As oil and gas exploration gathers pace on Uganda’s northwestern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), efforts are being made to minimise conflicts among border communities and ensure that the border remains tension-free.
International Alert, in collaboration with our local partner Rural Initiatives for Community Empowerment – West Nile (RICE-WN), recently organised a groundbreaking dialogue on cross-border issues between those affected by oil exploration in Uganda and DRC, with the aim of promoting better information sharing between the two countries.
Participants from Uganda included members of civil society, representatives from Uganda’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Department (PEPD) of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, and representatives from the border districts of Nebbi, Buliisa, Zombo and Nwoya. DRC was represented by 18 delegates from a cross-section of organisations, including civil society.
During the dialogue Alert stressed the importance of the following things, if positive outcomes are to be realised from the oil industry: improving understanding and communication between all parties; coalition-building between civil society and government; identification of conflict areas and peacebuilding opportunities; advocacy with government and oil companies; and cross-border engagement.
According to Andrew Byaruhanga Bahemuka, Oil and Gas Manager at International Alert Uganda, apart from oil companies adopting conflict-sensitive practices in areas where they operate, “there remains a need to address matters pertaining to security and human rights”.
Honey Malinga, Assistant Commissioner in Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, observed that the Ugandan government has established a national oil and gas policy to govern the oil and gas sub-sector and, in order to ensure proper record keeping, has set up a national petroleum data repository. He also stressed the need for greater cooperation between the two countries based on the fact that, according to the 2008 addendum to the 1986 agreements on cooperation, teams are allowed “a stretch of up to four kilometres into each other’s territory during exploration”.
The dialogue also brought to the fore the fact that citizens, particularly those living in oil exploration communities, feel that the government has not involved them in negotiations. Many said that policies are being designed from above and then imposed on them. And in cases where information has been passed on from the oil companies to the communities, that this information is not always tailored to the needs of the people.
Francois Bura Dhengo, who led the DRC delegation, advocated for the need to maintain regular cross-border dialogues to both “exchange ideas and voice cross-border and oil-related concerns”. He said that DRC border communities are concerned about the porous border, which he argued is likely to facilitate the passage of arms that may foment conflict. He urged the maintenance of good relationships between cross-border communities.
In her closing remarks, Sunday Ayikoru, the Arua district Local Council 5 Vice Chairperson (local government representative at the district level) expressed her gratitude to International Alert and RICE-WN for organising the dialogue, which she said “should become a continuous endeavour”.
More dialogues are planned for June and July in Hoima (Uganda) and Bunia (DRC), respectively.