Oil and gas resources were discovered in Uganda in the 1920s. In 2006, commercially viable oil deposits were confirmed in the Albertine Graben following the extensive research that commenced in 1980s. Commercial production is in the process of getting started. The government of Uganda has entered into agreement with three international oil and gas companies including China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Total E&P and Tullow Oil. Current estimates indicate that the amount of oil discovered in the Albertine Graben and petroleum deposits for Uganda have risen from 3.5 Billion barrels to 6.5 Billion Barrels. Recoverable oil has also increased from 1.5 billion barrels to about 1.8 billion (Petroleum exploration & Production Department, 2014).
Parliament has passed new legislative pieces regarding oil and gas in Uganda. These are:
Exploration, Development and Production Act, 2013 and the Petroleum (Refining, Conversion, Transmission and Midstream Storage) Act 2013.
- The Public Finance Management Act, 2015 (provides guidance to sharing of oil and gas revenue).
- A number of regulations operationalizing the laws have also been passed
Uganda’s oil and gas sector has transitioned from the exploration and appraisal phase to the development phase in preparation for production of the petroleum resources discovered. Other operators are expected to join the sector when the selection of a lead investor for the development of a refinery and its attendant infrastructure in the country is completed. Sub-contractors and service providers will come into the country to support the development phase for oil fields, refinery and construction of pipeline and other facilities.
Oil companies through their corporate social responsibility initiatives are going ahead to improve Uganda’s quality of education. Schools both primary and tertiary have been constructed in communities most especially where oil activities have taken route. CNOOC and Tullow have been pronounced in offering not only local but also international scholarships. The same has also been for Total E&P where it has rewarded the best performing students in the region through scholarships at secondary school level.
Much as the above developments are taking shape, there are significant challenges that are still facing the oil and gas sector and these include limited engagement of different stakeholders on issues in the petroleum sector, need for more land where infrastructure will be set up thus displacement of vulnerable communities. Speculations about where different oil infrastructure is to be located have led to a rush for land in the Albertine region. The people around Kabwoya, Kiziranfumbi in Hoima district express issues of speculators that have started taking land from the indigenous people. They think that such people already have knowledge about the oil pipeline passage and so buy land in those particular areas to benefit more from the compensation anticipated out of the pipeline development. And this is particularly caused by the challenge of lack of timely and adequate information about the oil and gas sector operations.
Information and communication concerns; Government through her agencies such as the Petroleum Directorate are not divulging enough information about the pipeline and other petroleum developments in time. This has put the people living in these and nearby areas in a state of uncertainty and panic as regards to the petroleum developments such as the pipeline and other petro chemical related industries. The leaders in these areas including councilors and sub-county chairpersons say that they have so far been called for a number of meetings by Petroleum Directorate regarding the petroleum developments, but unfortunately when it comes to giving feedback to their complaints, it is limited. Lack of access to information regarding breeds misinformation, speculation and has an impact on how communities make decisions regarding development projects.
In October and November 2016, CSOs in Bunyoro embarked on community consultations and found out that communities continued to express worries regarding compensation for the land and properties developments therein. Picking examples from what happened in the neighboring sub-county of Buseruka, the community in Kiziranfumbi, Kyangwali, Buhimba, Ngwedo, Kigwera, Pakanyi in Hoima, Buliisa and Masindi Districts respectively were in great fear that they would also fall prey of the cases like low rates for compensation of their properties, delayed compensations and non-valuation of some of their properties. The communities neighboring the pipeline route were also afraid of getting low compensations since some have no land titles for their lands. This, they think would lead to lower payments for the lands that are not titled. Many are not engaged in productive activities on their land with the fear that any time the government would take the land with their crops after starting on the pipeline development. This has further increased on the livelihood uncertainties. In particular the women are concerned that, in their families, during property compensation, they are most likely going to be marginalized where money is given to the head of the family (man) who may not involve the women and children in planning for the compensation cash just like what happened in Kabaale.
More still, participation of citizens (women and men) in decision making processes including planning and monitoring of the impacts of oil and gas development is limited. This has particularly been raised by most district local government leaders in Buliisa, Hoima, Kibaale and Masindi who complained about their involvement in the oil and gas sector.
Environmental concerns: During the parish level dialogues held in November, 2016 by BAPENECO, a network of CSOs in Bunyoro sub region, it was discovered that the population expressed worry about the effects of oil developments on the environment. They argue that different petroleum developments have an impact on them. A case in point is the people who received compensation and mismanaged their money ended up encroaching on forested areas and wetlands in Kiziranfumbi and Buseruka sub counties along River Wambabya. This has led to environmental degradation and thus impacting on people’s livelihoods their livelihoods due to destruction of the vegetation and farming potentials. This they suppose will lead to untold suffering due to hunger out of limited food production. There is a fear of the increased destruction of the environment including trees and forests. This, they fear may be disastrous to the community as their environment may not be able to arrest the effects that may arise due to the pipeline development. River Wambabya, apart from supplying fresh water to communities for domestic use also provides water for the 3Wx3W Kabalega hydro power plant to generate electricity for Ugandans. It also pours its water to Lake Albert. This ecosystem has to be protected from encroachers.
The effects of oil compensation are enormous, a case in point, being displacement of 7118 people from their ancestral home and compensating 98% leaving out 2%. Also 83 families that opted for relocation are still waiting for their turn. And more so, when government was constructing houses, it constructed on 46houses leaving out the 37 families on grounds that they had no houses on their land. The 37 families have for several occasions protested the government decision saying government promised to construct houses for all the people who opted for relation. After getting information that government was planning to relocate their colleagues in Kyakaboga, the victims last month set up grass thatched houses in the same area .However, two weeks ago, unknown people set the grass thatched structures ablaze. Tumwebaze Bulandina, a mother of four and Christine Akurata mother of six and several other women are regretting why she opted for relocation. They are uncertain of where to shelter their children since government has refused to construct them house. The residents complain of isolation in an area that has now overgrown into a bush, lack of food, as they can’t grow anything since government stopped them from carrying out any development in the refinery land. They are also facing a challenge of lack of access to social services because access roads and pathways have died out. They also complain of wild and domestic animals like baboons and cows which destroying the small gardens they have. They said that their children are no longer going to school because all these school in the area such as Kyapaloni primary school, are no longer operating since majority of people left the area.
Local content concerns; people are have skills, talent but except this potential has not been fully taped. According to the UNBS, the youth are a majority of the population in Uganda, however, are un employed with estimates being at around 87%. In Bunyoro, since 2010, oil companies, government have provided scholarships to selected people to study oil and and gas related courses in Uganda and abroad. Also institutions such as the Kigumba Petroleum Institute, Ibanda Technical Institute in Hoima, Kyema Technical Institute in Masindi have been set up to train Ugandans on technical and practical skills which will feed into the workforce during the development phase of the oil and gas sector. However, there has not been documentation of skills, talents of the graduates to form a local talent register which can be used to speak to employers, investors and other development partners for the young men and women to be employed. Local governments and the Kingdom would have organized the local people to come up with a local register but they lack the resources to do so.
The 6 billion Uganda shillings “Presidential hand shake” In January, several leading News agencies in Uganda broke the story of the 6 billion Uganda shillings that was shared among 42 Ugandans who had demanded a reward for winning a cases against Heritage oil company and Tullow oil. Parliament of Uganda has since set up a committee to investigate this oil cash bonanza. This is all been brought about by secrecy around the oil and gas sector. And secrecy always hides acts of corruption.
With the above challenges, there is need to engage different stakeholders and discuss with them through conducting engagement meetings at all levels with communities, duty bearers such as leaders at sub county, district leaders, Uganda Land Commission officials, Ministry of Energy officials on the implementation of the oil and gas policy, development of the National Resettlement policy.
There is also need to hold engagements with the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, local leadership at district level to document issues on the readiness to utilize the oil royalties and also come up with a local talent register which will promote participation of different people in the oil and gas sector.
There is need for a systematic documentation of grievances related to the petroleum industry and putting in place mechanisms on how to handle and follow the grievances on a case by case basis.
Need for massive sensitization through community outreaches and radio talk shows to inform communities about land registration, land compensation due to petroleum activities and also more importantly land use planning and management.
I strongly believe that these and more interventions will shape public debate on oil and gas issues, influence different decisions at local and national level, improve on environmental performance thus address negative impacts of Oil and Gas development on nature, people and climate in Uganda.