Kampala, 5 February 2024

On the evening of January 16, 2024, soldiers from the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) burned 15 fishing boats, fishing nets, and other important instruments vital to the livelihoods of local villagers in Uganda’s Kingfisher Development Area, where China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has long been developing oil and gas operations.

The boats and supplies supported up to 60 families through the traditional arrangement of African communal “ubuntu” sharing, according to the Civil Society Coalition for Sustainable Development, a group of Ugandan environmental and human rights civil society organizations. This unprecedented act of large-scale destruction ripped hundreds of villagers from their primary means of livelihood overnight, and signals an alarming escalation in the ongoing military deployment around the Kingfisher installations. 

Following the burning of fishing boats, around 19 villagers were arrested according to local testimonies, some of them for more than 48 hours beyond the legally mandated period.

As China’s largest investor in Uganda, the parastatal oil firm CNOOC has overseen oil operations in the Kingfisher area, along the shores of Lake Albert, since 2013. In the intervening decade, local communities have reported rising deployment and activity of UPDF soldiers to guard CNOOC’s installations. If seen near the lake, villagers have been beaten or apprehended. Military forces have also arbitrarily seized several fishing boats from the community without notice or explanation.

Project affected community members say the promise of development and prosperity the project was meant to bring, brought false hope, as one community member told the coalition. 

“They came promising us heaven and earth, but they have delivered nothing. Now, they harass us for the oil they found here,” members of the Kingfisher community speak anonymously for fear of their and the community’s safety explains that the affected community  have aired their concerns regarding recent developments but this has only led to further reprisals on the impoverished community robbed of their primary means of survival. 

“Our people endure beatings, arrests and burnt boats. How can we survive? Our businesses collapsed during Covid. As we try to recover, CNOOC’s operations destroy our only hope…they must learn to respect the people they found here.” 

Development on the Kingfisher oil fields has been marred by numerous grievances since inception. According to coalition estimates, over 700 people have been forcefully displaced from their land, with many of them remaining landless to this day due to inadequate compensation. The project has also caused significant environmental harm, including the heavy pollution of water sources used by communities for their households and livestock.

Around the shores of Lake Albert, project-associated military deployments have created an environment of intimidation and threats. But the recent targeting of fishing apparatus – upon which the local populations rely for their primary means of livelihood – threatens the communities’ most basic ability to survive.

“As the leading project proponent in the Kingfisher oil development area, CNOOC has a responsibility to call for the end of the use of excessive forces by the Ugandan government in annihilating the only source of livelihood of the local project-affected fisher families. The extreme violations run counter to China’s state commitment for the security and prosperity for the local population when CNOOC began the project”, said Wawa Wang director of Just Finance International.

Media Contacts:

Members of the Civil Society Coalition for Sustainable Development:

1. Environment Governance Institute (EGI)
2. Youth for Green Communities (YGC)
3. Strategic Response on Environmental Conservation (STREC)
4. Centre for Citizens Conserving Environment & Management (CECIC)
5. African Initiative on Food Security and Environment (AIFE)
6. The Women Support Initiative (TWOSI)
7. Women in Renewable Energy Initiative 
8. Center for Conservation and Ecoenergy Initiative (CCEI)
9. EACOP Host Community Network 
10. Africa Centre for Sustainable Alternatives (ACSA)
11. Women on Environment Mission 
12. Friends of Environment in Development (FED)
13. Center For Environment Research and Agricultural Innovation (CERAI)