Preying on the Albertine: A spotlight over Total E&P operations in Uganda’s oil region

Preying  on the Albertine: A spotlight over Total E&P operations  in Uganda’s oil region

Preying on the Albertine: A spotlight over Total E&P operations in Uganda’s oil region

Allan Kalangi and Julius Kyamanywa

Uganda is on a quest of becoming an oil producing country in the coming few years following the discovery of huge commercially viable quantities of crude oil in the western part of the country in 2006. This quest has however, been marred by allegations of human rights abuses and questions associated with extracting fossil fuel in an ecologically sensitive place that hosts a Ramsar site[1] and is home to rare flora and fauna. Controversies continue to surround the procedure followed in acquiring land from the oil host communities by the companies contracted by the government to establish oil related infrastructure.

Oil was first discovered in Uganda in the 1920s during the time of the British colonial rule and thereafter-intermittent exploration ventures ensued until the 1990s when the government took steadfast steps in the direction of commercial oil exploration.[2]  By 2016, 6.5 billion barrels of crude oil had been confirmed in the Albertine graben according to Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.[3] Out of the 6.5 billion barrels, 1.4 billion barrels of crude oil had been confirmed as recoverable. However this represents only 40 % of Uganda’s total oil resource.  At the end of the exploration exercise, Uganda is estimated to have about 3.5 barrels of recoverable crude oil, setting the country on a path to becoming one of the top oil producers in Africa.[4]

In August 2016, Uganda entered into the development phase of the petroleum value chain by awarding eight production licenses to multinational companies which include Total E&P, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Tullow Oil.[5]  The three companies are referred to as Joint Venture Partners (JV Partners) by the Government of Uganda.[6] Total E&P Uganda is a subsidiary of Total S.A, the multinational oil, gas, and petrochemical conglomerate headquartered in Paris, France.[7] Tullow Oil plc is a multinational oil and gas exploration company founded in Tullow, Ireland with its headquarters in London, United Kingdom. Tullow Oil has interests in over 150 licences across 25 countries with 67 producing fields. Its largest activities are in Africa and the Atlantic Margins.[8]

Total E&P and Tullow Oil were further contracted by the Government of Uganda to construct an oil processing facility (CPF) in Ngwedo Sub-County in Buliisa District. The CPF is an infrastructure used to process crude oil, which is received directly from the oil wells, by removing impurities and water and separating the produced gas from the crude.[9]

While the government of Uganda and the oil companies maintain that they are dedicated to ensuring that oil activities do not impact negatively on human rights and the environment, reports have continued to emerge that put cracks in these commitments. One such report launched by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in 2014 entitled, “Oil in Uganda; Emerging Human Rights Issues” highlights land grabbing, environmental degradation, withholding of vital information from the public and improper disposal of the oil waste materials as some of the main examples for human right abuses in the oil region of Uganda.[10]

The aim of this article is to put forth an analysis of how Total E&P and Tullow Oil operations in Uganda, specifically in regard to their large contract to construct the oil Central Processing Facility (CPF) in Buliisa District, are impacting on the lives and rights of the host communities. Total is the lead partner in the Tilenga project[11] and the article therefore focuses more on its activities than its partner (Tullow Oil).

Total posters warning local residents on compensation cut off dates. Photo credit: NAPE


Total and Tullow Oil in their code-named Tilenga Project are to construct the CPF with capacity to process 190,000 barrels of oil per day. The Tilenga project is also planned to have 250 kilometres flow lines, which will transport crude oil within the oil fields and a 110 km feeder pipeline which will transport the processed crude oil from the CPF in Buliisa to the export hub and refinery in Kabaale in Hoima District.[12] The yet to be constructed oil refinery has led to the displacement of over 7,000 people that once lived on the 29 square kilometers of land in Buseruka Sub-County that have been earmarked for the facility and related infrastructure.[13]

The CPF, which will be in a yet to be developed industrial area with operation camps, yards and access roads, requires 310 hectares of land.  This land has been identified and earmarked in Ngwedo Sub-County in Buliisa District.[14]

The JV Partners (excluding CNOOC in this particular case) which started preliminary work on the CPF in 2017 have however, been accused by the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) of intentions to take over their land without adequate compensation. The companies have also been accused of delaying to reach a quick agreement with the PAPs, which was causing undue anxiety and adversely affecting economic activities, in particular agriculture.

In the process of acquiring land for the CPF infrastructure, Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) working together with Total E&P and Tullow Oil embarked on carrying out the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) in 2017.[15] The general objective of the RAP is to lay down a framework for managing the loss of economic activities and livelihoods or resettlement. The RAP defines the minimum standards for compensation and resettlement.

Surveys of land, structures, crops and census of PAPs were conducted in Ngwedo Sub-County, Buliisa District in 2017 by Total E&P Uganda and Tullow Oil Uganda Limited through their consultants Atacama consulting, Synergy Consulting and Nomad consulting. Atacama Consulting is an environmental consultancy firm based in Uganda and was established in 2004.[16] Synergy Consulting is an independent financial advisory services company, providing services in the areas of investment advisory, project finance, financial analysis, financial modeling, mergers and acquisitions. They have offices in UK, France and South Africa.[17] Nomad Consulting is a South African based company that provides social-economic, community management and resettlement advisory services and implementation oversight.[18] After surveys on land, a cut-off date of May 16th, 2017 was announced to compensate the affected persons based on proper disclosure. [19] One year down the road, this had not been done successfully. On the contrary, the PAPs have complained of being sidelined in the process and being offered compensation rates far below their expectations.

PAPs outcry over low compensation rates and delayed compensation

In April, 2018, the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) carried out an investigation on how the operations of Total E&P were impacting on the lives and rights of the communities in Buliisa district affected by the Oil Central Processing Facility.

An exploratory research design was used in order to study perceptions of the local communities on hosting the oil CPF and their expectations vis-a-vis the government and Total E & P. Data were collected in one month (April, 2018) and 81 respondents participated in the research from Ngwedo, Kigwera Sub-Counties as well as Buliisa Town Council.

Voices of project affected communities

Documents obtained from the office of the Buliisa District Chairman indicate that the whole oil processing facility in Buliisa District is affecting land on which a total number of 811 people live.  All the PAPs interviewed voiced concerns that the delay in settling their land claims was impacting negatively on their home food security and other means of earning a livelihood.

Ms. Joyce Bitamale, a mother of six, from Odukutu village said that as farmers, they could not predict how their future was to be with their land in dispute for a lengthy period of time. “We live in fear and anxiety ever what will become of our families if this thing of land is not resolved quickly. Total has put marks in our land and we are being told not to do anything substantial with our land yet no one is telling us when we shall receive our compensation and whether it will be enough to resettle us”, she said.

Mr. Aron Kiiza, one of the custodians of the Waluhoiza Sacred Natural Site is concerned that People’s land will be affected by the CPF. At the three villages that have been designated, 49 grave yards, eight sacred natural sites and 15 family shrines have been affected by the infrastructure, thus disturbing the peace of their resting ancestors. He explained that this will eventually impact on the Bagungu cultural fabric but also on traditional knowledge that will be lost completely. He said only a comprehensive process needed to be followed to settle that issue according to their cultural customs and guidelines.

The research findings indicate that the PAPS were still locked in horns with the joint venture partners and the government of Uganda over the compensation issue. While Total and the Government were insisting that UGX 3.5 million (about USD 1,000) was enough per acre of land, the PAPs were maintaining that what they were losing was more than just land but established livelihoods and history. They insisted on getting UGX 8 million (about USD 2,400) per acre of land in order to surrender it.

The chairman of Ngwendo Local Council 3 Mr. Gilbert Manange Kaliisa said that the money the affected residents were demanding was realistic based on the prevailing land rates in Buliisa District now.“Most of the project affected people prefer to relocate to upper Buliisa where there are less oil activities. In upper Buliisa an acre of land costs between UGX 6-8 million. So, challenges in getting alternative land are anticipated if the PAPS get just UGX 3.5 million,” he said.

RAP records indicate out of the 265 households eligible for compensation, 31 refused cash compensation and preferred to be physically resettled on an equivalent piece of land elsewhere. A lady who identified herself only as Christine opting for non-cash compensation said that she is wary about receiving cash compensation for her land as she fears that she might fail to get an equivalent piece at the rate that was being offered to her.“I have heard stories from the refinery affected residents in Buseruka sub-county (Hoima District) who got compensation money and spent it all before buying any other piece of land. Now their families are suffering. I wouldn’t want to take such chances. The problem is that I don’t know yet when I will be given this alternative piece of land,” Christine said.

Chairman Kaliisa said that the only people who have been compensated so far were those who had planted crops on other people’s land. He said that 70 people, claiming of less than UGX 500,000 (about USD 135) had been compensated. He said that an additional 20 land users with claims slightly over UGX. 500,000 had also been compensated. Some of the land users talked asking for anonymity said that the money they received was paid by ATACAMA Consulting, on behalf of Total and Tullow Oil.

Implications of delaying to settle claims of affected residents

While Total E&P prides itself at being committed to uplifting and upholding the rights of the people everywhere it works[20], what the oil company seems not to be considering is that taking over land of people with unsettled claims is a gross violation of their rights. Putting posters in the land and giving the occupants notice not to utilise it gainfully beyond a particular period of time can be interpreted as depriving them of the means to sustain their livelihoods. Information on the posters that were erected in the land earmarked for the CPF indicates that the final cutoff date for the area demarcated for the industrial area was May 16, 2017.

The cut-off date marks the day on which eligibility for resettlement and compensation is established and completed. After the cutoff date, any social and economic activities put up in the demarcated industrial area are no longer eligible for compensation or resettlement. In December 2017, the PAPS staged a demonstration and blocked Total staff from accessing their land for any works before the compensation was done[21].

The PAPS were later convinced by government and top oil company officials to be a little more patient and allow the survey works to continue in their land as negotiations over compensation packages continued.  But a year after the cutoff date was to take effect, no affected land owner had so far been compensated. This paints a grim picture of how the effected residents are surviving considering that the majority of them are engaged in growing crops like cassava, which take over 6 months to mature.

Mr. Richard Mugayo, a father of nine and one of the affected residents said that he is being hit hard by the prevailing conditions.“I have a big family and we have been told to desist from growing new crops on the land. If this situation continues, I don’t know how I shall survive together with my children. We are already facing a food crisis”

Mr. Simon Kinene, the Buliisa District Chairperson said that the CPF affected communities had genuine complaints. “The affected communities are wondering why even when the cutoff date was set for May 2017, they are not yet compensated. Their economic activities such as agriculture have come to a stand-still since Total has issued an order restraining them from using the land for long term projects”, Mr. Kinene said.

Mr. Kaliisa, the Ngwedo sub-county local council chairman said that some of the affected PAPs had acquired credit facilities from money lenders to take care of family requirements hoping for a fast compensation process and that the delay had made many of them desperate. “Some people had obtained funds from money lenders but meeting their obligations is becoming a big problem. They were not able to grow the cassava, which they usually sell for income and they are not getting compensation money. They are coming to my office expressing their distress but I too don’t have much I can do for them,” Mr. Kaliisa said. 

There was evidence that the joint venture companies have put in place mechanisms for interacting with the affected communities. They formed committees of PAPS in order to pass information to the affected residents.However, some of the committee members said that other than being used as conduits for passing on predetermined information to the communities, the committees didn’t serve any significant purpose. “We usually meet once in three months. In the meetings they (JV partners) give us some information about their plans which they want us to tell the rest of the community members. They usually don’t show any interest in our issues and we as committee members cannot make any binding decisions,” said one of the committee members, who requested not to have his name disclosed.

By the time the joint venture partners started interacting with the PAPs, civil society organizations had already started sensitization campaigns amongst the targeted communities on the opportunities and risks involved in hosting such a big industrial area. Mrs. Alice Kazimura of the Buliisa based Kakindo Integrated Women Development Association (KIWDA) said, “When we received news that an industrial area was to be established in Ngwedo and Kigwera sub-counties in Buliisa District, we immediately started sensitizing the masses about the implications to the environment and the communities. Experiences of the Oil Refinery Affected Residents in Hoima District were still fresh in our minds”   

Intimidation of PAPS and CSOs

After failing to get consent on the compensation rates by all the PAPS, Total and ATACAMA officials have now resorted to visiting individual PAPs at their homes where they use different means of persuasion to make them sign the property disclosure forms.

Mr. Kaliisa, the Chairman of Ngwedo Sub-county said that over 60 PAPs had been made to sign the disclosure forms in that way and that the number is increasing. “We are very much concerned that the oil companies have resorted to visiting individual members at their homes and making them sign compensation papers even when there has not been general consensus by all the PAPS on the compensation rates. This is not right,” he said.

Mr. Bashir Twesigye, a lawyer and the Executive Director of Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED), one of the NGOs operating in the oil region of Uganda, said that the manner in which the house to house disclosure is being done is against Uganda’s land acquisition laws and international standards.“The law provides that there should be free, prior and informed consent before such documents are signed by the affected persons. In this case, this is not happening because the PAPS have not generally agreed to the compensation rates. You can not rule out threats and intimidation in these house to house visits,” he said.  

Mr. Twesigye said that recently him together with other Civil Society Actors tried to visit the PAPS and discuss their concerns further but were blocked by the security personnel led by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC).  “The security personnel led by the RDC stopped us from having a meeting with the PAPS. The RDC never gave us any genuine reason for his actions but only claimed that the order had come from ‘above’[22] and that he could not go against it,” Mr. Twesigye said.

The PAPS seek the help of parliament and consider litigation measures

Under their umbrella group, the Bagungu Community Association (BACA), the local communities in Buliisa District are considering dragging Total and Tullow Oil to courts of law on claims of attempting to grab their land without due compensation. In February 2018, the association petitioned the Speaker of the Uganda Parliament imploring her to intervene in the current oil and gas exploration disputes in the district. Led by their Chairman, Dr. Enoch Bigirwa, the petitioners want parliament to prevail over Total E&P over what they term at disregard for the laws of Uganda in taking over their land. “We are ready to move further steps by taking these oil companies to court. They are trampling over our rights and we are not going to sit and just watch. Our land is our heritage and source of livelihoods”, explained Mr. Godwin Angalia, the General Secretary of BACA

The research could not reveal on how exactly parliament has been handling the petition of BACA.

The provisions of the Ugandan law on land ownership and acquisition

Article 26 of the Ugandan Constitution of 1995 (amended) provides that:

(1) Every person has a right to own property and;

(2) No person shall be compulsorily deprived of property or any interest in or right over property of any description except where the following conditions are satisfied (a) the taking of possession or acquisition is necessary for public use, (b) the compulsory taking of possession or acquisition of property is made under a law which makes provision for prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation, prior to the taking of possession or acquisition of the property.

It is these provisions of the mother law of Uganda that the CPF affected PAPS are indicating that they want to hinge on in their pursuit for justice. These provisions are further expounded in the Compensation Act.  

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights:

Uganda has been severally accused of not honouring international treaties that it is signatory to,[23] in this particular case, Uganda as a UN member country needs to closely refer to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011),[24] which provide for:

(a)  States’ existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms;

 (b)  The role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights;

 (c)  The need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached.

The oil companies including Total therefore have to work with the government of Uganda to ensure that remedies are put in place for the CPF affected residents. The remedies should include compensating the PAPs for time lost between when their claims were supposed to be cleared and when they were actually settled. This is because since the cut-off date was announced in 2017, the PAPS could not do any serious development work on their land. This would also be in line with Total’s Internal Human Rights Guide[25] which states that;  "Respecting Human Rights in our activities remains a key requirement for us, working as we do in over a hundred countries, against varied, often challenging, cultural and political backdrops. It is therefore natural that Human Rights are one of the foundations of the common values that underpin our Group's identity and our ethical commitments everywhere we operate. Respect for Human Rights must be an integral part of our day-today activities. It is everybody's concern. Your vigilance and personal involvement in this ethical approach are essential'.

In a report of the Resettlement Action Plan 1 (RAP1)[26] carried out by Atacama Consulting in association with Synergy Global on behalf of Total E&P and Tullow Oil (2017), the two oil companies claim that all the required international standards were followed.  “Legal due diligence of land was carried out to establish true ownership of the affected parcels of land, resolve any ownership and boundary disputes, and establish unclaimed land and absentee land lords,” part of the report reads.

The report says further that the compensation rates were approved by the Chief Government Valuer after thorough consultations with Buliisa District authorities. It blames land speculators for complicating the compensation process. Reports have been rife that people with knowledge about where the oil infrastructures are to be established usually rush there and acquire land sometimes fraudulently which they later attempt to sell to the oil companies at exorbitant prices.[27]

Are the PAPS Money hungry?

Mr. Jealous Mugisa Mulimba, the Chairperson of the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) said that it was hurting to note that on several occasions, officials from the Central Government and the oil companies had accused them of being money hungry. “None of us invited the oil companies to come to our land. None of us had put our land on the market. They came on their own and picked interest in our land. No one should therefore say that we have serious interest in money. Our interest is in getting enough money to enable us get alternative land where we can settle and lead meaningful lives again. Many of us would be happy if Total can compensate us for the time wasted and leave our land. We would not have any problem with that,” he said.

Mulimba said that when the oil companies ventured into their communities, the people were given limited options to choose from. “We were given only two options; cash compensation or relocation. Government and Total had already decided to take away our land even before we were consulted”, explained Mr. Mulimba.

Government’s move to amend land law

The Ugandan Government has tabled a bill before parliament aimed at amending article 26 of the Constitution which currently provides that a landowner is supposed to be adequately and timely compensated before land can be taken away for another purpose. The proposed amendment seeks to give the government power to compulsorily take over the land of anyone it is interested even when the land owner has not yet consented or been appropriately compensated.[28] Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), academicians and other sections of Ugandans have voiced concerns over this proposed land amendment saying that if passed, it will escalate the already acute land grabbing problem in Uganda. 

Mr. Frank Muramuzi, the NAPE Executive Director said it was bad timing for government to consider amending the land law. “Amidst allegations of companies contracted by government grabbing people’s land, it would not be in good faith for the same government to come up with a law aimed at taking over private land without agreeing amicably with the owners” Muramuzi said.

Ms. Alice Kazimura said that mention of changing the land law sends ripples of fear among the CPF affected residents. “Many have started saying that maybe the reason there have been delays in compensating them is because the government is waiting for parliament to pass the law which will not leave room for individuals to negotiate over their land if it gets earmarked for development projects,” Kazimura said. 

Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, the Executive Director of the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) said that the government of Uganda is currently short of money and it now wants to use legislation as an easy way of acquiring land from the citizens, which it can then use to bargain in Public Private Partnership (PPP) deals. “The Government of Uganda is now cash-strapped. It is now luring foreign companies with promises of free land. This is not a good trend because this land either falls under the category of protected land like forest reserves and national parks or it has to be wrestled out from the hands private citizens”, he said.

According to Bank of Uganda reports, Uganda had by 2017 accumulated external and domestic debts to the tune of USD 11.2 billion.[29] A report from the Parliamentary Committee on National Economy for 2016/2017 Financial year indicates that based on the current circumstances, Uganda might need some 94 years to clear its current debt.[30] The report put the stock of external debt for both public and private sector at 41.4 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Uganda’s GDP in 2017 was estimated at 27.6 billion[31] for a population of about 38 million people.   Mr. Kamugisha said that Uganda’s debt burden puts it at the mercy of big multinational companies. “There is no way Uganda can negotiate any good deal with these companies when they are aware that it is very broke and is relying on their money for investments,” he said.

Environmental concerns

As seen in the introductory part of this article, the whole of the Albertine region is an ecologically sensitive place. It is therefore important that before any oil activities are conducted, thorough Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are carried out in a participatory manner and be made readily available to different stakeholders. The JV partners embarked on doing the environmental and social impact assessment for the Project in 2015.[32] Total E & P General Manager in Uganda, Adewale Fayemi told the media in March, 2018, that compiling the ESIA report had been concluded and that it had been submitted to relevant government authorities for approval.[33]

A senior official of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) who preferred not to be named said that he was not sure of when the ESIA would be approved or whether JV partners would carry out specific EIAs for some sections of the project. He however, said that approvals would be made before the JV partners make a Final Investment Decision (FID) later in the year. The concern of many environmental activists in Uganda is on the methodology of doing these EIAs. The Environmental Impacts Assessment Regulations (1998)[34] allow a company wishing to undertake any project to develop Terms of Reference (ToRs) in consultation with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and then go ahead and carry out an EIA. This means, the consultants that develop the TORs and those that eventually carry out the EIA are hired and paid by the companies. NEMA usually, only comes into the frame to approve the completed EIA. Critics have said that a consultants hired by a certain companies to carry out EIAs on their behalf are less likely to come up with a report that is not favourable to the proposed business venture.

Mr. Chris Musiime, the Programmes Director of the African Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy said that, “I believe it is wrong for the companies to control the process and the money. Many consultants would find it hard to upset the companies that gave them work”. Mr. Musiime recommended that a government agency like NEMA should be the one to recruit and pay the consultants to do the EIAs. He said that to make matters worse, government agencies in Uganda did not have the requisite resources to monitor the compliance of the companies to the recommendations of the EIAs.


The circumstances prevailing in Buliisa at the time of writing this article present a picture of the government of Uganda and its partner companies failing or deliberately refusing to pick a leaf from lessons learned previous engagements with oil host communities. In the District of Hoima, similar consequences arose when the government moved to acquire 29 square kilometers of land to set it aside for the oil refinery. It is rather paradoxical that the process of acquiring land from the PAPS kicked off before the approval of the ESIA report. One is left wondering whether the issues being raised by the PAPS are captured in the assessment. Many people hoped that Total, which is financing and leading the construction of the CPF would be bound by its own principles and obligations and compel the government of Uganda to adhere to the international standards that guide such investments. In February, 2017, the French National Assembly adopted the “Duty of Vigilance Law” which compels all French Companies with over 5,000 employees to put in place mechanisms to curb human rights and environmental abuses everywhere they work in the world.[35] It is now time for the French Government to take keener interest in Total operations in Uganda and monitor compliance that law.

The Civil society in Uganda still see an open door for Total, Tullow Oil and the government of Uganda to resolve this matter before the affected communities suffer any more injustices.

Allan Kalangi is a Programme Manager at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) based in Kampala, Uganda.

Julius Kyamanywa is the Station Manager of the Uganda Community Green Radio based in Hoima, Uganda.


[1]  Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Wetland System is a ramsar site in Uganda’s oil rich Albertine Region.

[2] Directorate of Petroleum, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.

[3] Uganda Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development:

[4] Ibid

[5] Petroleum Authority of Uganda:

[6] Land Acquisition and Resettlement Frame work (LARF), 2016



[9] Petroleum Authority of Uganda:

[10] Oil in Uganda; Emerging Human Rights Issues:

[11] Total E& P Uganda:

[12] Petroleum Authority of Uganda:

[13] Business, Human Rights and Uganda’s Oil: Part 1: Uganda’s Oil Sector and potential Threats to Human Rights (2013):

[14]  Petroleum Authority of Uganda:

[15] Resettlement Action Plan 1:



[19] Resettlement Action Plan 1:

[20] Total Human Rights internal Guide

[21] Francis Mugerwa: The Daily Monitor;


[23] Foundation for Human Rights Initiative: Flouting international Law: assessing Uganda’s obligations to arrest Omar Al-Bashir:

[24] United Nations: Guiding Principles on business and Human Rights (2011)

[25] Total: Human Rights Internal Guide

[26] Resettlement Action Plan 1:

[27] Edward Ssekika: The Observer (July 2015):

[28] The Daily Monitor (2017):

[29] The observer (2017):

[30] The Daily Monitor (2017) :

[31] Global Finance: