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Youth cautioned to dispel oil politics, focus on tapping opportunities

youth-ent-workshopParticipants at a youth entrepreneurial and innovations “clinic” in Gulu organized by ActionAid Uganda and partners have been urged to look beyond the petty politics being peddled about the oil and gas sector and instead channel their energies on positioning themselves to benefit from it.

The call was made following emotional outbursts by some participants who raised concerns about the perceived discrimination against the region by locating crucial oil infrastructure outside their region. They also argued that youth from the region were not benefiting from skilling and training opportunities being offered by oil companies (and the government).

“If you are to benefit from this sector you must think about yourself and how you are going to gain out of it. The oil sector is global and the politics will always be there. What will you do about it? We are not the first to have oil and will not be the last. Are you going to move the airport from Kabaale (in Hoima) to Nwoya?” Paul Twebaze stung the participants.

He added: “These decisions are informed by detailed studies on cost-benefit and economic analyses. Investors do thorough feasibility studies that cost a lot of money before committing their money.”

Information gaps

During a courtesy visit to the Albertine region in 2017, local leaders at Got Apwoyo sub-county headquarters voiced similar sentiments. A riled L.C 3 Chairperson particularly wondered why crude oil would be transported to the central processing facility
(CPF) in Buliisa district via a network of pipelines yet it would be extracted from Murchison Falls National Park which is in Nwoya district.

Didas Muhumuza, Extractives Governance Coordinator at AAIU, narrated how during his time at Tullow Oil as a community liaison officer, got wind of information that young people in Hoima were planning to beat him up because they contended that
oil companies were discriminating against them and that he was their agent in doing so.

“I communicated to the management teams in Uganda and the UK about the situation but also advised that the problem was due to lack of information among the population. We thus devised a strategy to start regular sensitization of all stakeholders through radio and workshops. Some introductory training(s) to oil and gas aspects were also undertaken,” he said. This was very helpful in ameliorating the situation overall.

Twebaze Paul, a civil society stakeholder in the sector, once shared a story of how he and a team of colleagues were given an ultimatum of an hour to exit Amuru district by security people after their meeting to brief the community about
the sector was stopped.

“Talking about oil then was risky. In 2012 we went to Amuru to talk to the community about oil and how the resource can benefit everyone and not become a curse. Security people arrested us and tasked us to explain who had given us authority to talk about oil,” he narrated.

Muhumuza noted that lack of information among the general public remains a challenge. However Ronald Kaija, Senior Community Relations Officer at CNOOC Uganda, the developer of the Kingfisher oil fields, says information is now more readily
available across many public domains but it is upon the young people to seek it out.

“Recently we have held public hearings on the ESIA report for the Kingfisher Development Area (KFDA). How many have accessed or tried to read this technical extract explaining what we are going to do?,” Kaija asked participants while showing the
copy that was freely distributed at the hearings.

Notably the public hearings were commended by civil society actors as a step in the right direction in as far as access to information is concerned. James Muhindo, the Coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas, noted that the
hearings were unprecedented and presented an opportunity for the people to get involved in the sector by being heard and appraised on its developments.

The entrepreneurship development workshop(s) presented a unique opportunity for participants to appreciate the challenges of operating a business in a very intricate oil and gas sector with very high competitiveness. Participants, mostly drawn from the districts of Hoima, Kikuube, Buliisa, Masindi, Nwoya, Amuru and Gulu districts also shared their experiences of exploiting business opportunities in the Albertine region amidst the oil developments that have thus far taken place. They have been provided with vital insights on what opportunities the development (and production) phases will provide.

Participants were also tipped on skills and knowledge on how to go about doing business in the oil industry by appreciating the standards that have been set by government (and oil companies) for those willing to conduct business in the sub-sector as
it gears for transition into the development and production phase(s).

Jackson Etwop, a social movement’s facilitator and motivational speaker, spoke to participants in Acholi to drive home the message of mindset change and hope. “We are our own obstacle to changing our situation. Opportunities are there and amongst us are fellow youth that have made it and can inspire us. Unless we change the mindset we will not change our situation”. Jackson emphasized. The clinics shall be concluded in Pakwach district but the participants shall be followed up to ensure appropriate measurement of impact of the trainings undertaken.

By Robert Ben Mwesigye
Edited by Muhumuza Didas