Some of the family and community members monitoring the graveyard.
The family of late Asuman Bamuduka in Kamutuuza village, Kyawagonya parish in Lwengo rural sub-county is in a dilemma and struggling to find a place to bury its deceased who have been dying since 2019.
New Plan Company Ltd, which was contracted by Total Uganda to map and evaluate the pipeline land, blocked them from using the burial grounds until the compensation process is concluded.
According to Sarah Nalugooti and her husband John Baptist Musoke, the caretakers of the 2-acre graveyard land, they have lost three people since 2019. She says that the compensation process has delayed and they have no money to buy another piece of land to relocate the remains of the deceased. At the moment, they just hire land elsewhere to bury the deceased temporarily on the condition that their remains will be shifted after the compensation.
Several graves have caved in and others damaged by the torrential rains leaving a heavy stench emitted from the decomposing bodies but Nalugooti laments that they have nothing to do about it. She adds that the company issued a strongly warning to the family not to rehabilitate the more than 60 graves or to bury more people on the land yet they have not compensated them.
She adds that the Buganda cultural norms do not encourage the transfer of remains of the deceased unlike in unavoidable circumstances. Nalugooti adds that transferring the remains, calls for different cultural ceremonies to be performed which is costly.
According to Musoke, New Plan officials counted less than 40 graves in the initial valuation exercise leaving out the unmarked graves of the Muslim family members. However, they protested until the graves were included in the compensation and transfer programme.
According to Bashir Twesigye, the Director- Civil Response on Environment and Development (CRED), denying families access to bury in the graveyard without compensating them is a violation of human rights. Twesigye explains that all people affected by the oil pipeline are suffering due to delayed compensation yet the majority do not have an idea on how much the compensation for their crops and assets will be.
However, Stella Amony, the Communications Officer- Total E&P Uganda, says they are trying to speed up the valuation of the residual land in the 10 affected districts so as to start the compensation process.
She noted that the valuation of residual land is expected to conclude next month. The graveyard is the biggest in the pipeline route in Lwengo and has been at the centre of controversy for over two years with the family members asking for prompt payment to transfer the remains of their loved ones.
In July 2019, a delegation of Total Uganda and New Plan led by Benoit Gilbert met the family members to address various concerns about their graveyard. Gilbert, said they will buy land elsewhere to relocate the remains to another place in addition to compensating for the 24 unmarked graves on the condition that they are found to contain remains.
He said that the relocation was to be done during the compensation process. There are at least 27 families whose graves and burial places were targeted by the project. These were registered for relocation and compensation.