infrastructure, reduced expenditure on imports, and growth in related industries such as petrochemicals. While some of these assertions may hold truth, it’s crucial to acknowledge the potential downsides of development. Two significant issues delaying the oil and gas project in Uganda will be discussed.
Recently, His Lordship Jesse Byaruhanga Rugyema made a judgement within four days, threatening the Tilenga Project Affected Persons (PAPs) via the High Court of Uganda at Hoima Mis. Cause No.24 of 2023. He issued a decision against 42 PAPs, involving their eviction and other orders, without granting them a hearing. It is concerning that in this case, a deceased family was sued without proper legal representation, and the government also sued an entire clan and village without adequate consideration for their rights. These procedural errors raise questions about the project’s respect for community rights, which is crucial for funding and insurance.
The second issue concerns reprisals against human rights defenders (HRDs) and activists. While the Human Rights Defenders bill of 2020 remains pending in parliament, reprisals against activists have been ongoing. These reprisals intensified after the European Parliament adopted a resolution highlighting human rights abuses linked to investments in fossil fuels in Uganda and Tanzania. The government’s actions, including arrests of activists, raise concerns about freedom of expression and citizens’ involvement in development projects. The arrests set a precedent for further harassment and intimidation of project critics, affecting Uganda’s civic space and rule of law.
Reprisals send a chilling message to the wider community, limit opportunities for participation, and jeopardize the project’s success. To achieve meaningful development, the government of Uganda and corporate actors must create an environment where individuals, communities, and groups can exercise their fundamental human rights and determine their priorities. Collaboration with host communities is essential for sustainable economic development, and it requires respecting their rights and fostering public participation and accountability.
Aryampa Brighton, Advocate of the High Court
Chief Executive Officer, Youth for Green Communities (YGC)
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