Uganda is in a transition from oil and gas exploration to development phase. This presents both challenges and opportunities on nature and people in the Albertine Graben. Major infrastructural developments such as the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, the Central Processing Facilities, the refinery, feeder pipelines, critical oil roads, Hoima International Airport and sector related developments pose anxiety in communities, raise expectations and possible ecological footprint beyond human capacity to manage. The capacity of the local governments and CSOs to respond to the apparent and potential challenges is critical if mitigation and limitation of the negative impacts of Oil and Gas development on nature and people is to be meaningfully realized.
Whereas there are active oil and gas activities particularly in Hoima and Buliisa districts, experience demonstrates that the participation of citizens (women and men) in these processes is still low and requires more investment. If we want to be on the right path, we neeed to think critically to see that the community level of influence in oil and gas sector decision making processes is enhanced. Yes, it is true that Oil Companies have done sensitization, have contributed to CSR, carried out Social and Environmental studies and so on, however, I feel that the level of engagement for the communities to demand and influence certain decisions is still low. Also Local Governments in Hoima and Buliisa have not yet got the capacity to negotiate on their own about a plan or decision in the Oil and Gas sector. Oil and gas activities and operations are still centrally managed. How do we decentralize these processes and ensure meaningful participation yet the capacity to engage and monitor operations for companies is still limited? As such, this precipitates limited opportunities to meaningfully undertake planning and monitoring of the impacts in the oil and gas development. The petroleum industry is associated with several environmental and social concerns emanating from petroleum developments, some of which have already started to manifest in Uganda’s oil and gas sector. It is anticipated that several environmental and social concerns will increase due to massive investments in the development phase thus requiring serious advocacy.
Current estimates indicate that Uganda has 6.5 Billion barrels of STOIP (about 1.8 billion barrels recoverable) after exploration of approximately 40% of the Albertine Graben. As part of the process, government has put in place policies and laws to govern petroleum development. These include: the Local Content Policy, The Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Act 2013, and the Petroleum (Refining, Conversion, Transmission and Midstream Storage) Act 2013, The Public Finance Management Act 2015 and sector regulations. This is very good from the government of Uganda. However, our next issue as Ugandans must be how to make these laws and policies work for us. My argument here is how does a local person from Ngwedo see that the law works for his or her benefit?
We are also aware that oil and gas development phase will likely present greater demand for land, increase impact of oil and gas activities on the environment, and thus increase stakeholder and community expectations. Therefore, as a country, how are we prepared to reduce the high community expectations but also align then on the right path to benefit from oil and gas? Whereas, some have benefited, the majority project affected persons still feel that they have not benefited much. For instance, some school going children in the community in Kyakaboga who were resettled due to the oil refinery are not in school. They have been disorganized! The school that was constructed was not handed over to the community because of the shoddy work that was done. Imagine a pupil who was going to P.7 in 2012, displaced and never managed to join O’level. By now he or she would be in S.4 but this has not happened because of negligence and having no deliberate efforts to empower the host community by government. We need to see majority of the people benefiting from the oil and gas that was discovered. However, issues like what we have already experienced such as displacement without adequate compensation, increased violation of human rights such as labour rights for the workers especially in the construction industry, and this taints a bad picture on how the host community looks at the oil and gas sector. And this will limit what we have always desired to have as a country.
It is true that CSOs have intentionally tried to bridge the existing gaps as a prerequisite for impactful stakeholder engagement at national, district and community levels. They have tried to build critical mass but also tried to harmonize and engage government and companies on the approaches to attract the audience of government and oil companies.
However, despite the different interventions carried out by civil society actors in the region, there is clear evidence of a gap in stakeholder engagement, access to information, compliance to international best practices and local civil society capacity in Hoima and Buliisa to monitor compliance to standards by the companies working in the area.
In order to realize meaningful development for the oil and gas sector, the following have to be done:
- Building and sustaining partnerships with key stakeholders at all levels
- Monitor gender participation and integration in the sector.
- Capacity building for various service providers to identify opportunities and take advantage.
- Government must ensure participation in the design and monitoring of government programmes for local content capacity enhancement.
- Partner with local governments to enhance capacity to monitor and enforce the laws and regulations.
- Government of Uganda must fast track joining EITI to ensure transparency and accountability
In a conclusion, as a country we need to learn from previous experiences and challenges which provide good lessons for civil society, government and companies to work together especially in this next phase of petroleum development.
The writer is a friend of Ngetha Media Association for Peace and Coordinator for Bunyoro Albertine Petroleum Network on Environmental Conservation (BAPENECO), a membership Organization Based in Hoima and is hosted at Midwestern Region Anti corruption Coalition (MIRAC)