Over the past year, during my work in western Uganda, I have had the opportunity to get to know Paolyel Onencan. Paolyel is the Executive Director of Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO). Paolyel and his BIRUDO colleagues are doing good work around Uganda’s oil and gas development in the Albertine Graben, by helping families get better deals on compensation from the oil companies (Total and China National Offshore Oil Company) working in the region. One of the most striking things I’ve seen from Paolyel and BIRUDO is an effective combination of advocacy and education that is helping pull the Government of Uganda and oil companies a bit closer to best practices in their compulsory acquisition of land.
BIRUDO’s advocacy work is about hearing from the families – from both women and men – that are displaced from their land by expropriation. BIRUDO listens to the stories of the people that are losing their land and homes. Then Paolyel and his team members tell these stories to the Government of Uganda and the oil companies. The stories are often about insufficient compensation and about their need to receive other land when they lose their land, their need to receive sufficient money to cover other losses and damages, and the need to have their livelihoods restored.
BIRUDO’s education work is aimed at all stakeholders – the families seeking new land, nearby families that have accepted only cash compensation from the companies, the other civil society organizations active in the area, the government, and the oil companies. The lessons being taught are about engagement and transparent, timely, and fair compensation called for by IFC Performance Standard 5 (IFC PS5).
IFC PS5 mandates that if displacement cannot be avoided, the risks to affected people should be mitigated through replacement land, compensation for other lost assets at replacement cost, resettlement support, and a range of other measures to, at a minimum, restore the livelihoods and living standards of affected persons. These measures are to be designed and implemented with appropriate disclosure of information, meaningful consultation, and informed participation of those affected.
The Performance Standards also call for a special focus on the rights and assets of women, including engagement and impact assessment that is aimed at their differences and the challenges facing them.
Paolyel and the BIRUDO team have also been educating the government and the oil companies on the value of CSOs, like BIRUDO, assisting with community capacity building, engagement, dialogue, and negotiations among affected families, the government, and the companies. Initially, the government and companies resisted this support, but it now seems there is a bigger role for BIRUDO to play. All the stakeholders are realizing that needed capacity building (such that affected families can meaningfully participate in the process), transparent and ongoing engagement, and real, good-faith negotiations are also best practices called for by IFC PS5.
The overall effect of BIRUDO’s work has been the prospect of better outcomes for displaced families. It is also pulling the government and the companies a bit closer to the best practices set out in IFC PS5 and elsewhere. The combination of advocacy and education has been important. The advocacy has helped to amplify the voices of the affected families, and it has created a seat at the table for both the families and BIRUDO. The education has been central to reminding the government and the companies about the IFC PS5 best practices that are supposed to govern their behavior. In combination, the advocacy and education has helped the families affected by the most recent compulsory land acquisition that is the cornerstone of the regional investment in oil exploration and production. It has also set the stage for better company performance on upcoming acquisitions.
CSOs in the Albertine Rift oil regions are well positioned to bring their unique combination of skills and expertise to the investment process. BIRUDO has helped chart the way. These civil society experts have the know-how and experience to help all the stakeholders (including women) and to assist the oil companies as they move closer to embracing the best investment practices that should be shaping all of their land acquisitions.