This article was produced with a reporting grant provided by the China-Africa Reporting Project by Ugandan journalist Francis Mugerwa, and was first published on OilinUganda.org.
Thirty-nine year old Kenneth Rwakatiina had never dreamt of building a permanent house. The herdsman and his family lived in two mud and wattle houses-one for each of his two wives and their children, in Nsonga village, Kyangwali Sub-County, Hoima district.
“I had grass thatched houses on a 100-acre piece of land. When my properties were affected by the road, CNOOC Uganda built me these two permanent houses,” he said, proudly gesturing towards the structures. “Oil is so far a blessing to me.”
Rwakatiina’s family is one of the four families that were displaced by the new access road to the Kingfisher oil field on the shores of Lake Albert in Buhuka Parish, Kyangwali Sub-County. The families were resettled on alternative pieces of land of their choice and CNOOC Uganda Ltd constructed a three-bed roomed permanent house for each of them.
The Kingfisher oil field, operated by CNOOC Uganda Ltd, was granted a production licence in September 2013. The field is located in a remote village at the bed of the rift valley, mainly inhabited by fishermen and pastoralists, cut off from the rest of the Sub-County by a steep cliff on one side and Lake Albert on the other.
The new road is among other preparations the Chinese oil company is making around the Kingfisher oil field to kick start commercial oil production expected to commence around 2018. It was commissioned in March by Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda. According to junior Energy Minister, Peter Lokeris, the cost of the road will be recovered by the company when oil production commences.
Not just oil
Although the road was built majorly to support development of the oil field, residents are already reaping big from it because they can now easily take their produce, mainly fish and beef, to Hoima town unlike in the past.
“This is the first tarmac road in our Sub-County,” an excited Omuhereza Rwemera Mazirane, area Chairman told Oil in Uganda. “The road will give us opportunity to trade, access better services and attract investors.”
Prior to the construction of the road, cars could not access the area. People used a 1.7 Km winding, narrow, rocky, steep path that snaked dangerously down the escarpment to the landing site. The only other access was by water on Lake Albert. Oil company executives flew in and out of the area in chartered helicopters and small planes.
The lack of a road was the main reason government teachers and medical personnel posted to the area abandoned their posts. To encourage them to stay, CNOOC Uganda Ltd has been contributing around $2000 (Seven Million Shillings) monthly as top up allowance for the 9 teachers at Buhuka Primary School and 3 nurses at the Buhuka Health Centre.
“Since this is a hard to reach area, this initiative motivates the nurses and the teachers in Buhuka to ensure sustainability in their work,” noted the company’s Public Relations Supervisor, Aminah Bukenya.
Corporate Social Responsibility
In Hoima district, CNOOC Uganda Ltd has set up a community relations team which does mobilization, consultation and engagement with the community, information sharing and grievance handling.
“With this varied spectrum of stakeholders engaged, it ensures that information about the company in regards to planned, ongoing and executed activities is widely disseminated and understood by everyone and they are able to appreciate at what stage the company is in regard to the development of the oil and gas industry in Uganda,” explains Bukenya.
CNOOC Uganda Limited has formed Local Oil and Gas Advisory Committees in their area of operation. The groups include women, youth, elderly, persons with disabilities, religious leaders, local leaders, business community, technical staff of local government and representatives of civil society.
“The Committees are responsible for monitoring the company operations if in any way they are impacting on the rest of the community,” Bukenya added.
According to Bukenya, regular engagements with the Committees have enabled CNOOC to obtain feedback on company operations and address grievances related to land, jobs, accidents and any other issues resulting from their operations.
She revealed that CNOOC Uganda is implementing a HIV sensitization program which aims at preventing new HIV infections in the host community as well as other communicable diseases caused by the influx of contract workers and other people seeking business opportunities in the oil-rich area. The company will also soon distribute 60,000 tree seedlings to communities as part of an environmental conservation drive.
Vocational Training and Capacity Building
Since 2014, CNOOC Uganda Limited, in partnership with the Chinese Embassy in Uganda, have awarded scholarships to eight Ugandan students to study at the China University of Petroleum. The courses offered are at Bachelors and Masters level in Petroleum Engineering, Oil and Gas Well Engineering and Gas Field Development.
The company also supports vocational training and donated $50,000 (over 130 million shillings) to support 70 youths to enrol for a Basic Skills Training Programme at the Nile Vocational Institute in Hoima district in 2013.
Mathias Kisembo, one of the beneficiaries, completed a plumbing course in December 2013. Oil in Uganda caught up with him at a construction site in Hoima town where he was installing water pipes and drainage systems in a newly constructed residential house.
“I now earn between five hundred thousand shillings and one million every month,” he revealed. “Am also looking after two of my sisters-one at St. Jude Primary School and another at St. Andrea Kaahwa’s college.”
Before obtaining the scholarship, Kisembo, a school dropout, was a casual worker at construction sites around Hoima. He now employs five people.
As Uganda’s oil industry slowly enters the production phase, communities across the Albertine Region are eager to get involved and start earning a living from the sector. For some, however, the benefits are already evident.