By Cirrus Kabaale
Over the past years, oil developments activities have gained momentum at different levels of; commissioning of oil rigs, exploitation, legal and institution frameworks. The outcomes of exploitation and prospects are highly suggestively that oil and the prospects of Uganda joining oil producing countries is, but a reality. The first barrel of oil is over the horizon.
Oil has attracted different players with varying interests and notable among these are the international oil companies and finance institutions who are already making a kill. The companies operating in Uganda include TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). Interestingly, the host communities who are key stakeholders are increasingly becoming passive participants in the unfolding oil bonanza. Community participation and involvement is, but lost in the scramble for oil in the Albertine region.
Participatory resource management is a catchphrase today, synonymous with sound, balanced and efficacious environmental conservation and sustainable development. Citizen participation, as it is widely known, is a major benchmark of the democratisation process spreading duly to embrace social action, social problem solving and all other social processes and units.
The basic assumption is that the empowerment of the individuals, at the grassroots, and communities especially in relation to their immediate environment and the intimate details of their everyday life lies at the root of sound democratic practices, the functioning of the democratic systems. Resource conservation must inter-marry with democracy in order to be wholesome and meaningful.
In other words, participatory resource management as is well known, it is a well-entrenched core principle in social action and social practice these days. It is a binding principle and requirement. It is an absolute requirement and obligation. Without it, we would have completely overlooked the cardinal criteria of equity. And without it resource development ventures by investors and governments would ever more continue to appear as raids on what is people’s own resource because the people invariably depend on these resources for their survival.
Similarly, the exploitation of one resource tends to cut off other livelihoods such as oil developments versus fishing on Lake Albert. The key principles in resource management venture today are equity, priority and implementation. Citizen participation is benchmark of equity. It is also key criteria in implementation today since without it a resource extraction venture that has effectively excluded citizen participation today are tainted products. They are warped and questionable.
However, there are fears that the oil companies and government has not extensively consulted the community, and thus that oil resources may not be used to adequately respond to the unique needs of that community. In this case the people feel that oil may present skewed opportunities and risks where only persons in positions of influence and power stand to benefit at the expense of the poor and marginalized.
This feeling of marginalisation is exacerbated by what the community call a sense of secrecy that surrounds the oil-related activities in the region.
Following the recent community meetings organized by Environment Governance Institute (EGI) with residents of the Kyakapere and Nzunzu A& B villages in Kikuube district claim that sometimes, especially at night, they see vessels on lake Albert carrying away unidentified materials from the oil pads sites. They wonder why these vessels only operate in the dark of night. One community member even wondered: “Could it be that they are already taking way the oil without our knowledge?”
While this is highly unlikely, it shows that secrecy and limited access to information by the community breeds all sorts of rumours and anxiety.
In the extreme, the locals feel that they may ultimately not benefit much from the oil industry if activities are not carried out in a transparent manner. What is required, therefore, is improved engagement and communication with local communities regarding the activities in the oil and gas sector and how such activities are likely to affect their usual way of life.
For God and My Country
Cirrus Kabaale, Programs and Research Coordinator at Environment Governance Institute (EGI)