Kampala, (UG): Environmental activists under the organization of Environment Governance Institute (EGI) and its partners have voiced their concerns condemning the increased military persecution and continued violation of human rights violations within the Kingfisher area.
On the evening of January 16, 2024, soldiers from the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) burned 15 fishing boats, fishing nets, and other important instruments vital to the livelihoods of local villagers in Kingfisher Development Area, where China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has long been developing oil and gas operations.
The boats and supplies supported up to 60 families through the traditional arrangement of African communal “ubuntu” sharing, according to the Civil Society Coalition for Sustainable Development, a group of Ugandan environmental and human rights civil society organizations.
The activists say this unprecedented act of large-scale destruction ripped hundreds of villagers from their primary means of livelihood overnight and signals an alarming escalation in the ongoing military deployment around the Kingfisher installations.
Following the burning of fishing boats, around 19 community members were arrested according to local testimonies, some of them for more than 48 hours beyond the legally mandated period.
As China’s largest investor in Uganda, the parastatal oil firm CNOOC has overseen oil operations in the Kingfisher area, along the shores of Lake Albert, since 2013.
In the intervening decade, local communities have reported rising deployment and activity of UPDF soldiers to guard CNOOC’s installations. If seen near the lake, villagers have been beaten or apprehended. Military forces have also arbitrarily seized several fishing boats from the community without notice or explanation.
Project-affected community members say the promise of development and prosperity the project was meant to bring, brought false hope, as one community member told the coalition.
“They came promising us heaven and earth, but they have delivered nothing. Now, they harass us for the oil they found here,” a member of the Kingfisher community speaking anonymously for fear of their and the community’s safety explains.
He adds that the affected community have aired their concerns regarding recent developments but this has only led to further reprisals on the impoverished community robbed of their primary means of survival.
“Our people endure beatings, arrests and burnt boats. How can we survive? Our businesses collapsed during Covid. As we try to recover, CNOOC’s operations destroy our only hope…they must learn to respect the people they found here.”
Numerous grievances have marred the development of the Kingfisher oil fields since its inception. According to estimates by the government, over 700 people have been forcefully displaced from their land, with many of them remaining landless to this day due to inadequate compensation.
The project has also caused significant environmental harm, including the heavy pollution of water sources used by communities for their households and livestock.
Around the shores of Lake Albert, project-associated military deployments have created an environment of intimidation and threats. But the recent targeting of fishing apparatus – upon which the local populations rely for their primary means of livelihood – threatens the communities’ most basic ability to survive.
“As the leading project proponent in the Kingfisher oil development area, CNOOC has a responsibility to call for the end of the use of excessive forces by the Ugandan government in annihilating the only source of livelihood of the local project-affected fisher families. The extreme violations run counter to China’s state commitment to the security and prosperity for the local population when CNOOC began the project”, said Wawa Wang director of Just Finance International.
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