Uganda court orders demolition of homes to pave way for Tilenga project

Saturday May 18 2024

The Kingfisher Oil Field in Kikuube, Uganda. PHOTO | XINHUA


In a first that will likely trigger more landowners being thrown out, a Ugandan court this week disregarded an earlier application to stay execution and ordered a demolition of the home of Fred Balikenda, one of 42 people that a December 8, 2023 verdict said be evicted to make way for the Tilenga project.

Activists have criticised the act as yet another blot on Uganda’s oil projects whose key players are accused of manipulating the legal system to violate human rights of the project affected persons.

The upstream Tilenga project is a 190,000 barrels of oil per day oilfield operated by French oil giant TotalEnergies in the Lake Albert area, which has been mired in a dispute with local landowners seeking adequate compensation.

Read: TotalEnergies audits land in Uganda, Tanzania oil projects

The oil major, which is ramping up field development to meet government’s fast approaching 2025 target to produce the first barrels of oil, is acquiring the land on behalf of the Ministry of Energy for the country’s flagship upstream oil project.

Dissatisfied by the December 2023 ruling delivered by the Hoima High Court, Mr Balikenda and eight others appealed.


He also filed an application for a temporary stay of execution of the High Court ruling, pending the hearing of the appeal, but on May 13, 2024, his home was demolished after the Attorney General obtained a court order to raze the house.

“I feel betrayed by the very system that is supposed to protect my rights,” Mr Balikenda said. “This ruling has left me and my family homeless and without any means of recourse.”

Eron Kiiza, Mr Balikenda’s lawyer, says the actions of the acting assistant registrar of the High Court of Uganda at Hoima, which led to the demolition of his client’s home, are a mockery of justice.

“His worship made a gross misrepresentation and deliberate falsehoods that he relied on the written submission filed by Mr Balikenda and his lawyers despite the fact that we were never given any time to file such submission because the application was supposed to come up for mention,” he stated.

Compensation has been a thorny issue for Uganda’s oil projects, prompting activists to sue in France and at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to halt development of the upstream facilities and the export pipeline until owners are adequately compensated.

Read: EACJ to rule on lower chamber hearing oil pipeline case

Activists have targeted particularly Tilenga a $4 billion oilfield and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline that traverses sensitive ecosystems in western and central Uganda as well as Tanzania, affecting thousands of households, most of whom have been fully compensated and resettled.

The Petroleum Authority of Uganda – regulator of the oil and gas sector – says the CNOOC-operated Kingfisher project has fully compensation all persons affected by oilfield.

Tilenga is expected to drill a total of 400 wells on 31 locations in Buliisa and Nwoya Districts south and north of the Nile respectively, with a central processing facility at Kasenyi village, Ngwedo Sub County, in Buliisa District.

As Uganda and the oil majors race against time to have the first barrels of crude at Tanga Port of Tanzania ready for export, Energy Minister Ruth Nankabirwa says the government has had to invoke clauses for compulsory acquisition of land to navigate the challenge of absentee landowners and those rejecting compensation.

“This is a clear violation of his fundamental human right to adequate compensation before compulsory acquisition of his property,” says Dickens Kamugisha, Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego), which has sued Uganda and TotalEnergies in various courts.

“Such conduct is contrary to the Uganda Code of Judicial Conduct principles namely: integrity, propriety, competence and diligence. We demand immediate intervention to rectify this injustice,” he adds, citing the manner in which the Court disregarded the earlier granted stay of execution order.

Mr. Balikenda has been fighting TotalEnergies since 2022, when the company fenced off his land before compensation; although the French giant built a replacement house for him and his family, he rejected it claiming the oil company owed him more.