Oil, business and borders

During the past three months, International Alert has been working with local partners in Uganda to understand the challenges facing local communities in the country’s fledgling oil region.

Many questions have been asked since commercially-viable quantities of oil were discovered in the western part of Uganda in the mid-2000s. Among them, whether the exploitation and eventual production of the new-found resource will set the country on the path to wealth or ruin; whether local and multinational businesses will work together in harmony or discord; and whether the new oil industry will lead to the development of the country’s border region with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or increased tensions.

In order to find out how much progress has been made, and whether the new industry is laying the foundations for not just greater prosperity in Uganda but also peace, we organised a series of meetings and dialogues with local communities to find out about their experiences and opinions of the country’s oil and gas industry.

In July International Alert, in partnership with the Ugandan Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas (PFOG), convened a meeting with community members in the western district of Hoima. Despite the progress made by the government, the people we met voiced their concern that issues facing their communities were not being adequately addressed. These include inadequate compensation for land and property; uncertainty about resettlement destinations; environmental change; and the ongoing risk of conflict along the country’s eastern border with DRC. The meeting also gave PFOG members an opportunity to visit some of the active oil sites in the Albertine region.

An earlier meeting in Hoima in June, organised in partnership with the Kitara Heritage Development Agency (KHEDA) and Haki na Amani, an NGO from Bunia in DRC, raised similar concerns. Those who attended the meeting raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the industry (especially in DRC); inadequate sharing of information at both the community and inter-governmental levels; issues around land and property compensation; and the risks posed by the lack of clear border markings on lakes Albert and Edward, which it was feared could trigger conflict and violence.

In separate consultative workshops in Masindi and Jinja, the lack of skills and training among local people was also raised as a possible hindrance to the equitable participation of Ugandans in the oil industry. In fact, local companies felt they were disadvantaged from competing for work because they do not have the right equipment and technical know-how.

Research by our offices in Goma and Kampala, in partnership with the Rural Initiatives for Community Empowerment (RICE) and other local partners, also revealed a mismatch in legislations between Uganda and DRC, as well as a general lack of dialogue among those involved. This could have a potentially negative effect on cross-border trade between the two countries.

Over the coming months we will be meeting with government ministers, businesses and donors to ensure that the opinions and recommendations raised in these meetings are taken seriously.

Photo: © International Alert/SWORD Images