When Uganda confirmed existence of commercially viable petroleum reserves in the Albertine Graben in 2006, the biggest question whether oil reserves would become a blessing or a curse to the country. Hoima, once a sleepy town and district has since the discovery of oil and gas been bustling with activity. The momentum has been higher this year with plans to construct an oil refinery and an international airport ahead of first oil by 2020.
When Uganda confirmed existence of commercially viable petroleum reserves in the Albertine Graben in 2006, the biggest question whether oil reserves would become a blessing or a curse to the country.
This relates to the fact that in most oil-producing countries, local communities miss out on the benefits as oil producing companies strike deals with governments. Some countries have experienced war over the sharing of oil resources. While it's too early to answer the question, some residents in Hoima district are seeing benefits as Uganda plans to join a club of oil producers.
Hoima Chief Administrative Officer Abdu Batambuze has heard about the debate on oil being a curse or a blessing perhaps many more times being at a helm of administration of the district whose municipality is now dubbed the oil city.
Batambuze is aware how the oil industry is boosting business at hotels and general infrastructure.
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Hoima, once a sleepy town and district has since the discovery of oil and gas been bustling with activity. The momentum has been higher this year with plans to construct an oil refinery and an international airport ahead of first oil by 2020.
Many people whether in rural parts of the district or in Hoima Municipality say oil discovery has come with improved road network. The roads include Kigumba-Masindi-Hoima-Kyenjojo Road, Ikamiro-Kingfisher Road-providing access to the oil field; Hoima-Wanseko road; and Masindi-Biiso road.
One road that stands out is the completed Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road. It is a 7-metre carriage way with 2 metre shoulders on both sides of the road. The 91.7-kilometre-road connects Hoima with the towns of Kaiso and Tonya on the shores of Lake Albert in in Buseruka sub county the oil-rich Albertine Graben. It also connects to Kabaale where the oil refinery and Hoima Airport will be located.
Ali Tinkamaniyre, Chairperson Buseruka Sub County, vividly remembers how difficult it was to travel from his sub county to Hoima town before the Oil roads were constructed. Buseruka now has many buses plying the road compared to the past.
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The oil and gas commercialisation plan calls for infrastructure like the oil refinery, central processing facilities, feeder pipelines, access roads and the East African Crude oil Pipeline. The Airport and Crude Oil Pipeline and the Refinery will be located in Kabaale, Hoima. This previously remote part of Hoima has begun to reap some fruits of oil and gas discovery.
Reverend Canon Jack Ruhindi, 63, has been a resident of Kabaale for most of his life. To him, Kabaale was almost a forgotten sub county with only one formerly dilapidated Health Centre III.
Kabaale Health Centre was recently renovated and equipped by the Ministry of Energy as part of the resettlement of the refinery affected persons.
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Looking back to the time when oil and gas was not discovered and now, Canon Ruhindi says oil is surely a blessing. He prays for more life so as to benefit once the airport and the Oil refinery are constructed.
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Godfrey Komakech, a councillor representing Buseruka to Hoima District Council is happy with the road construction, though he says more is yet to come.
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Komakech has been at the forefront of negotiations for better resettlement packages and compensation. He says Buseruka of the past is not the Buseruka of today, pointing to newly constructed iron-roofed houses out of compensation money.
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Komakech is of the view that not all Banyoro or residents of Hoima will benefit from oil and gas finds in their region. But he thinks that if things go as they are currently going, oil discovery and later production will be a blessing and not a curse, provided the government and oil companies adhere to local content requirements.
Irene Batebe, the Acting Commissioner Upstream Petroleum, has frequented the Albertine Graben. Asked whether she has noticed any changes her answer seemed obvious.
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Hoima and generally Bunyoro was under-developed due to the historical injustices that have existed right from colonial time. Before 2006, the district was known for hosting refugees at Kyangwali.
The only popular hotel in Hoima way back was Kolping Hotel located in the heart of the Municipality. A number of hotels and lodges have sprouted with the discovery of oil and gas. These include Miika Eco Resort Hotel along Butiaba/Kaiso Tonya Road, Glory Summit Hotel, Hotel Kontik among others. The hotels are owned by some of the local entrepreneurs seeking to cash in from oil money.
Though all sounds rosy from the infrastructure point of view, Hoima and the sub counties of Buseruka and Kabaale are registering a surge in population arising from those traveling from other districts in search of jobs. High rental costs and pressure on available social services are already being felt.
But Batebe says the government is determined to ensure that oil discovery in Uganda and the anticipated production benefits the local population.