There is always joy and excitement when a country announces the discovery of oil in commercial quantities but in the case of Uganda, inhabitants living in and around the oil sites fear the new found wealth will negatively affect their livelihood.
Residents of Hoima town in the Hoima District of Uganda have accused the oil companies operating in the area of siphoning oil out of the town.
According to some of the residents, huge trucks belonging to an oil company, which travels through the town, has the inscription ‘milk’, but in actual fact contains oil.
Beatrice Rukanyanga, Focal Person, Kwatanisa Women’s Group Buseruka – Sub County told this paper that “people in the community are suspicious that these long trucks that pass through the town to the oil site contain oil.”
She attributed this misconception to inadequate information regarding the oil industry.
Even though the country has set 2016 as the actual date to start full production, residents of these communities have not been provided with this information.
It would be recalled that Kobina Nketsia, Omanhene of the Essikadu Traditional Area at a public forum in November 2011, said some fisher folks in the Western region had described Ghana’s oil find in that region as a curse.
According to him, the expectation of most people in the Western region had been replaced with resentment because they were yet to experience its benefits.
Hoima is a district in Western Uganda and like most other Ugandan districts, it is named after its main municipal centre, Hoima. Hoima District is bordered by Buliisa District which has also discovered oil in commercial quantities.
A visit to the town of Hoima revealed that though most people knew oil had been discovered in the area, they were not exactly sure how they could also benefit from the resource.
A few “bodaboda” (motor cycle transport operators) told this reporter that they knew little about what was going on at the oil site though they commute people to and from the site.
Ms Rukanyanga stated that “information dissemination to the locals is very poor. Even when information is being passed on, they are always on leaflets and handouts in the English language and most of the local communities cannot understand. They cannot really articulate what is being passed on to them.”
She was of the opinion that government needs to engage the local Community Based Organsiations (CBOs) to disseminate the right information in their local languages.
“We want information at the right time so that people can tailor their businesses towards the oil company’s requirements,” she added.
Fred Lukumu Buliisa District Chairman, also in an interview, said communities in and around the district are not the least excited about the oil discovery because they do not like to go through the same path as some oil producing countries in Africa who have not made the most out of the resource.
He stated that “the people are not adequately informed about the positive impact that this discovery can make in their lives, so what they only know is where there is oil, there can only be the Nigerian experience.
They do not like to talk about the positives, or where good practices have made people avoid the Nigerian experience.”
Mr. Lukumu emphasized that the environmental advocates in the district and leaders at his level are ill-equipped in terms of knowledge in the industry so they are unable to pass on information to the local people.
Abdu Katuntu, a lawyer and an opposition Member of Parliament for Bugweri, for his part, said the legal regime which governs oil in Uganda prescribes that the oil belongs to the state and not the local community where the resource is located.
“It is about the country so there is the need for local governments to handle the issue of information flow through national and radio programmes and sensitization programmers to enlighten people about the positive impacts of oil and gas,” he emphasised.
In her response, Cathy Adengo, Corporate Communications Manager, Tullow Uganda, said her company on a monthly basis holds community engagement sessions with communities in and around Hoima and Buliisa Districts where they take them through the progress of their operations and schedule drilling programmes.
“We meet on regular bases with the community through our 12 community liaison officers, who work back to back to ensure the communities, are involved in knowing what is going on.
They get to know all the critical information concerning our operations, and when we are planning to compensate them for using their lands based on district rates.” she added.
According to Ms Adengo, Buliisa alone is a district of over 200,000 people, therefore Tullow cannot speak to all of them at the same time so they use radio talk shows to inform the people.
Back From Esther Awuah, Kampala, Uganda