Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It's Oil Again

ETHNIC clashes in Buliisa District in Western Uganda could have more to do with oil discoveries than grazing rights according to this report.

Contrary to the impression created that the Bagungu natives and the Balaalo pastoralists just woke up a few weeks ago and started feuding over rights to use land for either cultivation or grazing, the groups unknowingly represent bigger interests in Uganda's newly discovered oil. 25 square mile piece of land for which the duo is contesting ownership is part of a 55 km stretch of land that oil explorers have earmarked for exploitation.

The local MP Steven Biraahwa has confirmed that he was officially notified by the oil prospectors that the area under dispute is sitting on vast oil deposits.

We were told just 10 days ago that we have more oil," he said by telephone on Saturday, adding that he is sure that the Balaalo had been pushed by "rich men" in Kampala to occupy the Bagungu land for other reasons than pasture. "They have refused free grazing land. Why do they want [these] particular lands," he asked

The Bagungu and Balaalo are currently embroiled in a bitter contest over who enjoys full rights of land that is communally owned. The Bagungu have claimed that they want to cultivate cotton on the land which they say is rightfully theirs while the Balaalo say they bought the land.

Daily Monitor has accessed official maps of the oil fields which have been in the possession of Buliisa District authorities for quite some time. It has emerged that this information was also available to powerful "big shots" in Kampala who local politicians accuse of fronting the Balaalo pastoralists. The maps reveal drawings of seismic lines, used to identify and map oil and gas deposits prior to drilling, of the specific areas in Buliisa District that the explorers have earmarked with oil potential. The contested land in Waisoke and Bugana villages is in the middle of the exploration blocks.

According to a map released by the Petroleum Exploration and Production Department in March 2006, the contested land is within the 4,675sq km of land licensed to Tullow Oil for exploitation. Now with the prospect of oil, the contest over who enjoys legal rights (and stands to be handsomely paid off) is set to take a new dimension.
"After realising that the land we bought has oil deposits, the Bagungu have turned against us. They want to illegally repossess this land," said Benon Bangirana, a Mulaalo.
A highly placed source at the Buliisa District headquarters, said the conflicting parties want to obtain "exclusive ownership" over the resourceful land "so as to have a share on the petrol dollars...The issue of oil is paramount," he said, "Both sides have powerful backup but the issue of oil is very paramount."

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