Oil and water?

International Alert is proud to announce the launch of our new photo essay, Oil and water?, which looks at the interaction between oil exploitation and other sources of livelihood in Uganda.

The photo essay was formally launched with an exhibition at the Uganda National Museum in the capital Kampala on 25 September, attended by representatives of oil companies, the fishing communities, government bodies and civil society.

It is part of our ongoing three-year project on harnessing the potential of oil to contribute to Uganda’s peaceful development, funded by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF).

The research on which the photo essay is based was designed to explore the conflict risks, both perceived and real, in Uganda’s Albertine Graben region as the country prepares to begin oil production. Alert believes that greater understanding of the many issues at play in the region will help create trust, ensure stability and promote peaceful co-existence.

Presiding over the launch, His Excellency Dónal Cronin (pictured), the Ambassador of Ireland to Uganda, said that there could not have been a better time to start the debate. “It is good to see this happening at the time when the UN General Assembly is speaking about climate change. I was reading the story of Mzee Mulongo in the photo essay – of generations who have depended on fishing. Things will only happen if people want them to. Saving our environment is a heavy responsibility,” said the ambassador.

“This photo story is very important,” he continued. “It contains important messages and stories that we can all relate to in one way or another. The essay has also been given a clever title. It shouldn’t be the case that oil rises to the top. It should be the community that rises to the top.”

Uganda’s oil reserves are expected to yield US$2 billion a year for 30 years once oil production begins, but whereas this has the potential to increase national coffers and enhance development, there is an underlying fear that it also has the potential to create new conflicts and exacerbate existing ones.

While both the government and oil companies have continued to sell the good news story about oil, little is being done to address the underlying issues facing the country, such as inequality, corruption and land disputes, all of which are likely to be exacerbated by oil exploitation.

“Actually to me, the problem is not oil,” said Steven Mbidi, a local council official and fisherman from Butiaba interviewed for the essay. “The real issue is the rampant corruption that has eaten its way into the fisheries department. Fishing as an economic activity is unsustainable and it will get even worse unless something drastic is done.”

Our research found an overdependence on the lake. The lack of proper management of Lake Albert has meant that anyone can go on the lake and fish as long as they have a boat, which has resulted in many people having given up farming, cattle keeping and other forms of agriculture. Whereas the reduction in fish stocks can partly be explained by some of the activities carried out by the oil companies, the real issue is poor resource management and lack of economic diversification.

“Before we blame the government and oil companies, we need to look at what we are doing as fishermen to sustain fish stocks,” said Joyce Ikwaput Nyeko, Senior Fisheries Office, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, speaking at the launch. “It is the fishermen who can stop this. This government has put in place an enabling environment to address the issue of resource management. The solution lies from within and not outside.”

You can view the Oil and Water? photo essay here.