Both hope and trepidation have been sparked since the 2006 discovery of oil in western Uganda. While billions of dollars of wealth sits beneath the earth, representing potential development for the entire country, a host of complications has arisen in the years since, as bids and contracts for exploration and extraction have unfolded.
The most contentious issue is land as many Ugandans do not hold official titles, leaving them vulnerable to cursory land claims and grabs. Other challenges include gathering and implementing local input into development plans and ensuring protection of the environment. Such factors are underpinned by governance— a crucial hurdle given that Uganda ranks 142 out of 175 countries for corruption according to a Transparency International index.
Though production has yet to even start, it is clear that the emergence of the industry in Uganda is far reaching—politically, economically, and socially—from the communities in the oil rich areas to the global outlook on the resource.
A map shows changes that will come with the construction of an oil refinery. Thousands of people will be displaced to make room for the refinery and ancillary facilities, with some families already having collected compensation and relocating. Though many recipients have invested the funds in small businesses and new homes, others have spent it on alcohol or by marrying additional wives, causing familial instability. Burido, a local organization, has stepped in to advise compensated people on financial management.
A newspaper article displays a map highlighting the location of a proposed oil waste plant. The plans for the facility faced scrutiny following the forced eviction of over 1000 people from Rwamutonga village in August 2014. Police raided the community without warning and homes were burned down while residents fled. The investor, McAlester Energy (a U.S. company), has since pulled out of the project.
Families evicted from their land have temporarily resettled on a neighbor’s plot. Most of the displaced were farmers, raising maize and cassava among other staples. Since there is no agricultural land for them to cultivate, most have lost their primary source of income. Julia Mbatazu, age 39 said, “Oil will not bring development, oil will only hurt us. Now we have no place to dig.” So far, the displaced have not received compensation and they are currently in court, hoping to obtain titles which would allow them to return to their original land.
A woman cooks on the grounds of the makeshift camp. Food security is the primary challenge with people relying solely on donations from aid groups. Some of the displaced are forced to eat only one meal a day in order to conserve their food supply. Another concern is access to education; without income, many families are unable to afford school fees for their children’s books and uniforms.
The government funded a tarmac road which goes through Hoima, a town in western Uganda. Hoima is becoming the center of the oil sector and hotels and banks are also under construction to support the industry.
The three primary companies involved with the development of the oil sector in Uganda are Tullow (UK), Total (France), and CNOOC (China). In order to help oil affected communities, Tullow finances an agricultural microfinance program where they disperse loans of about $600. Recipients are given six months to pay back the loan plus interest. The company has also funded a health center though it is not yet fully functional.
A view of Murchison Falls National Park which juts up against Lake Albert. Oil was found within the park and under the lake. Buliisa district chairperson Fred Okumu acknowledges that although development in the area may bring economic benefits, he is “not blindly optimistic.”
A swath of land surrounding oil well Nsoga 1 has been cleared and fenced off. The well lies inside the national park, which raises a number of concerns in regard to the safeguarding of biodiversity and water, and with having a contingency plan in place in the event of a spill.
Katie Moore was a 2015 fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation’s African Great Lakes Reporting Initiative.