Reconstituting the role of law in development-induced displacement and resettlement : lessons from Uganda's Bujagali hydroelectric project


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


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Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




Imagine that one morning you wake up and learn that the place you have called home for generations is no longer going to be home. Your house will be demolished and in its place, government or a private developer will construct a dam or put up a residential complex. You have no right to say no because government has eminent domain over your land (or a legal right to compulsorily acquire it in the public interest). Now imagine that the development will also result in the acquisition of the land on which you grow crops for subsistence and trade. It will close off access to the river where you fetch water for daily household use and catch fish for home consumption and for trade. In other words, this is the land where you live and where you obtain your means of living. Lastly, imagine that the project area also contains your social, cultural and spiritual being. It is where over time, you have built social capital consisting of relatives and friends: a community network that you can count on for daily survival. It is where your ancestors are buried, the religious and spiritual institutions you subscribe to are located and your cultural ties entrenched. This is no fiction. And it is not abstract. It is the everyday reality of the millions of people displaced by mega projects such as dams that are built in the name of development. There is a rich body of literature that explores the issue of development-induced displacement and its impact on communities. This thesis builds on that conversation by situating its analysis in law. Throughout the thesis, I trace the silences of law on the one hand and its aggressiveness on the other hand to determine the ways in which formal legal tools have enabled or disabled Project Affected Communities to secure their interests. I also explore how understanding dam projects from an investment perspective can further the understanding of the challenges faced by these communities when striving for inclusive laws and policies. Uganda’s Bujagali Hydroelectric Project is used as the case study for the analysis.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Faculty of