On 21st June, the three prime ministers from Ker Kwaro Acholi, Alur Kingdom and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom launched Guidelines to equip cultural leaders in their institutions in managing their relationship with the oil and gas companies as productively as possible.
The guidelines reflect the three cultural institutions’ determination to play an active role in preserving tangible and intangible cultural heritage, in ensuring sustainable development and in fostering peace amongst communities.
Oil in Uganda’s Robert Mwesigye talked to the Executive Director Cross Cultural Foundation Uganda, Emily Drani, on the milestone the Foundation has made and their expectations following the landmark event of the launch of the guidelines by cultural institutions for oil and gas companies operating in Uganda’s Albertine region.
What have been your major achievements 10 years down the road?
Our achievements over the ten years especially with regards to what we are doing right now is that we have come to understand the relevance and role of cultural institutions; we have taken into account some of their strengths but as well as their weaknesses as we have worked with them especially those willing to address those weaknesses through capacity building, documenting and reflection events. We have documented statements that they have made linked to the citizens manifesto.
In that statement they have highlighted their responsibility but also the demands they are making from the Uganda government and development partners. But they have also made commitments in respect to what role they play today. Of course the role of cultural leaders has evolved today. What they did 50 years ago is not what they are doing today. And one of their roles is protection of the natural resources. There are about twenty two points and this is just one of the points where they said we have a role to protect the environment because of its cultural significance, not its economic value. And so the question is what shows and how can you guide other cultural leaders who have just become leaders today about that responsibility. So today is actually about the responsibility they have taken because we’ve worked with many cultural leaders across the country and they might have responsibility but it’s not documented. It sounds very general and something that is very hypothetical so this is a practical way that they have committed on paper that they are responsible for a number of issues that they are going to take on that responsibility.
Uganda right now is abuzz with extractives development for which cultural institutions have been advocating to have major participation. Do you feel government is responding or is there need to do more?
I think there is much more that needs to be done to harness the influence and authority that cultural institutions have. There has been often a thin line between their authority as institutions and then their political authority. And therefore they have always been treading very carefully. So when it’s a purely development agenda they are very outgoing and very forward. But when there’s a very thin line as to whether they’re now overstepping that line you find they’re not very assertive. So much as the laws of energy and use of natural resources have been taking place they have not asserted themselves to say yes, we are key actors in all this and we need to be consulted and we need government to recognize that the resources were talking about also have cultural significance and that’s where we come in, because in the past of course they were managing those resources for economic benefit and now they are told that is something beyond their mandate; they are supposed to focus on culture. But even then they can still make a case for land; they can still make a case for natural resources where there’s traditional medicine, there’re secret sites which fall directly under their mandate but they’re not very forthcoming. Government has taken advantage of that and actually not consulted them; but also for government to consult you need to demand and be acknowledged that this is a place where you can make a contribution.
How would you rate the level of responsiveness by oil exploration companies to the call to conserve cultural sites/ heritage while carrying out their activities?
I think there are a couple that have been quite forthcoming because I know Bunyoro kingdom received funding from think Tullow ( Tullow funded Bunyoro Kingdom to the tune of 1000USD to facilitate construction of a museum that never was. This was meant to enhance the protection of cultural Heritage visa viz oil and gas operations ). They gave them a significant amount of money to build a cultural centre and that was without too much lobbying. They felt that was there corporate social responsibility. But I’m not sure about the others. I have not heard because we’ve done some reviews on the relationship between cultural institutions and these oil companies where they have just gone out of their way to (i) recognize culture matters (ii) to give some incentives to the communities to preserve their culture but (iii) also to find out if they can be guided where there’s a space of cultural significance and if there is any way they can avoid that. That on record has not been very strong. You might want to dig deeper on how a number of sites have been desecrated.
The cultural institutions are more concerned about oil & gas; have they considered other extractives? Because we’ve been to Moroto, the situation there is not so rosy.
No. I think the oil has brought to the fore that there’s significant benefit that can accrue to the community. But in other areas; for instance, there’s marble in Moroto but the council of elders there is very small. We know there’s salt extraction, there are different minerals being extracted from different places. I think some of the cultural institutions think that is a government preserve. And especially where there is a bit of contention over ownership as you have seen Bunyoro clashing over the forest with the National Forest Authority. So that I think has made a number of them not to be very forceful in their demand not only to be consulted but to benefit.
The level of awareness and agitation for inclusivity in the extractives sector in Uganda by cultural institutions is quite prominent in the Bunyoro region. Do you feel that resonates elsewhere in mineral host communities?
For us as an organisation usually respond to need. Of course we have different communities where there are different resources; it could be a forest; it could be a natural resource of another nature, mineral or something. But if the cultural institution itself has not seen that need, we are not going to go there and say you need a role in this. They need to say traditionally we have been responsible and now we’re being left out. Then we can partner because they have their traditional mandate but it’s not our job to go and start instigating that responsibility and interest.
An MP at a workshop said there was a resurgence of ethno-nationalism where cultural institutions are agitating for priority in sharing on what is a national resource. What is your view?
Well CCFU tries to learn from other countries. And learning from other countries we actually invited cultural leaders from Ghana where there is gold. And in Ghana fortunately for them the government recognizes cultural institutions. They are actually part of the legislation. But they have royalties there and I think that helps to diffuse some of the conflicts that you might have with the government and I think they do have a case because the land is part of what you should call Bunyoro Kingdom. So we don’t see any problem with Bunyoro kingdom demanding to have a percentage of the royalties. It’s maybe what it’s going to be used for or whether the community is going to benefit. That’s a question to be answered. But the principle that they should receive royalties is a valid one. Absolutely!
Going forward after today’s dialogue what are your expectations?
What we are hoping to see is that some of the three cultural institutions that are here pick up on some of the guidelines and operationalise them. It’s difficult for them because they always have challenges with resources but they are things that can be done practically without finances. And they can have negotiation with oil companies and say this is what our desire is and it’s standard now which has been set so we expect them to use it and for those who have not had an opportunity to develop guidelines we hope they’ll be able to borrow some of the principles in there. When they are dealing with investors, people in the extractives industry they’ll say yes, please could you adhere to some of these principles because it’s about the preservation of our heritage.
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AIR WATER EARTH (AWE) Ltd, a Ugandan environmental and civil engineering consulting firm incorporated in 2002, is one of largest environmental service providers in the country. It has private, corporate and government clients in various sectors, including the oil and gas sector. The company is based in Kampala but also has offices in Kigali, Rwanda. Read More