Convinced or coerced? An appraisal of the observance of the right to free, prior and informed consent in the extractive industry in Uganda
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The right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is largely associated with the situation of indigenous persons and derives primarily from their right to self determination.1 It is enshrined in Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons (UNDRIP), which provides that “indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories, no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” The right to FPIC also means that indigenous persons must be informed about projects that may affect their land, resources and other rights in a timely manner, free of coercion and manipulation, and have the opportunity to approve or reject a project prior to the commencement of all activities Karamoja is one of the mineral rich regions of Uganda endowed with gold, limestone and marble among others but the exploitation of these minerals had until recently been impossible owing to insecurity and inaccessibility of the region. However, the disarmament of the Karimojong in 2010 has led to increased security and as a result investor interest in the region and in the extractive industry in particular has peaked.10 In addition, the Karimojong people have been forced to turn to alternative sources of livelihood and an estimated 18,000 men, women and children are now engaged in Artisanal and Small scale Mining. (ASM) The extractive industry involves the exploitation of natural resources and this has a direct impact on the rights of the Karimojong because as indigenous persons, their relationship with their lands and territories is profound and constitutes a fundamental part of their identity which is deeply rooted in their culture and history. Therefore, this research considers the situation of the Karimojong because they occupy a mineral rich area with a nascent extractive industry and increasing penetration by mining companies which potentially posess adverse effects to their livelihood if their rights as an indigenous group of people are not observed. Furthermore, Karamoja is one of the poorest parts of Uganda with over 61 % of an estimated 1.1 million people living below the poverty line as compared to the national average of 21.4 % in 2017. Moreover, dating back to colonial times and the early post-independence regimes, Karamoja was the neglected step-child among the regions of Uganda.Government policies intentionally refused to extend resources to the area and maintained it as a perpetual militarized zone. It is this history that has contributed to the retention of the identity of an indigenous community by the Karimojong. The government of Uganda has the ambitious plan of attaining middle-income status by the year 2020. This dream relies heavily on private-sector led growth as outlined in the Second National Development Plan and in Vision 2040. These two documents also envisage the heavy contribution to economic development of the extractive industries, especially with the discovery of oil in the Bunyoro sub-region. In both documents, the role of the government is to facilitate economic growth by making conditions more favourable for private investment In pursuit of the goal of economic development, the government appears to protect investors at all costs. Foreign investors courted by the state are assisted to establish their businesses in the most favourable conditions even if it means overriding the interests of ordinary citizens. For indigenous persons—particularly the Karimojong in this case—such a development approach poses an even greater risk to livelihoods chiefly because of their attachment to the land, the desire to maintain their cultures and a history of subjugation, discrimination and exclusion which renders them vulnerable in the face of the much stronger state machinery.