Globetrotter Submission: Global News Dispatches: 5 Stories
- Bolivian Women Fight Prejudice to Be Accepted as Mechanics
- Barriers to Movement Are the Never-Ending Normal for Palestinians
- Treated Wastewater Is a Growing Source of Irrigation in Chiles Arid North
- The Bittersweet Sides of Ugandas Oil and Gas Development
- African Agro-Processors Call for Policies Conducive to Local Manufacturing
Bolivian Women Fight Prejudice to Be Accepted as Mechanics
In Bolivia, more and more women have gone from being homemakers or street vendors to joining the noisy world of engines, their hands now covered in grease after learning that special touch to make a car work. But they frequently have to put up with machismo or sexism, injustice, and mistrust of their skills with tools.
Automotive mechanics is traditionally associated with masculine men wearing oil-stained coveralls. In La Paz and other Bolivian cities over the years many auto repair shops have upgraded from precarious workshops on the street to modern facilities with high-tech equipment.
Vehicles have also transitioned from human-operated nut-and-gear systems to cars governed by electronics.
However, openness to women has not evolved in the same way in the profession, as it is unusual to find female mechanics.
Auto repair shops do not appear in studies on informal employment in Latin America by the International Labor Organization (ILO), although mechanic shops are very much present in the informal sector.
“At the age of five, I learned about fractions through tears. My father would ask me for a fork wrench (middle wrench, in Bolivia), but since I didn’t know which one it was, he would throw it at my head,” Miriam Poma Cabezas, a senior electromechanical technician, now 50 and divorced, told IPS.
Since that incident, a mixture of anecdote and forced apprenticeship, 45 years have passed, most of them dedicated to the profession of mechanics specializing in engines and now in the electronics of high-end vehicles, in a workshop of which she is co-owner in the city of El Alto, next to La Paz, the country’s political capital.
On a busy street in the La Paz neighborhood of Sopocachi, Ana Castillo uses complex techniques to dismantle rubber tires, identify the damage, and clean and apply chemicals to fix them. At 56, she is an expert in the trade.
She charges about $1.50 for each repaired tire, which involves exerting vigorous effort to loosen rusted lug nuts, in order to find the puncture in worn tires amidst the fine black dust that has darkened her hands for 20 years.
“God put me here and I love it because you have to use your strength. I would go crazy sitting still,” Castillo, who completed law school, though she never practiced law, tells IPS as she quickly operates a wrench that creaks as it loosens one of the nuts, stuck hard and moldy from water and dirt.
But she does not only repair tires. She is also a specialist in rebuilding classic cars, an activity for which she is becoming very well-known.
With a great deal of effort, Poma managed to set up her own high-level electromechanical repair shop, but before that, she had spent years working as an informal self-employed worker, not only in automotive mechanics.
For her part, Castillo complained about the municipal seizure of a piece of land where she wanted to build the mechanic shop of her dreams, together with her husband Mario Cardona. A court ruling granted them the right to use the land and a city council resolution upheld it, but they still have not been given back the land.
A Case Like So Many Others
The automotive mechanics sector is just one example of those in which the participation of Bolivian women is particularly difficult because they are seen as traditionally male professions and there is strong resistance to women breaking into the field, whether out of necessity or a sense of vocation.
The 2018 Annual Report of the UN Women agency, based on figures from the National Institute of Statistics, states that seven out of 10 women in Bolivia are economically active, work in informal conditions, and lack labor rights, which makes it difficult to specifically identify how many work as mechanics.
UN Women highlights that Bolivia “is the third country in the world, after Rwanda and Cuba, with the highest political participation of women”: 51 percent in the Chamber of Deputies and 44 percent in the Senate.
But this high female presence in politics in this South American country of 12.3 million inhabitants does not translate into a boost for women in other areas, particularly business and formal employment.
The president of the Chamber of Businesswomen of Bolivia (Camebol), Silvia Quevedo, told IPS that there is no “state incentive (for women’s participation) in any particular job” and encourages “women themselves to forge their own way, based on the quality of their work.”
Camebol emerged in the department of Santa Cruz, the most economically developed in the country, and has since spread to six of Bolivia’s nine regions. It has a thousand members and its purpose, together with strengthening its institutional framework, is to influence public policies to promote equal opportunities in business.
A study conducted by the ILO on Bolivian self-employed women workers in the informal sector shows that the department of La Paz accounts for 31.8 percent of this segment, with an average age of 45 years and eight years of schooling, below the 12 years of compulsory basic education.
In the city of La Paz, 75 percent of self-employed women work in commerce, 15 percent in manufacturing, and 8 percent in community services. In the other two largest cities in the country, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, the proportions are similar, according to the report.
Miriam Poma told IPS that she began to create her own source of employment at the age of 16, on the bustling commercial Huyustus Street in La Paz, where thousands of vendors sell all kinds of merchandise. She sold shoes and handbags.
But soon after, she decided to devote herself full time to repairing Volkswagen vehicles and ended up as head mechanical assistant to her father, Marcelino Poma, who competed in rally races until he was 70 years old.
Creativity to adapt at a young age to the opportunities of street commerce led Ana Castillo to sell pork sandwiches. She was 14 years old at the time, forced by the responsibility of caring for her two younger brothers after they had all been abandoned by their mother.
“I know how to make everything: sausages, pickles, sauces; I’m not afraid to start from scratch,” Castillo, who helped her two younger brothers earn degrees in business administration and social communication, told IPS enthusiastically.
In the formal economy, “foreign trade has a woman’s face,” said Quevedo, the president of Camebol, based on surveys of the participation of its members in export companies.
Quevedo is an economist with extensive knowledge in agriculture who specializes in exports.
In 2022, international sales of non-traditional products amounted to $9.7 billion, according to the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE), in a country with a GDP of $41 billion.
But there are still prejudices about women’s efficiency in men’s jobs, as the two women mechanics noted.
Poma said the customers in her father’s repair shop initially did not trust her to tune their engines and tried to keep her from working on their vehicles.
Her brother, Julio Poma, would say he had done the work, and only after the client expressed complete satisfaction would he reveal that the work was actually done by his sister.
Recently, Poma tried to pass on her knowledge to men in the field of motor electronics, but no one was interested in a female instructor who was also a racing driver in 2006. In order to attract students, she had to hire a foreign expert.
A study carried out by the Women’s Institute of La Paz, belonging to the city government, indicated the level of interest in learning gastronomy, computer technology, cell phone use, and education in small business finances.
Among the non-conventional trades, the respondents called for training in masonry, plumbing, and electricity, a spokesperson for the Institute told IPS. The Institute conducts training workshops for 1,450 low-income women heads of households between the ages of 25 and 70.
By Franz Chávez – IPS / Globetrotter
Barriers to Movement Are the Never-Ending Normal for Palestinians
Sundus Azza scans the news before she heads home, checking for signs that her 30-minute commute could turn into a four-hour-long slog. Any incident could make travel difficult.
Sometimes Azza waits for her father to call and tell her if the checkpoints around their home are open. After living in Hebron, a city in the West Bank, for 20 years, she is used to planning her day around unpredictability.
Obstacles to movement in the West Bank have increased since 2021, preventing Palestinians from accessing hospitals, urban centers, and agricultural areas. Restrictions and delays are the new normal.
In a recent review, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports an 8 percent increase in the overall recorded number of physical barriers, from 593 in 2020 to 645 in 2023. They range in scale from elaborate checkpoints guarded by military towers to a pile of rocks in the middle of the road.
The number of barriers has fluctuated. However, OCHA finds a notable 35 percent increase, especially in the number of constantly staffed checkpoints in strategic areas. Zone C, the area still under Israeli administrative and police control, is home to most roads and most obstacles to movement. It covers 60 percent of the West Bank.
Under international law, Israel must facilitate the free movement of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Cities’ entry points and main roads are often shut down without warning for arbitrary “security reasons.”
“The objective of the occupying forces is to make sure that they can isolate entire areas if security requires to do so,” Andrea De Domenico, the deputy head of OCHA’s office for the Occupied Palestinian Territory in Jerusalem, explains. “It’s always a little bit of an unknown—when you get out, you don’t know when you will be able to come back.”
As a result, most activities require extensive coordination- whether it’s getting a firetruck past checkpoints in time, filtering passengers off and on a bus during an ID check, or planning a trip to visit relatives.
Guarded Life in Hebron
The H2 area of Hebron is one of the most restricted in the West Bank. Facial recognition cameras, metal detectors, and detention and interrogation facilities fortify 77 checkpoints that separate the Israeli-controlled parts of the city.
To get to her house in the H2, Azza knows she must pass through at least two checkpoints. But planning is difficult. There aren’t specific times when the checkpoints will be open. If they are closed, there aren’t waiting areas. Azza says when that happens, she hopes there’s a nice guard—and that he speaks Arabic or English—and explains that she’s just trying to get home.
The checkpoint near Azza’s university was closed for three months following a stabbing incident in 2016. She remembers the streets being crowded with soldiers as she was walking during one chilly winter. Azza put her hands in her jacket pockets to warm them, 100 meters away, a guard she recognized yelled at her to remove her hands. Now, Azza says she is cautious about even buying a kitchen knife she may get in trouble for carrying home.
There are other challenges to navigating the historic Palestinian city littered with checkpoints. De Domenico tells stories of an elderly woman who stopped going out to avoid being harassed by soldiers. “If [Israeli] settlers are in the streets, they can attack me anytime they want,” Azza says.
De Domenico says Palestinians often don’t report incidents to the Israeli police for fear of having their permits taken away in retaliation. Besides, just getting to a police station in an Israeli settlement is a challenge. Because their cars are not permitted to drive through, Palestinians must walk behind Israeli cars sent to escort them.
When soldiers ask for her ID, Azza says they want her ID number, not her name: “They consider us as a number.”
Permits as Power
Permits control life across the occupied Palestinian territories.
Musaab, a university student in Nablus, submitted six permit applications for travel to receive cancer treatment. All were denied. He was finally forced to travel to Jordan twice, without his father, for care.
“This is so inhumane. How can this happen in any place in the world? Why are they blocking me from accompanying my son? I just want to hold his hand when he goes for surgery,” Musaab’s father told the World Health Organization (WHO).
Stories like Musaab’s are common as patients across the West Bank and Gaza are kept from seeking health care by permit restrictions. According to OCHA, in 2022, 15 percent of patients’ applications to visit Israeli health facilities in East Jerusalem were not approved in time for their appointments. 93 percent of ambulances were delayed because patients were required to transfer to Israeli-licensed vehicles.
The WHO reports that 160,000 physical restrictions in Zone C have led many communities to depend on mobile clinics funded by humanitarian aid. This year, OCHA’s humanitarian response plan was only 33 percent funded.
“[OCHA] warns that humanitarian needs are deepening because of restrictions of movements of Palestinians inside the West Bank. This undermines their access to livelihoods and essential services such as health care and education,” Florencia Soto Nino, associate spokesperson of the Secretary-General, told reporters.
Putting up Walls
Walls aggravate these humanitarian issues.
A now-65 percent constructed barrier runs along the border of the West Bank and inside the territory, often carving out Israeli settlements, dividing communities, and sometimes even literally running through houses.
To enter East Jerusalem, women under 50 and men under 55 with West Bank IDs are required to show permits from Israeli authorities. Even then, they can only use three of the 13 checkpoints.
Palestinian farmers have also been separated from their land- and livelihoods.
According to OCHA, many private farms have been trapped inside areas Israeli military forces established as “firing zones.” As a result, they are sometimes only accessible twice a year. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization reports that the region’s agricultural yield has been reduced by almost 70 percent because Palestinians have had to abandon their land.
The size of a farmer’s plot determines when and for how long it can be tended. Farmers must coordinate times when soldiers will open the gates that allow them onto their land. Harvest days are especially tricky. In some cases, De Domenico says, an agricultural permit is only given to the owner of the land and none of their laborers.
Meanwhile, De Domenico describes Gaza, a territory separated from Israel by a 12-meter-high wall, as a “gigantic prison” for 2.3 million Palestinians. Here, less physical obstacles are required to limit movement.
“It is the only place on the planet where, when a war starts… people cannot flee,” De Domenico said.
Living With Tension
Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations, expressed disappointment at the “paralysis of the international community” when it came to protecting Palestinian people from discrimination during a meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People at the end of August.
At the same time, OCHA is working to facilitate “humanitarian corridors to ensure that basic services are delivered,” De Domenico says. For instance, the office has helped teachers reach communities where students would have had to walk for miles.
De Domenico adds that reports can facilitate important discussions. Israeli authorities, who have contested materials OCHA produced in the past, have been invited to ride along while UN agents map new barriers.
Still, “there is always the potential of tension flying in the air,” even for UN agents, De Domenico says. “You constantly live with this tension.”
By Abigail Van Neely – IPS UN Bureau / Globetrotter
Treated Wastewater Is a Growing Source of Irrigation in Chile’s Arid North
The reuse of treated wastewater in vulnerable rural areas of Chile’s arid north is emerging as a new resource for the inhabitants of this long, narrow South American country.
The Coquimbo region, just south of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest in the world, is suffering from a severe drought that has lasted 15 years.
According to data from the Meteorological Directorate, a regional station located in the Andes Mountains measured 30.3 millimeters (mm) of rain per square meter in 2023 as of September 10, compared to 213 mm in all of 2022.
At another station, in the coastal area, during the same period in 2023, rainfall stood at 10.5 mm compared to the usual level of 83.2 mm.
Faced with this persistent level of drought, vulnerable rural localities in Coquimbo, mostly dedicated to small-scale agriculture, are emerging as a new example of solutions that can be replicated in the country to alleviate water shortages.
The aim is to not waste the water that runs down the drains but to accumulate it in tanks, treat it, and then use it to irrigate everything from alfalfa fields to native plants and trees in parks and streets in the localities involved. It is a response to drought and the expansion of the desert.
“We were able to implement five wastewater treatment projects and reuse 9.5 liters-per-second, which is, according to a comparative value, the consumption of 2,700 people for a year or the water used to irrigate 60 hectares of olive trees,” said Gerardo Díaz, sustainability manager of the non-governmental Fundación Chile.
These five projects, promoted by the Fundación Chile as part of its Water Scenarios 2030 initiative, are financed by the regional government of Coquimbo, which contributed the equivalent of $312,000. Of this total, 73 percent is dedicated to enabling reuse systems, for which plants in need of upgrading but not reconstruction have been selected.
The common objective of these projects, which together benefit some 6,500 people, is the reuse of wastewater for productive purposes, the replacement of drinking water, or the recharge of aquifers.
Díaz told IPS that the amount of reuse obtained is significant because previously this water was discharged into a stream, canal, or river where it was perhaps captured downstream.
A Successful Pilot Experience
In Coquimbo, which has a regional population of some 780,000 people, there are 71 water treatment plants, most of which use activated sludge and almost all of which are linked to the Rural Drinking Water Program (APR) of the state Hydraulic Works Directorate.
Activated sludge systems are biological wastewater treatment processes using microorganisms, which are very sensitive in their operation and maintenance and rural sectors do not have the capacity to maintain them.
“Most of these treatment plants are not operating or are operating inefficiently,” Diaz acknowledged.
But one of the plants, once reconditioned, has served as a model for others since 2018. Its creation allowed Dionisio Antiquera, a 52-year-old agricultural technician, to save his alfalfa crop.
“We have had a water deficit for years. This recycled water really helps us grow our crops on our eight hectares of land,” he said in the middle of his alfalfa field in Cerrillos de Tamaya, one of the Coquimbo municipalities that IPS toured for several days to observe five wastewater reuse projects.
He explained that using just reused water he was able to produce six normal alfalfa harvests per year with a yield per hectare of 100 25-kg bales.
“That’s 4,500 to 4,800 bales in the annual production season,” he said proudly.
These bales are easily sold in the region because they are cheaper than those of other farmers.
The water he uses comes from an APR plant that has 1,065 users, 650 of whom provide water, including Antiquera.
On one side of his alfalfa field is a plant that accumulates the sludge that is dehydrated in pools and drying courts, and on the other side, the water is chlorinated and runs into another pond in its natural state.
“This water works well for alfalfa. It is hard water that has about 1,400 parts per million of salt. Then it goes through a reverse osmosis process that removes the salt and the water is suitable for human consumption,” the farmer explained.
In Chile, treated wastewater is not considered freshwater or water that can be used directly by people, and its reuse is only indirect.
Antiquera sold half a hectare to the government to install the plant and in exchange uses the water obtained and contributes 20 percent to the local APR.
He recently extended his alfalfa field to another seven hectares, thanks to his success with treated water.
Flowers and Trees Also Benefit
In Villa Puclaro, in the Coquimbo municipality of Vicuña, Raúl Ángel Flores, 55, has an ornamental plant nursery.
“I’ve done really well. My nursery has grown with just [reused water]… I have more than 40,000 ornamental, fruit, native, and cactus plants. I deliver to retailers in Vicuña and Coquimbo,” a port city in the region, he told IPS.
The nursery is 850 square meters in size and has an accumulation pond and pumps to pump the water. He has now rented a 2,500-meter plot of land to expand it.
Flores explained to IPS that he manages the nursery together with his wife, Carolina Cáceres, and despite the fact that they have two daughters and a senior citizen in their care, “We make a living just selling the plants… I even hired an assistant,” he added.
In the southern hemisphere summer, he uses between 4,000 and 5,000 liters of water a day for irrigation.
“I have water to spare. Here it could be reused for anything,” he said.
Joining the project made it possible for Flores to make efficient use of water with a business model that in this case incorporates a fee for the water to the plant management, which is equivalent to 62 cents per cubic meter used.
Eliminating Odors, and Creating New Gardens
In the community of Huatulame, in the municipality of Monte Patria, Fundación Chile built an artificial surface wetland to put an end to the bad odors caused by effluents from a deficient waste-eater earthworm vermifilter treatment plant.
“This wetland has brought us peace because the odors have been eliminated. For the past year people have been able to walk along the banks of the old riverbed,” Deysy Cortés, 72, president of the APR, told IPS.
The municipality of Monte Patria is financing the repair of the plant with the equivalent of $100,000.
“The sprinklers will be changed, the filtering system will be replaced, and sawdust and worms will be added. It will be up and running in a couple of months,” explained agronomist Jorge Núñez, a consultant for Fundación Chile.
As in other renovated plants, safe infiltration of wastewater is ensured while the project simultaneously promotes the protection of nearby wells to provide water to the villagers.
Cortés warned of serious difficulties if no more rain falls in the rest of 2023, despite the relief provided by the plant for irrigation.
“I foresee a very difficult future if it doesn’t rain. We will go back to what we experienced in 2019 when in every house there were bottles filled with water and a little jug to bathe once a week,” she said.
During a recent crisis, the local APR paid $2,500 to bring in water from four 20,000-liter tanker trucks.
In Plan de Hornos, a town in the municipality of Illapel, irrigation technology was installed using reused water instead of drinking water to create a green space for the community to enjoy.
The project included water taps in people’s homes for residents to water trees and flowers.
Arnoldo Olivares, 59, is in charge of the plant, which has 160 members.
“I run both systems,” he told IPS. “I pour drinking water into the pond. After passing through the houses, the water goes into the drainage system, where there is a procedure to reclaim and treat it.”
“This water was lost before, and now we reuse it to irrigate the saplings. We used to work manually, [but] now it is automated. It’s a tremendous change, we’re really happy,” he said.
Antiquera the alfalfa farmer is happy with his success in Cerrillos de Tamaya, but warns that in his area 150 to 160 mm of rainfall per year is normal and so far only 25 mm have fallen in 2023.
“The water crisis forces us to find alternatives and to be 100 percent efficient. Not a drop of water can be wasted. They have forecast very high temperatures for the upcoming (southern hemisphere) summer, which means that plants will require more water in order to thrive,” he said.
Díaz, the sustainability manager of Fundación Chile, said the Coquimbo projects are fully replicable in other water-stressed areas of Chile if a collaborative model is used.
He noted that “in Chile, there is no law for the reuse of treated wastewater. There is only a gray water law that was passed years ago, but there are no regulations to implement it.”
He explained, however, that due to the drought, “rural localities today are already reusing wastewater or gray water. This is going to happen, with or without us, with or without a law. The need for water is so great that the communities are accepting the use of treated wastewater.”
The governor of Coquimbo, Krist Naranjo, argued that “a broader vision is needed to value water resources that are essential for life, especially in the context of global climate change.”
“We’re working on different initiatives with different executors, but the essential thing is to value the reuse of [grey water] recycling,” she told IPS from La Serena, the regional capital.
By Orlando Milesi – IPS / Globetrotter
The Bittersweet Sides of Uganda’s Oil and Gas Development
French oil and gas giant TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) are moving with pace in the development of oil and gas projects with a potential investment portfolio estimated at more than $15 billion. IPS looks at the project’s human rights record for the compensation of affected communities.
The development of oil and gas infrastructure in Uganda’s Albertine has been moving quickly since February 2022 when China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and France’s TotalEnergies signed the Final Investment Decision (FID).
It is anticipated that part of the 1.4 billion barrels of oil discovered in the Rift Valley region bordering DRC should be pumped out of the ground by the end of 2025.
TotalEnergies EP Uganda is working with CNOOC Uganda and Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) through a Joint Venture Partnership plan to invest more than $10 billion to develop upstream facilities alongside the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) that will transport oil produced from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania onwards to world markets.
Some Have Benefitted
The effect of the flow of so-called “petrodollars” to a region whose people have for ages begged for development is visible to those who have been to this area long before oil and gas were discovered there. From once-dirt roads to several newly constructed tarmacked roads, an international airport near completion, and new iron-roofed houses in some communities as compensation to the Project-Affected Persons (PAPs), as they are commonly referred to in the Districts of Hoima, Buliisa, Kikuube, and Nwoya.
“I think oil has impacted the Buliisa district greatly. Because I would not expect this road. Can you imagine a tarmac road has reached my home? It is because of oil. It was going to take us many years to get such good roads if the oil project had not kicked off,” says Mugaye Richard.
While there are serious environmental concerns related to the developments, the developers and the government are determined to proceed. Some residents, like Richard Mugaye, have benefited from compensation in cash or had new houses say they benefited way before the oil gets out of the ground.
“I’m expecting an even better life when oil production begins,” says Amina Lubyayi, a 38-year-old mother of seven who lives near the Buhuka flats, where China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s (CNOOC) Kingfisher development is located. The project will produce 40,000 barrels of crude oil per day during peak production.
Lubyayi is among those who had houses constructed for by CNOOC under the King Fisher resettlement action program in Buhuka flats.
“Our house was walled with mud and reeds. The mud would collapse whenever it rained. That is no more; I used to cook from a makeshift kitchen, but now I have a permanent one. We have light from solar, and we have a pit latrine, too,” Lubyayi told IPS.
Over 100 kilometers away from Kikuube to Buliisa district, 40-year-old Phinehas Owor-Mungu is planting fruit trees in the gardens of his newly acquired four-roomed stone-built house.
He told IPS that he was among the “lucky ones” whose land and developments were affected by TotalEnergies projects. “Because I and my family live in a much better house. I also got some cash in compensation for trees and crops and a disturbance allowance,” he explained.
“You see, sometimes, when you are eating well, your neighbors may be jealous. People have been compensated. Those who opted for cash got their cash, and we who opted for houses have had houses built for us. The roads here have improved, and people are getting employed. And then one says people are worse off?”
Down the road, 33-year-old Stephen Enach is busy placing a slab on a pit latrine to one of the houses that will soon be handed over to another person affected by the oil projects.
Jobs like Enach’s have become plentiful, and many young men and women are directly working with TotalEnergies or its subcontractors.
So far, 12,000 jobs have been created, according to Betty Namubiru, the Manager of National Content at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda.
“It is important to note that 94 percent of the 12,000 are Ugandans. We hope to hit 160,000 jobs when the construction of facilities is at its peak. And more Ugandans will have more opportunities,” Namubiru told IPS.
Fred Lukumu, the District chairperson, told IPS that while the Buliisa District is witnessing some of the benefits of oil and gas developments, there has been an outcry over the delay in compensating the PAPs.
“So many people have lost their lives before earning their compensation which they were entitled to because of the delay. There has also been an outcry that compensation rates have been generally low. Especially for land.”
He told IPS that land in Buliisa district was valued at 3.5 million shillings ($945) per acre, yet in the neighborhood, the cost of land there was almost double the cost.
Fred Balikenda is one of those who have refused to be relocated from their land before they are adequately compensated. He is a resident of Kigwera sub-county, where TotalEnergies is putting up several structures, including a central processing facility. While all his former village mates accepted compensation and moved to their resettlement houses, Balikenda told IPS that he was determined to die for his land.
“They came and fenced my land illegally. They were supposed to construct a house for me before I vacated. The road which I was using was closed,” he narrated. “A man will remain a man. I will stay here. If they don’t pay me 200 million shillings, I will not shift. They will kill me, and it will remain as history.”
Peter Lokeris, Minister of State for Minerals, is one of the government officers who has tried to resolve compensation-related complaints. He told IPS that the 200 million shillings ($540,000) that Balikenda was demanding was exorbitant. He told IPS that the government has faced challenges with “speculators” who he said have tended to hike the price of the land beyond the market rates.
“We shall have to repay the oil companies the money they have used to build houses and pay compensation. They are not free,” he said. “So, if we think that we will cheat the companies, the companies will cheat us. If we produce and there is no profit, we shall not earn anything as a country.”
In July, Human Rights Watch released a report, “Our Trust is Broken,” which documented what it described as “devastating impacts” on the livelihoods of Ugandan families from the land acquisition process.
“Critically, Human Rights Watch found that affected households are much worse off than before,” said the report.
“Most lands were initially evaluated in 2017-2019. Compensation was not received until three to five years later, in 2022 or 2023. Considerable hardship accrued from these delays that were also poorly communicated amidst confusion over the ability to access crops during this time,” the Human Rights Watch report said.
“EACOP has been a disaster for the tens of thousands who have lost the land that provided food for their families and an income to send their children to school and who received too little compensation from TotalEnergies,” said Felix Horne, senior environment researcher at Human Rights Watch. “EACOP is also a disaster for the planet, and the project should not be completed.”
Dickens Kamugisha, a lawyer and the Executive Director of the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), told IPS that some of the PAPS have waited for over five years without compensation.
“We have seen hundreds of Ugandans who are being displaced without fair and adequate compensation. The constitution says you must give those who are affected adequate and fair compensation.”
TotalEnergies says it would apply an uplift of additional financial compensation of 15 percent per year for the period between the valuation of the inventory and payment in Uganda to mitigate the impact on the communities.
“These measures were aimed at mitigating the effects of these delays on the PAPs in their daily lives. In practice, most people interviewed by Human Rights Watch only received 30 percent (two years of 15 percent) even though compensation delays, in many cases, were between three and five years. One man said: “This was grossly inadequate to make up for several years of diminished or no revenue from lost land.”
Another man said: “For three years, I did not access my coffee plants. Two kids dropped out of school. My revenue went from 4 million [USh] to 1 million [USh] a year. They gave me 30 percent.”
Patrick Jean Pouyanné, TotalEnergies’s Chief Executive Officer, has continued to dismiss reports like the one by Human Rights Watch.
“I can tell you that we always take care of community concerns. There are so many reports by third parties. Not by us because nobody believes in us. The fact is that you can have one or two people who may not be happy with the way they are relocated. But we are doing that in the best standards possible.”
However, Human Rights Watch said TotalEnergies’s practices on EACOP’s land acquisition process were inconsistent with its expressed commitment to uphold relevant international standards on land acquisition.
Why the Delay in Compensation?
Ernest Rubondo, the Executive Director at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, whose Authority regulates the Oil and Gas Sector, told IPS that the delay in compensation for EACOP, Tilenga, and Kingfisher developments was one of the challenges. However, he noted that no land can be utilized for the projects before full compensation.
He explained that the processes of land acquisition and compensation in Uganda are not short.
“First of all, you have to properly identify the land that you would like to acquire. Secondly, you have to confirm the number of people who are on the land. And that isn’t always easy because the land ownership systems in the country are quite different,” he said. “There are many people sitting in Canada and the US, but they have land here.”
Rubondo told IPS that in some instances, they found people occupying land but had no proof of ownership and did not know how much land they had, especially in the Albertine region, where land had not been titled right from the colonial period.
The Determination of Compensation Rates
According to Rubondo, the determination of compensation rates originated from the district where the land is located.
“The district has to propose the rate; the government Chief Government Valuer has to compare them with what happens in other districts and the other values. As you would expect, no one ever accepts that this is the right amount for ‘my land.’ So, you start going back and forth,” explained Rubondo.
He said once the rates are determined, they are communicated to the landowners who had options whether to receive cash compensation in exchange for land or have houses built for them.
“For those that opt for cash, you have to help them to open bank accounts; then you have to educate them on how to handle the money. Because NGOs are saying it is unfair to get these large amounts of money and put them in the hands of people who have never had such large sums of money,” added Rubondo. “You will never have all of them to agree. You put those who disagree in a certain bracket. So that process is not short.”
He noted that the value of the land identified for the project changes per year.
“The delays have been recognized. And these project-affected persons are being compensated for the delay at a rate of 15 percent per year. Thirty percent of the value of land compensation for disturbance is a disturbance allowance. And then they are given things like food to take them through the transition.”
However, Dickens Kamugisha told IPS that government officers tended to prioritize fast-tracking projects like EACOP regardless of the complaints by PAPs.
“It’s those officials who say that they have learned from the failures of those other oil producers, that they will not repeat those mistakes. But when you say the project must move on when you know that there are things you must address, what are you doing to your country? What are you doing to your citizens?” asked Kamugisha.
IPS received information from the Petroleum Authority about the status of compensation under the King Fisher Development Project (KFDP) operated by CNOOC, Tilenga Development, operated by TotalEnergies, and EACOP under a joint venture led by TotalEnergies.
Tilenga Project by TotalEnergies
The total land requirement for the Tilenga Project is approximately 2,901 acres. The land acquisition process for the Tilenga project stands at 97 percent, with approximately 5,412 out of 5,523 PAPs fully compensated, with 143 resettlement houses handed over, 15 are ready to be handed over, and 77 under construction.
The Kingfisher Development Project (KFDA) by CNOOC.
The acquisition of land for the KFDA was concluded at 100 percent. The total land requirement for the KFDA is approximately 1,020 acres with 727 Project Affected Persons. Sixty-five resettlement houses were constructed and handed over to the owners.
EACOP Compensation Ugandan Side
The total land taken for the EACOP project was estimated at 2,740 acres, housing four construction camps, heating stations, and the pipeline right of way (ROW). The compensation stood at 84 percent, with 3,062 out of 3,656 having received their compensation and a total of 177 resettlement houses handed over to the respective owners.
By Wambi Michael – IPS UN Bureau / Globetrotter
African Agro-Processors Call for Policies Conducive to Local Manufacturing
Experts at the Africa Food Systems Forum (AGRF) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, have called on African governments to make and review existing policies to protect the processing and agro-industrialization of locally produced agricultural products.
During the launch of the Deal Room, Mohammed Dewji, President of MeTL Group of Companies in Tanzania, observed that agriculture will remain meaningless without agri-processing.
“Tanzania produces cotton, and it is perhaps the third largest producer. How come it has only three textile firms? We are farming the cotton, ginning it, and exporting the same to China, where the final product is produced, dyed, and printed, and then it is sent back to us. Because of taxes involved at the local manufacturing level, we cannot compete,” he said.
“Unless we put in place correct policies that will favor local manufacturing, we will continue talking about cocoa from Ghana and chocolate from Switzerland,” he told delegates at the Deal Room.
The Deal Room is a matchmaking platform hosted at the AGRF, aiming to drive new business deals and commitments, where companies in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors can access finance, mentorship, and market entry solutions to support their growth objectives.
According to Wanjohi Ndagu, the Partner and Investment Director at Pearl Capital Partners Ltd based in Uganda, many African governments have policies that favor importation even when farmers in those countries have bumper harvests of the same product.
“We need policies that are able to protect farmers and local production,” he said.
Other than cocoa in Ghana and chocolate from Switzerland, countries like Ivory Coast and Nigeria are net exporters of natural rubber, which is processed and brought back to them as car tires, footwear, and rubber-based industrial goods.
Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ivory Coast are net exporters of cashew nuts but importers of roasted and processed cashew nuts, cashew butter, and other value-added cashew products.
Kenya is currently delving into the exportation of raw avocado, but the country has always imported particularly avocado cosmetic products.
However, all is not lost.
Rwanda was showcased as one of the success stories in Africa where, through favorable policies, the country has created a conducive environment attracting investment into the agro-processing sector.
“Our country’s Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation has enabled us to move the sector from subsistence to a knowledge-based, value-creating sector,” said Nelly Mukazayire, the Deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
To make work more accessible and attractive to investors, the country has created a one-stop center where investors in any given sector, including agro-processing, are given services right from the search for a business name, business registration, generation of unique identification of the registered business, the opening of the business bank account and issuance of relevant permits and licenses, and the entire process takes a maximum of eight hours for the business to become a legal entity.
In many other African countries, such processes can take more than four months and, in some cases, a year for a business to get proper registration, and this, according to the delegates at the AGRF, slows down the rate of investment.
“Investors in the agriculture sector in Rwanda also have an opportunity to get up to seven years of tax holiday and reduced corporate income taxes on exports,” said Mukazayire.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, the country launched what is today known as the Manufacture and Build to Recover Programme (MBRP), aiming to boost economic recovery efforts with specific incentives for the manufacturing, agro-processing, construction, and real estate development sectors.
Through MBRP, manufacturers with a capital of $1 million and above are given import duty exemption and Value Added Tax (VAT) exemption for imported construction materials unavailable in East Africa, VAT exemption for machinery and raw materials sourced domestically, and VAT exemption for construction materials sourced domestically.
However, the capital for agro-processing was capped at $100,000 to support the sector’s growth.
During the AGRF Deal Room event, Brent Malahay, the Chief Strategy Officer at the Equity Group, called on investors to take advantage of the bank’s “Africa recovery and resilience plan,” whose aim is to capacitate, finance and connect East African Community value chains to global supply chains.
“Through this plan, Equity Group will leverage off a region that gives access to critical raw materials, supports industrial capacity needs and an entrepreneurial and innovative local workforce, and the one that provides a sizable market that is increasingly becoming more integrated,” said Malahay.
During the event, Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), announced an investment of $4 million into VALUE4HER, AGRA’s Deal Room product, which is a continental initiative aimed at strengthening women’s agribusiness enterprises and enhancing voice and advocacy across Africa.
By Isaiah Esipisu – IPS UN Bureau / Globetrotter