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Uganda: stopping flow of funds to bujagali dam

The Ugandan government began building the Bujagali dam on the River Nile in 2007, even though the project had previously been delayed for over ten years for many reasons, including exorbitant project costs and its predicted economic and environmental impacts. The project is financed by the World Bank (WB), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB). Both the banks and the Ugandan government have overlooked and even ignored their own safeguard policies.

frank-napeThe construction of the dam will destroy tracts of forest both inside and outside the gazetted Mbira Central Forest Reserve. It will also lead to major wetlands being drained in the Lake Victoria basin. This will affect the hydrology of the region, and impact many communities dependent on the lake and river in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. It will also affect the performance of other dams on the river Nile, and increase Uganda’s carbon footprint. Local communities complain that they are being forcibly resettled with inadequate compensation, which is pushing many of them into abject poverty.


Friends of the Earth Uganda/NAPE is determined to ensure that the findings and recommendations of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel and the African Development Bank’s independent review mechanism are effectively addressed. 


what happened In 2009

Friends of the Earth Uganda held meetings with the Bujagali dam developers, dam affected communities, civil society organizations, and the World Bank and the AfDB, to agree on mitigation, monitoring and evaluation measures. The group also analyzed international financial institution (IFI) and government policies and procedures relating to energy, and published a booklet on the subject, which was widely disseminated. 


Together with other European NGOs, including Counter Balance and Bankwatch, Friends of the Earth Uganda submitted a complaint to the European Investment Bank (EIB). 


The group also supported litigation cases for communities affected by the Bujagali Electricity Transmission Line, challenging the inadequate compensation offered by both the government and developers. As a result, Bujagali Electricity Limited (BEL) and the Ugandan government revised their compensation policies and procedures, and are now providing water tanks to affected communities. In addition, the Transmission Line (T-Line) affected communities have been promised power lines connecting electricity to their homes. BEL also held a meeting to update civil society and other stakeholders on progress in August 2009.


The government, the World Bank and the developer (Italian company Salini) promised to take note of their policies and procedures, including by involving civil society in the monitoring and evaluation of development projects. A disclosure policy was agreed by the World Bank and civil society in a consultative meeting held in June 2009 in Nairobi. 


The government also agreed to protect the Karagala and Itanda falls to reduce the overall environmental damage caused by the Bujagali dam, and to compensate for the cultural loss that will be brought about by the submergence of the Bujagali falls.


In September 2009, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Eng.Hilary Onek, acknowledged that the Bujagali dam project is one of the most expensive dam projects in the developing world. 


Friends of the Earth Uganda is also pushing for the use of alternative energy options in Uganda. The group met with members of parliament, government technocrats and civil society organizations to advocate for the development of alternative renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal. The World Bank (WB) and other donors have agreed to set aside funds to support geothermal exploration and solar energy development in Uganda.


what was learned

Government interests in large development projects can lead to a lack of objectivity, secrecy, intervention and even intimidation.


The Multi-stakeholder Environmental Monitoring Committee for Bujagali Hydro-power Project has been used to shield the Bujagali project from public scrutiny. Friends of the Earth Uganda experienced continual difficulty accessing relevant information including minutes of meetings. (In 2010, after the group had already decided to withdraw from this committee, they were deselected. Friends of the Earth Uganda understands that this is because of its continued critique of the Bujagali Dam project.)


There is an urgent need to build civil society capacity and that of affected communities to ensure meaningful engagement. Most communities miss out on adequate compensation, because they are not aware of their property rights and entitlements. Litigation cases against developers can be successful, but are expensive and bureaucratic.


What next

Friends of the Earth Uganda will focus on building dam and transmission-line affected communities’ knowledge about their property rights and entitlements. They will also support further litigation cases.


The group also plans to form a coalition or group able to challenge and engage government, developers and financiers involved in the Bujagali Dam on an on-going basis.


with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)


Photo: International Rivers

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