Blog / 27 February 2024

Partners fighting for rights within natural resource exploration in Uganda

A recent visit to Uganda highlighted the country as the latest example of ethical, environmental and human rights dilemmas brought forth by natural resource exploration.

Under the guise of economic prosperity and energy security, the future of Uganda’s forests, lakes, national parks, and by extension that of the people that depend on these resources, is increasingly endangered. Both ENDS partners in Uganda work with local communities to preserve these natural environments and the livelihoods that come from it.

Kikandwa Environmental Association (KEA), an organization that Both ENDS has worked with, for example, is a community based organization that addresses natural resource management. By mobilizing the community to plant trees, and training them on agroecological practices, KEA has improved food and nutrition security, reduced poverty, and improved soil fertility and biodiversity. Other Both ENDS’ partners we visited in Uganda such as SEATINI, similarly aim to protect Uganda’s natural resources and those using them by tackling unequal trade relations, and economic, social and cultural rights. For example, by addressing women’s right to land, or issues brought by GMO crops.

Displacing communities

Another partner we visited is actively advocating to halt sugar cane companies from cutting a forest that their community relies on for firewood, medicinal plants and income generating products such as honey. Expansion of pine forests for logging, or sugar cane plantations increasingly endanger these forests and displace communities reliant on them. Their successful lobbying has led to a delegation of EU ambassadors visiting the area in 2021 and pledging to secure the boundaries of the forest. This has to date not been done, something that we followed up on during our visit to the Dutch and EU embassies on this trip.

Discovery of oil

One of the newest menaces to Ugandan communities and environment is the discovery of oil, and the building of a pipeline by TotalEnergies to export this oil. EACOP will transport crude oil from the Albertine region in northwest Uganda to Tanga, a port in Tanzania from where it will be exported around the world. The oil drilling and the pipeline threatens biodiversity, water supply and fishing resources for millions of people and displaces thousands of households. It now already leads to human rights violations, especially targeted at activists speaking out against EACOP. Both ENDS is extremely concerned about the shrinking civil space in Uganda, and the safety of our partners and the local communities they work with.

A new Finance Risk Update, published recently in collaboration with Both ENDS also sets out the growing risks of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline to financiers, including banks, insurers and investors.

Traveling with two Both ENDS partners from Nigeria showed that oil exploration in Uganda risks (and in many cases already has) repeating the mistakes that led to widespread environmental devastation and social upheaval caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta. From land grabs and displacement, to pollution and health hazards, the negative impacts are already profound, with more sure to follow if nothing is done. Local communities, reliant on land for their livelihoods, have borne the brunt of these consequences. Jacob Iniodu, from the Kebetkache Women Development Centre in Nigeria, writes about the parrallels he saw during our trip between Uganda and the Niger delta risks here.

The quest for oil, and exploitation of other natural resources in Uganda underscores the broader dilemma facing the world: the urgent need for a transition to renewable energy sources that are developed together with, and benefit local communities. Uganda is a good candidate for many off-grid renewable energy solutions. Both ENDS partners such as AFIEGO work with their communities to promote these community led solutions already.

“They told us we would get rich, and we would get jobs but instead I lost my home and my land”

Creating change

It is clear that decision makers do not sufficiently take into account the environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and devastation that natural resource exploitation projects have at the local and national level. Through our trip we were able to see the important work that our partners in Uganda do, and bring their stories back to policy makers, investors and donors in the Netherlands. We follow up this trip with new collaborations with partners and new pressure we can put on decision makers.

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