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Religious leaders spotlight oil governance

The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), which held a two-day meeting for religious leaders in the oil-rich Albertine region at the end of January, is planning to follow this up with a national conference later this year and to establish a Peace Institute to train people of different faiths in issues related to natural resources and extractive industries.

Oil governance emerged as a key concern of more than two dozen religious leaders—including Anglican and Catholic bishops, district Khadis appointed by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and senior clerics in the Seventh Day Adventist and Orthodox churches—who attended the late January meeting in Hoima.  They called on government to “allow the participation of all citizens in the formulation of legislation and use of proceeds from oil,” to “ensure dignified life for people displaced by exploration and production activities,” and to “remove the army from oil installations and replace them with the police force,” among other resolutions.

Godfrey Onentho Otwi, who is acting head of IRCU’s Peace, Justice and Governance Directorate, told Oil in Uganda that the meeting was marked by “a feeling that the existing governance environment is not conducive to using the oil for peace.”  Delegates, he said, “don’t have the confidence that the oil will be managed well and are very concerned about the secrecy surrounding the licencing and production agreements.”

These concerns will likely be voiced again at a national conference on extractive industries that ICRU plans to convene in August or September of this year.  ICRU is hoping to bring fellow believers from other African countries to share their knowledge and experiences of extractive industries with Ugandan delegates.

According to Mr. Onentho, ICRU is also working towards the establishment of a Peace Institute that, with inputs from university professors, will training religious leaders in principles of good governance and effective management, enhancing their capacity to speak on these issues “both in the pulpit and outside in the community.”

ICRU already convenes thirteen inter-faith networks across the country engaged in dialogue on social and development issues.  It plans to establish 40 district-level interfaith committees to monitor natural resource extraction.

Asked about concerns that religious leaders are interfering in politics and should attend only to spiritual matters, Mr. Onentho replied that “These issues concern the common good of citizens and our scriptures, the Koran and the Bible, are all about that.”

“Our leadership has been stern on some issues, but government finds it difficult to work without us.  We have a very large constituency.”