Ugandan Communities Resist Oil and Gas Extraction in Bunyoro Kingdom

The Bunyoro region, mid-western Uganda, is celebrated for its rich biodiversity, abundance of water, food growing areas, and places of ecological, cultural and spiritual importance known locally as Ihangiro, or Sacred Natural Sites and Territories. It is home to several national parks and the critical Lake Albert water system that provides water not only for communities and ecosystems in Uganda, but also for neighbouring countries Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.

A connection to local ecosystems runs deeply through the people of Bunyoro’s spiritual beliefs and customary governance systems. These prohibit activities such as ‘development’, mining and other extractive activities in the Ihangiro or Sacred Natural Sites and Territories. For generations this has ensured that these ecosystems have been protected. Today, however, the Ihangiro, ecosystems and their custodians face an unprecedented assault upon their vitality.

IMG_4279Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Minerals estimates that 3.5 billion barrels of oil and gas[1] lie beneath Bunyoro and the wider Albertine Graben region. The discovery of this oil field in 2006 has attracted multinational corporations including Tullow, Total, and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) to the region like moths to a flame. Following an agreement with the Ugandan Government in 2012, these companies have been granted access in principle to operate oil mining activities in the Albertine region of Uganda, though only CNOOC has a production license so far.

Exploration activities, such as the drilling of oil wells and associated noise and vibrations, are already disturbing breeding grounds and migratory patterns of wildlife and fish in Lake Albert.[2] Fishing, a major source of livelihood and food sovereignty, has since significantly declined in the area and community livelihoods and traditions are being disrupted. For example, fishing communities near oil wells in Kaiso and Sebagoro have had their access to Nsonga Ijumika Sacred Natural Site in the Kaiso area cut off, undermining their ability to carry out cultural and spiritual practices inherent to their identity.

Commercial extraction of oil and gas is expected to start by 2017[3] and threatens to increase destructive, widespread and long-term impacts on communities and ecosystems, especially Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, food sovereignty and water systems.[4]

Women are likely to be disproportionately affected by mining. The disruption of their close dependence on the local ecosystems that provide food and materials for the household and their central role in the protection of Sacred Natural Sites will undermine both their status and livelihoods.

 

Yes to Life, No to Mining – Story of Resistance

The emergence of oil mining as a real threat in Bunyoro region has elicited a strong response from a diverse and growing coalition of communities, civil society organisations, traditional institutions, lawyers, academics and policy makers. Supported by the National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), they are resolutely saying ‘No to Mining’.

Within this, a Coalition of Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites has formed to lead on specific initiatives to protect Sacred Natural Sites and numerous other avenues are being pursued to strengthen the Yes to Life, No to Mining message in Uganda.

NAPE are supporting communities to revive and practice unwritten law – the laws of the Earth (Earth Law) reflected in communities’ customary governance systems.[5] Through community dialogues and exchanges, communities are remembering and rebuilding governance systems that respect the laws of the Earth. The more connected communities are to their place and customs, the stronger they are able in being to resist threats such as mining.

You cannot protect people’s rights without protecting Nature’s rights. Human rights and Nature’s rights go hand in hand….Earth Law should be the basis of all laws. They are not written in books, but in peoples’ hearts.”

Frank Muramuzi, NAPE

 

To strengthen this work, a vocal alliance of advocates and lawyers is working with communities alongside NAPE to establish local Earth Law precedents, such as the rights of Lake Albert to exist, to a healthy habitat, to fulfil its role in the evolutionary process, and not to be polluted by mining and development activities. Such a precedent would be the first of its kind in Africa, contributing to a growing body of law globally that recognises Earth Law.[6]

NAPE are also raising public awareness of the threat of mining and highlighting the important role that communities and civil society play in preventing it.

IMG_4212In collaboration with international partner The Gaia Foundation, NAPE has conducted Participatory Video training with communities in the Bunyoro region. Equipped with cameras and know-how, the communities have developed a film that voices their concerns about the future impacts of mining and the forced relocations and injustices that have already occurred to facilitate mining.[7] Using social media the video has been shared across the world and is being used for internal advocacy by NAPE.

A Community Green Radio,[8] based in Hoima district in Uganda`s oil region and started by NAPE, provides a regular forum for oil affected communities and the coalition to discuss their concerns, strengthening solidarity and amplifying their voices to government and other stakeholders.

In addition, NAPE and The Gaia Foundation recently launched a Report: Mining and its impacts on Water, Food Sovereignty and Sacred Natural Sites and Territories[9]. Advocating for the recognition and protection of watersheds, food sovereignty areas, and Sacred Natural Sites and Territories as interconnected No Go Areas for mining and extractive activities, the launch of the report was widely covered in the Ugandan national media. It is being used by the coalition and international allies to educate policy and law makers on the true costs of oil and illuminate the policy and legal opportunities that exist to take a different, life affirming path, before the oil begins to flow.

The Coalition is growing in unity, strength, and confidence to say NO to mining.

 Follow the ‘Bunyoro’ tag for updates and information as the situation in Uganda unfolds

 

[1] The Albertine Rift region has an estimated 3.5 billion barrels of oil and gas deposits; http://www.petroleum.go.ug/page.php?k=curnews&id=56

[2] See also a Report by Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority; NEMA (2012) ‘The Environmental Monitoring Plan for the Albertine Graben 2012-2017’; available at: http://www.nemaug.org/Reports/Albertine_graben_monitoring_plan_2012_2017.pdf

[3] See the President of Uganda’s State of the Nation address: http://www.statehouse.go.ug/media/presidential-statements/2014/06/05/state-nation-address-he-yoweri-kaguta-museveni-president-re

[4] See the NAPE Uganda’s recent report: http://www.gaiafoundation.org/news/new-report-mining-and-its-impacts-on-water-food-sovereignty-and-sacred-natural-sites-and

[5] Listen to interviews on Ugandan UBC Television; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX7RJagOP0w&list=UU_ha2gucnnsCzxxUxCEzQRA&index=2 and TOP Television; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8MN8FzO9Y0&list=UU_ha2gucnnsCzxxUxCEzQRA&index=1

[6] See Earth Law precedents: http://www.gaiafoundation.org/earth-law-precedents

[7] See http://youtu.be/mbgV40fEKfg

[8] Frequency 89.0 FM. See http://nape.or.ug/nape-starts-a-community-radio-community-green-radio-in-hoima-2/

[9] See http://nape.or.ug/mining-and-its-impacts-report/

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