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“We want our share”

Prof. Morris Ogenga-Latigo

Prof. Morris Ogenga-Latigo (Photo: Echwalu)

Prof. Morris Ogenga-Latigo is a Ugandan politician and farmer. Formerly Leader of Opposition in Parliament, he is now the Chairman of the Acholi Technical Working Committee on Oil and Gas, whose objective is to ensure that the Acholi sub-region gets a fair share of oil benefits. 

Oil in Uganda talked to him about the work of this ten-member committee.

Why was the Acholi Technical Working Committee on Oil and Gas (ATWCOG) formed?

In October 2013, the leaders of Acholi under the Joint Acholi Subregion Leaders’ Forum (JASLF) met in Kitgum to handle land matters but realized that oil issues needed to be urgently addressed too.

A two-day conference on oil and gas was organized in Gulu in November 2013, during which we discussed 10 aspects that included environment and human wildlife constraints, infrastructure, oil legislation, the Public Finance Bill and oil royalties. That conference also created the ATWCOG to carry further the urgent work on oil and gas.

The committee then undertook extensive research and field visits to various institutions, including Ministry of Energy, NEMA, and oil establishments in Hoima, Buliisa, Nebbi and Nwoya districts.

On environment issues specifically, we discussed at length with NEMA officials and visited the controversial waste dump site in Purongo (Nwoya district) where Heritage dumped (oil drilling) waste, and had light discussion with the site owner. We went to the camps of the oil companies and visited their waste (consolidation) sites.

We also made recommendations to NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) to post an official like they have in Masindi. It is important to have one North of the Nile to ensure that environment guidelines are followed closely.

In May 2014, the ATWCOG gave its report to the Second Acholi Conference on Oil and Gas in Gulu. From our findings, a number of resolutions were drawn, including that the Committee should continue its work and that a memorandum be prepared and presented to the President of Uganda on the views of the Acholi people on oil and gas and issues of our participation in the sector. We did this and now await his feedback.

What do you mean by “our participation in the sector?” Do you feel left out?

Some of the things we found were strange and may also be a surprise to you who have worked in oil for a while.

It turns out, for example, that the refinery in Hoima will get its crude oil largely from the Jobi oil field in Acholi. The basic story you hear is that oil is in Bunyoro. Now it turns out that the refinery in Hoima will get literally more than ninety percent of its oil from one oil field in Acholi.

There are big wells like Jobi, Jobi East, Lyec and Rii which are exclusively in Acholi. Then we have those that cut across Acholi and Buliisa in Bunyoro like Mpyo and Gunya.

But if the refining level is 60,000 barrels of oil per day, 90 percent of the crude will come from Acholi. And if the refining (capacity) is 120 barrels per day, 90 percent shall still come from Acholi but will now include Jobi and Jobi East Wells.

Yet the other entire (planned) oil infrastructure like the Refinery, Central Processing Facilities and the pipelines and pump stations are not in Acholi. Other than just piping of the oil for refining in Hoima and export, there is nothing planned for Acholi. These raise ownership and exclusion conflicts.

The other aspect is local content: getting our local farmers and business men to supply to the oil companies. This needs proper institutional support.

In Hoima, there is an Irish-funded organization, Traidlinks, that does very well working with the farmers and we have seen some are already delivering supplies. They are doing very well.

And then we also looked at the impact of oil exploration on wild life. I experienced it myself when they (oil companies) were in Jobi East, I could see the lights from my farm.

Around that time, there was an incredible influx of elephants and buffaloes loitering around the neighbouring villages.

Elephants are extremely sensitive, so we advised Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to radio tag and map their movements so that we can project their movements. Then we would know that once these animals are moving in this direction they are likely to end up in this communities so that UWA can proactively deploy the Rangers to ensure that the animals do not go astray and destroy people’s crops.

Do you believe that the rampant land conflicts are being fueled by oil discovery?  

No. One can say it is partly due to oil because the big land conflict is between the Jonams and Acholis in the oil areas in Purongo Subcounty of Nwoya District. Some Jonams settled there traditionally while others acquired the land during Idi Amin’s regime.

When the LRA war ended, some people in (the current) government claimed huge chunks of land and, at one time, their claims were so big that they did not even know their own land borders.

Then, the locals also came in and made their own claims, and when there was so much conflict on the East side of the Nile, many of the Jonams who had settled in the East went back West of the Nile where they also wanted their own share of the land.

So when the oil companies came, they wanted this same land to build their camps. The tourism people also wanted land to put up camp sites and hotels. These claims and sales and counter claims were the basis of the conflicts.

So oil is not a direct cause of the conflicts, especially in Nwoya, because most oil fields are in the non-settlement areas in Murchison Falls National Park. But activities in such areas are attracted by oil which has created this huge conflict over land.

So, do you think the Acholi people have been intentionally denied access to the resource?

To be honest with you, these are things I have written in many controversial newspaper articles and one of them was on the war in the North.

There was a Parliamentary Committee on the war in the North which I appeared before and I gave a testimony.

One of the things I castigated government about was its dismissiveness of the LRA conflict on account of their superficial perception of people from the North as being inherently violent. Violence is not our nature, but over the years the political mess imposed violence on us.

There were also inevitabilities from the war. The IDP camp life changed our perception of things; and people want to go back to the past but it is not there.  In the past, youths respected the voices of their fathers, but in the camps, it was the women who lined up for food and so you knew you ate because your mother lined up. This made men irrelevant and so children (started to) dismiss orders from their fathers. They defiantly sold family land to buy boda bodas etc.

During the war, many also argued that our land was essentially barren and had nothing, and that we actually could not sustain a war when we do not have resources.

Now with oil discovery, there are people who feel ashamed to say that the North has resources when they previously dismissing the place as resource-less. But if you are leaders, you must have the courage to accept that you made mistakes and just move on. Unfortunately, as Ugandans, we do not know how to accept realities and to move on.

So what are you doing about it?

There are actually two substantive things: the resolution passed in October (last year) was that the oil found in Acholi be deemed an Acholi resource and not just a resource of a host district (Nwoya).

To us, Government is doing it the other way round. They have tactfully created districts so that they isolate the areas with oil . In Nwoya, there are more animals than people but they created Nwoya district and said royalties will go to the district. But oil was discovered when there was no Nwoya district. The oil of the 80s, during Obote’s regime, belonged to Acholi sub region, as much as it was a national asset.  The tactic of dividing us into very many districts is very deliberate by the way.

So we have endavoured to ask for our share. We want that when oil begins flowing, the royalties are not given to individual districts but to the entire Acholi sub region.

It is being proposed that a district will be paid royalty annually equivalent only to the conditional grant it gets annually. The conditional grant for Nwoya district is about 4 billion shillings (per year), yet the royalties will be about 100 billion shillings. They say that they will pay Nwoya the 4 billion and then the rest will be kept by “the Minister”.

That money is needed for the entire Acholi. It will transform them, it will ensure that the use of oil revenue by the rest of the country will not generate envy, hatred or bitterness amongst our people.

We are now drafting a common resolution that brings all the people in Acholi under one development umbrella, and will be passed by all districts in the Acholi sub-region forming a common voice that will handle all matters of oil, land, agriculture and the environment. Acholi has the potential to benefit the country through Agriculture by using the oil money.

The process of diverting everyone’s attention to Bunyoro is done tactfully yet much oil is going to come from Acholi.

In the last conference we had in May this year, we had five representatives from Bunyoro Kingdom. We told them that the refinery being in their kingdom did not mean all the oil was in Bunyoro. However, since its construction has taken great strides with completion of purchase of the land, we fully support the refinery being in Hoima.

But the one thing we find really distasteful is that you pump oil from our place, take it to Bunyoro, down to Kampala and take it back to Eldoret and then to Turkana. Lokichar which is the center of all activities is 2 degrees 22 minutes  North.  Purongo which is slightly North of where the oil is from is 2 degrees 26 minutes North.

Just one straight oil pipeline will deliver crude oil from Acholi to Lokichar in Kenya, but they want the oil to go to Bunyoro, Buganda and the East  then return  north to Lokichor.

I sent an email to the Energy Permanent Secretary, Kabagambe Kaliisa, asking that question but we received no answer. That means the decision made on the export pipeline is unwise but nobody wants to talk about it. You know if you do a straight line from Nwoya to Lokichor, you save about two to five hundred kilometers of pipeline.

Comment about the role of NEMA in protecting the environment in oil-producing areas

The problem of NEMA is funding. Oil is going to create so much revenue for the government but it is also going to create so much environmental risks for the country yet NEMA can’t fund itself.

This oil revenue should be used to fund NEMA, to handle the institutional challenge of managing the waste and potential spillage. When a sector is not funded, it cannot have the kind of technical support or manpower it needs.

Secondly, the technical people in NEMA were not recruited for oil, they were recruited for general environmental challenges. But this industry will be here for the next 40 years so we must really think long term.

I recognize that NEMA is drafting new sets of environmental laws to deal specifically with the oil sector and I hope that when the laws come out, there will be public discussion of these laws. I am not involved in law-making but if asked, I will willingly help.

If you were the President of Uganda, what would you change about the oil and gas industry as we see it?

What I would remove is the secrecy on oil matters to ensure there is transparency. I would give people the freedom to discuss and talk about these issues openly. One of the reasons we formed this special committee on oil was to open up discussion space. For me, what I want is to open it up.

I would also promote watch dog institutions and make them strong. The things you people (civil society) are doing, for example, annoy the government but they are the right things. The more you are out there, the more they will do the right things.

Watchdog institutions are needed to watch over government because government cannot watch over itself.

But when we were in Hoima, NGOs were scared because the Minister of Internal Affairs threatened to deregister them if they mess up oil issues, yet they are needed because even our own MPs are scared.

If you went to Norway, you will open any document at any time and you will read any clause you want at any time. This has not stopped Norway from growing.

But we cannot compare ourselves with Norway…

Why? You want to compare yourself with who, Somalia? Life is relative, if you are beautiful there is an ugly one that you are compared to to conclude that you are more beautiful. If  you compare yourself with the best, it creates an aspiration far above the normal.

Questions put by Flavia Nalubega and Beatrice Ongode

editorial@oilinuganda.org