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The roles and strategies of Civil Society Organizations working on oil and land rights issues in Western Uganda

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Title: The roles and strategies of Civil Society Organizations working on oil and land rights issues in Western Uganda
Author(s): Koskinen, Julia
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science
Degree program: Master's Programme in Geography
Specialisation: Human & Urban Geography and Spatial Planning
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
Abstract:
This Master’s Thesis examines how Ugandan civil society organizations (CSOs) have responded to land grabs and subsequent negative impacts on local communities that have taken place in the oil region of Albertine graben in Western Uganda and what their role is in the realization of the rights of local communities. Two international oil companies, Total and CNOOC, operate in the area. The companies have received a lot of critique on the negative impacts that oil development has had on local communities. The impacts of the oil development on local communities have been studied widely by academics and by CSOs while the responses and strategies of civil society organizations that work around the matter have been studied less. This thesis aims to shed more light on what is the role of civil society organizations in the land disputes in the Albertine graben. It can give development funders and other actors more insight on what is happening in the Albertine graben, and also help CSOs to understand their roles and how they can impact on the situation. The thesis is based on political ecology and looks at land grabbing from the theories of primitive accumulation and accumulation by dispossession. The theorization of the roles of civil society organizations is based on civil society studies. The method used in the study is semi-structured interview. Six Ugandan CSO representatives were interviewed for the study. Three of the interviewees were from local grassroot organizations and three were from national organizations that operate from Kampala. The data was analysed using thematic analysis. The findings of the study are threefold. The study found that the CSO representatives identified the same impacts of the oil development as previous studies and reports have identified. The negative impacts are mostly tied to land grabbing and exceed the positive impacts of oil development. The study also identified the most important strategies that the CSOs use in order to support the affected communities. The most frequently mentioned strategies include engaging companies and subcontractors; engaging government and local governments; facilitating discussion between companies/government and communities; capacity building, empowerment and sensitizing of local communities; training community volunteers; legal empowerment of the communities; legal aid; strategic litigation; and networking with other CSOs. Lastly, the study theorizes on the role of the CSOs in the matter based on the CSO representatives’ own views and on the strategies that they use. The roles of the CSOs are to empower communities; to act as mediators between the communities and government/companies; amplify community voices; hold companies/government accountable; ensure that the rights of project affected persons are respected; and balance power imbalances between communities and companies/government. These roles are in line with previous theorizations of the roles of civil society organizations in the society. A common factor in all of the land grabs and the following negative impacts of it is the power imbalance between the local communities and the companies/government. Companies and government are powerful because they support each other: while government gets investment from oil, the companies get legitimacy and freedoms to work in the area. This is why it is difficult for civil society actors to challenge the companies and hold them accountable. The local communities are normally poor and have low education levels and thus they are often not aware of their rights or how they could protect themselves against state and corporate abuses. CSOs often lack financial capacity, and as they are seen in a negative light by the government and by companies, it is difficult for CSOs to impact on them. Even though CSOs face a lot of difficulties, including security risks, they use many strategies to influence the situation, and try to fulfil their social, economic and political roles in the society.
Keyword(s): Albertine graben civil society organization land grabbing land rights large-scale land acquisition oil political ecology Uganda


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