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

Civil Society Coalition for Sustainable Development, a group of Ugandan environmental and human rights civil society organizations, said the boats and supplies supported over 60 families. Over 19 community members were arrested.

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.

The NGOs said 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 estimates by government, 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.