A group of Ugandan farmers led by four local and two French NGOs have sued Total Uganda, demanding proper compensation for their land.
The farmers told a court in the French Capital Paris that they were forced out of their land by Total Uganda, a subsidiary of the French Total SA, to give way for the 425-square-mile Tilenga project.
Under this project, Total Uganda, together with Chinese Firm CNOOC and Britain’s Tullow Oil are set to drill more than 400 wells across six oil fields and build a 1400km oil pipeline to Tanzania.
The farmers told court through the NGO plaintiffs that they were under-compensated with cash, or were forced to relocate to smaller and devalued plots of land.
Others claim they were intimidated by Total representatives flanked by armed Ugandan soldiers.
One e farmers Margaret Nyakato, a 50-year-old widow and mother of eight, when she and her relatives were approached for their 16 acres plot of land, they chose cash rather than land-for-land compensation.
She says they asked for Shs 20million an acre, but that “when a team of government ministers and gun-toting soldiers turned up weeks later,” they were intimidated into accepting about a quarter of that.
Nyakato now shares a rented house with Dorothy Mbabazi, another victim, and works in other farmers’ gardens.
Two of her children have dropped out of school and she cannot always afford medication for one of her sons who suffers from sickle cell anaemia.
Mbabazi, Nyakato’s friend on the other hand, accepted land for land compensation, but says from 2017, she was never showed where to relocate and had to rent a house nearby.
It wasn’t until May last year that Total officials finally took her to her new plot of land, which she says cannot be compared to the one she lost. It has no access to roads and basic services.
The two are part of over 50,000 farmers that have been directed affected by the Tilenga Project.
These, through their NGO representatives chose to drag the firm to a French Court, riding on a new “duty of vigilance” law in France which requires large corporations to develop vigilance plans and ensure responsible social and environmental practices within their subsidiaries and subcontractors
In the law suit, the farmers told court that the Total Uganda, and the subcontractor it hired, Atacama Consulting, forced farmers to sign compensation agreements under pressure or intimidation and deprived them of access to their land before compensation was received.
Total’s land acquisition resettlement framework specifies that the Ugandans should be compensated prior to having their land seized. But, the company argued, it is the responsibility of its subsidiary to implement those regulations.
“That is not enough under the new law,” Juliette Renaud, a senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth France, one of the plaintiffs told PRI.
The French legislation requires parent companies to establish procedures to regularly assess the actions of their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers.
The court session was attended by among Dominique Potier, a local MP and one of the drafters of the new law that came into effect in 2017.
He said he was interested to see how other European countries would respond to “this innovative form of French justice.”