John Muhangi, 34, a fisherman at Mbegu landing site set out to fish on December 23, 2017. He wanted fish for consumption and sale during the Christmas and New Year’s festive season.
Armed with four guns, a group of suspected Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) operatives moving in three engine boats surrounded him, and other Ugandan fishermen, who were fishing in Lake Albert waters.
After accusing them of fishing in DRC waters, the Congolese reportedly confiscated five engines, two fishing boats and three fishing nets, and took them to Jo landing site in Bunia District in Ituri province in eastern DRC.
The fishing gear reportedly belonged to Mr John Muhangi, a fisherman at Mbegu landing site; Mr Ochakire, a fisherman from Kijangi landing site; Mr Oyen Bot and one Aduba who are fishermen at Kaiso landing site. It took the intervention of the Hoima district security committee having a dialogue with Ituri provincial officers to release the impounded fishing gear.
Such confiscation is a regular occurrence on Lake Albert, where conflict is raging between Uganda and DRC over a shared water resource that is also endowed with oil deposits.
Stephen Bagonza, 43, set out to fish at Nsonga landing site in Hoima District on September 16, 2017.
At about 4am, he was one of the Ugandan fishermen who were surrounded by an armed group dressed in military uniforms similar to those of Congolese soldiers.
“They confiscated our fishing gear, mobile phones, boat engines and fish worth millions of shillings. We were left in tears,” says Bagonza, a father of three.
One, Omirambe, who attempted to resist was ordered to strip naked and was drowned, the Albertine regional police publicist Julius Hakiza said.
Lake Albert, which sits along the Uganda- DRC border has over the years been a centre of fights between Ugandan and Congolese nationals, resulting into abductions and killings.
“My brother, Jimmy Bagamba and my uncle Patrick Tumusiime were abducted on the lake (Albert). They spent more than nine months in DRC prisons,” says Immaculate Businge, a mother of three and resident of Kaiso village in Hoima District.
Their families lived in fear following the abduction by suspected Congolese soldiers.
Kaiso beach management unit members Jimmy Bagamba, Patrick Tumusiime, Richard Tinkamanyire; police constables Sylvester Opok and Stephen Kapere were patrolling the waters on May 26, 2013 when they were held over accusations that they were illegally sailing on DRC waters. The crew was kidnapped by suspected Congolese soldiers, who detained and moved them between Sabe, Bunya, Kisangani and Kinshasha military prisons.
“A month hardly passes minus (suspected) Congolese attacking and impounding fishing gear from our fishermen here,” says Patrick Tumusiime, who out of fear abandoned fishing after his kidnap. Tumusiime and his colleagues were lucky to survive.
Before releasing the impounded gear or suspects, it is common for Congolese nationals to demand for a ransom, says Mr John Stephen Ekoom the Hoima Resident District commissioner (RDC), who chairs the district security committee.
Ekoomu said security officials have registered increasing cases of piracy on Lake Albert.
“We have realised that other people have made it a business since our people pay a fee to recover their confiscated property,” Ekoom added.
Piracy and killings
Several cross-border meetings between Uganda and DRC officials have been held in attempt to resolve the piracy incidents. But the incidents keep reoccurring.
On May 21, 2016, armed men suspected to be DRC soldiers ambushed and shot dead four Ugandan Marine police on Lake Albert in Kibaale District, near the DRC border.
Sgt. Faruk Waiswa, Corporal Biral Opara, Constable Moses Ocen and Constable Bernard Isingoma were killed as they patrolled the Lake. A police speedboat and guns were confiscated by the attackers.
Uganda’s foreign affairs state Minister Mr Okello Oryem, who sent a protest note to the DRC embassy in Kampala after the incident, said Uganda had credible intelligence linking DRC’s FARDC forces to the incident.
“A repeat of these incidents may compel the Uganda authorities to take self-defence measures to protect its citizens,” Oryem’s May 23rd 2016 protest reads in part.
Lake Albert waters lack any physical boundary separating Uganda and DRC. Ugandan and DRC fishermen repeatedly accuse each other of disrespecting the border while fishing.
In August 2007, a Canadian Heritage oil engineer, Carl Nefdt, was shot dead, by suspected DRC soldiers, when a Heritage exploration barge was sailing on Lake Albert waters. Heritage, which also had an oil license on the DRC side of the lake but no permission to begin work, was accused by Kinshasa of using its Uganda operations to conduct seismic surveys in Congo.
The Albertine basin where Lake Albert is located is where Uganda’s licensed oil explorers have confirmed 6.5 billion barrels of crude oil. Tullow oil, Cnooc Uganda Ltd and Total E&P Uganda are developing the oil fields for Uganda’s commercial oil production by 2020.
To avoid a re-occurrence of attacks and suspicion by DRC agents, Uganda needs to manage the commercial oil production activities around Lake Albert in a manner that does not arise suspicion that some activities stray into the DRC territory.
Oil and water worries
Concerns over water security have increased following the discovery of commercially viable oil deposits in the Lake Albert basin. Some oil fields such as Kingfisher and Ngassa are beneath Lake Albert.
The drilling of Ngassa-2 oil well at Kaiso fishing village resulted into fishermen being restricted from fishing near the oil well, says Asuman Irumba,64, a fisherman and the Buseruka subcounty court chairman.
The wellhead is located at a site where communities would perform rituals to get blessings for better livelihoods, adds Irumba, the speaker of Abayaga clan in Buseruka Sub-county that manages the sacred site.
He claimed that an ancient sacred traditional temple called Ijumika hut was demolished June, 20, 2009 by unidentified people at a time when soldiers had been deployed to guard the oil well.
“We have since rebuilt it and regained access to our cultural site. We co-exist with the oil well” Irumba says.
Fears of polluting River Nile
Released in July 2017, a Preliminary Threat Analysis (PTA) of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) expressed a possible pollution of water resources by the 1,445 km long pipeline that will transport crude oil from Hoima district in Western Uganda to Tanga port on the coastline of North Eastern Tanzania.
Launched in November 2017, the pipeline construction is expected to start this year and end in 2020.
The study released by the worldwide fund for nature (WWF) and the civil society Coalition on oil and gas (CSCO) titled “Safeguarding People & nature in the East African Crude Oil (EACOP) Pipeline,” states that risk of fresh water pollution and degradation is estimated high especially in the over 400km of the Lake Victoria basin.
The Lake Victoria basin currently supports the direct livelihoods of more than 30 million people in the region, according to the study. The pipeline construction would require water, and if badly planned and used, this could leave wetlands dry of their water, researchers said.
The probability of oil spill combined with the magnitude of the river network and tributaries to the Lake Victoria could lead to disastrous consequences by pollution and contamination of water bodies, the research stated.
The study observed that the pipeline will cross Kagera River, the largest river flowing into Lake Victoria.
“The probability of leakage and spillage within the Lake Victoria watershed area is even greater given it is an active seismic area” the report stated.
Ms Gloria Sebikari, Uganda Petroleum Directorate’s Senior Communication officer says Uganda has set up laws, policies and mechanisms of preventing oil spills and water contamination.
She added that oil investors and other developers are required to apply for a water permit in the Directorate of water before extracting or using it.
The directorate takes into consideration water conservation, through enforcing reuse and recycling of water by developers in the oil industry in order to ensure sustainable utilisation of water.
All oil and gas projects are required to conduct Environmental Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) in order to identify the potential impacts of the project on the environment and social setting and propose appropriate solutions, Uganda’s Energy Minister Ms Irene Muloni says.
ESIAs are undertaken before the Final Investment Decision (FID) of a project.
She said oil and gas projects will require substantial water supply both at the construction and operation phases.
During commercial oil production, Muloni told parliament in September 2017 that the water demand at peak during the construction phase of the key projects is estimated at 75,000 cubic metres per day.
“The water is expected to be abstracted from Lake Albert. Water abstraction from Lake Albert requires not only the approval by Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), but also a non-objection from the Nile Basin Initiative. My Ministry will continue to engage the MWE to ensure that the necessary approvals are obtained in a timely manner and that water is supplied to support the construction and operation phases of the projects,” Ms Muloni said in her statement on the status of Uganda’s oil and gas sub sector.
What is clear is that colonial, diplomatic and economic interests of multiple states continue to inflame disputes on shared water resources.
Uganda is a very excellent and well-behaved neighbour, says Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) Spokesperson Brig Richard Karemire while commenting on Uganda-DRC relations.
“We don’t have intentions to abuse the territorial integrity of any of our neighbours, DRC inclusive,” he said. Commenting on Ugandans who are kidnapped on suspicion of fishing in DRC waters, Brig Karemire said Ugandan authorities have never sent them.
“We have the Uganda-DRC Joint permanent commission, where we have room to discuss such issues when they arise” said Brig Karemire.
The DRC Embassy in Uganda declined to comment on the disputes on shared water resources between Uganda and DRC despite phone and email requests from this writer.
“We are not allowed to discuss with the press. That is diplomatic protocol. Sorry I can’t help you,” said a senior diplomat who declined to be quoted due to the sensitivity of the matter.
On May 30, 2017, a Uganda delegation led by Mr Paul Mukumbya, the head of the EAC & Ring States Department met in DRC with DRC officials led by Amb. Jean Pierre Masala, Charge D’Affaires at DRC’s Embassy in Uganda.
A statement posted on the Ugandan embassy in DRC’s website, indicates that the meeting was meant to resolve lingering issues surrounding fishing in the Albertine region.
The statement quoted Mukumbya as saying the objective of the meeting was to agree on viable and sustainable solutions to various challenges identified by both countries. The challenges include illegal fishing, use of illegal fishing methods, confiscation of fishing gear by both sides, extortionist practices on both sides, attacks on fishermen and law enforcement officials, as well as reported incidences of piracy.
River Nile disputes
From Lake Victoria, river Nile meanders through many areas including through Lake Albert before proceeding to South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt before emptying its water in the Mediterranean Sea.
Egypt and Sudan authorities reportedly have pain over some hydropower construction activities along River Nile, the main source of water and livelihoods for the countries.
River Nile waters are shared by Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt and DRC.
Total E&P Uganda has already discovered the Rii-2 oil well near the Nile delta in Murchison Falls National Park, the company told this newspaper.
Reliable diplomatic sources say Egypt and Sudan are concerned about oil exploration activities, the construction of hydropower dams and other construction activities that increase abstraction of water from the river.
In 2010, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CPA), which introduced equitable water allocation for riparian states. The CPA was intended to promote integrated management, sustainable development, and harmonious utilisation of the water resources of the Basin.
Egypt and Sudan have refused to sign the CPA on grounds that such an agreement will reduce powers given to them by the colonial 1929 and 1959 agreements which they signed with Britain.
The 1929 Anglo-Egyptian treaty allocated Egypt 48 billion cubic metres and four billion cubic metres for Sudan out of the estimated annual average yield of 84 billion cubic metres. The agreement also gave Egypt veto powers over construction projects on River Nile or its tributaries in order to minimize interference with the water flow into the Nile.
The story was sourced with support from the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME).