Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ugandans Air Concerns About New Oil Industry


HOIMA, Uganda—Multinational oil companies are not likely to start tapping Uganda’s 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves until 2018, but community leaders already have begun to address concerns they have with Big Oil’s plans to set up operations in their communities.
This week, Lien De Brouckere, Global Rights director of natural resources and human rights, and I traveled to the Albertine Graben districts of Hoima and Bullisa in southwest Uganda to meet with leaders in the communities where oil companies Tullow and Total plan to set up their operations.
Despite the excitement about the potential economic benefits from a profitable oil industry, local leaders identified several concerns they have with oil companies drilling near their communities. Many community members feel that they are largely unaware how the oil industry operates and how the new Ugandan oil industry will affect them. There are also concerns about whether people will be properly compensated for their land and crops that they will have to abandon to make room for the the refinery and related infrastructure. Even if people are compensated monetarily, they lack the knowledge how to use the money to start a new life once they leave their homes. Other issues include the exclusion of groups such as women, the elderly, persons with disabilities and youth; the lack of skilled laborers who could actually work in the refinery; and challenges immigrants from other African countries encounter when claiming rights to the land around the planned oil refinery. 

Lien De Brouckere discusses concerns about the nascent Ugandan oil industry with local community leaders
About 65 percent of Ugandans live on less than $2 per day and only 8.5 percent of Ugandans have access to electricity, according to the latest World Bank statistics. Ugandans see their oil reserves as a way to alleviate these societal problems, but the country lacks the resources to build the infrastructure needed to extract and refine the oil. Consequently, the country has struck deals with multinational oil companies Tullow, Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), which have begun laying the groundwork for operations but won’t start drilling until 2018.
In addition to meeting with local leaders, Lien and I also met with government officials, civil society leaders at the national and local levels, representatives of oil companies, and religious and cultural leaders—all of whom have a vested interest in creating a profitable oil industry in Uganda.
From these discussions, it is clear that there is still a lot to do to create awareness within the communities on the pros and cons of the oil industry. This needs to be done in a collaborative, inclusive and non-confrontational manner, preferably at the village and parish levels. Another viable option is community-based dialogue that brings together all relevant parties—civil society, the Ugandan government, and oil companies—including marginalized groups such as women, people with disabilities, the elderly and youth. It is also vital that the media, in particular the local radio hosts, disseminate appropriate messaging to the wider community. In addition to radio broadcasts, we need to design informational material about the oil business and land laws to then distribute to the people whose lives the oil refinery will impact.
Next week, we travel back to Kampala, Uganda’s capital, to meet with central government officials, oil company officials, civil society organizations and national conflict-resolution consultants. Following these engagements, we will write a report to assess the situation and that will include our next steps and future program to address these issues.

Our meetings in Uganda are part of a five-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) aimed at building peace and mitigating conflict among ethnic groups over competing claims to land and oil. Global Rights is working in partnership with the National Center for State Courts and Search for Common Ground.

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