In Hoima these days, there are young men who dangle car keys. They sit over beer, smoke foreign cigarettes and sign cheques in public. Since oil hit Uganda, dreams have come true and lifestyles have been affected dramatically.
“They are the new rich and everyone knows them. Hoima has changed,” said Linus Mwanagi, a middle- age local resident who is a trader. These lucky fellows have jobs such as security personnel, cleaners or drivers at Tullow’s work over units across the districts. However, not everyone’s star is shining. Just across the street fromMwanagi’s grocery shop is a group of six young men who aresearching their souls over ‘waragi,’ a rather bitter local gin. They are mostly farmers.
“We are not happy because we don’t have the oil jobs,” explained 25- year old NigelFred Byarugha, a member of the group.
Hoima, located in the North Western Uganda, is seated in the Albertine fields where Ugandan oil and gas deposits have been discovered. Ever since the windfall six years ago, the issue of the local content has been high on the talking list. Even before actual drilling starts, folks are counting scores to see how many locals will really benefit from jobs.
Already accusations are flying as locals claim those being employed are mainly from Kampala and other big town.
Isaac Nkuba, a civil society leader and local resident, said the community did not really know what was in store for them. He demanded thatwhatever was expected of them to do to qualify for job roles should be clearly communicated.
“The villagers want to know what they can do. All they hear is rumors and when other people come from far to be employed, they are skeptical.”
The young man has recently been charged with “Breaking the Public Order Act.” He was arrested when he led a group tomake a presentation of local concerns. In Nkuba’s opinion, getting access to the oil company is difficult.
Tullow, the main International Oil Operator, however, said they ensured great interaction with local people. In a power- point presentation at Hoima’s Kontiki hotel, Cathy Ndego, Corporate Communications Manager, said ‘local’ represented the opportunity to maximize the use of local goods and services which went to promote realand effective partnerships. In Ndego words,”local content is high on the agenda. In fact, where local people qualify and where their supply capacity meets the standard, it would be preferable.”
The head of investments relations and corporate communications of Tullow, Gayheart Mensah, stressed that localcontent was key in their operations. He added that in their operations in Ghana, succession programmes had drawn and Ghanaians were gradually taking over high technical positions from expatriates.
On the issues of corporation interaction with the local people, Cathy Ndego explained that Tullow, through the community’s representatives, organized periodic meetings with the people. To buttress her point, she displayed pictures of community meetings and diagrams of communication channels showing local representatives and the level of interactions.
In Hoima town itself, the benefits are only trickling in. land prices, rental rates and other real estate costs in the area are going up as demand from Kampala and nearby has increased.
As a result of the discovery of oil, the place has been upgraded to municipality status. The hope is that infrastructure would improve to handle the new businesses and new residents. Koojo and his wife grace, owners of hotel Kontiki, said in the beginning it was a wild ambition, setting up the business in this remote place. However, their hotel business has shot up since the smell of oil hit the area. Lodgers are largely made up of staff of the oil companies as well as other people visiting for oil related activities. The facility comprises around cottages set in a beautiful garden.
According to Mr Jackson Byaruhanga, an economist, when the fundamental agreements between government and the international oil companies are not known, it becomes difficult to assess or even question what is going on.
Compared to Ghana, where oil drilling recently started, local participation is spelt out. But in Uganda, the production sharing agreement is not published and is thus difficult to assess.
Byaruhanga, who has co-authored a book on Ugandan oil and gas, advised that while industrial discipline and local content ere the sure methods to maximizing benefits that was not the end of the story.
He cautioned that the sector was based on high quality standards, which required skilled workers. “When you engage someone who cannot tie a rig properly and the gas explodes we all know the consequences.”
Fred Lukuma, the District Chairman of neighboring Buliisa area, is of the view that there is a lot of ignorance, even at the official level. Unlike Hoima, Buliisa has been gifted with a brand new US$2 million health centre. The road that leads from hoima too has been graded, though untarred. The District Chairman wants more. He says, “What we need istraining for our people so they can work and be active in the oil business. This is our chance to be millionaires.”