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Ntoroko locals await oil news

Kanara town in Ntoroko District (Photo: Emil Hougaard)

Kanara town in Ntoroko District (Photo: Emil Hougaard)

More than one year after the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) failed to find oil in its Kanywataba prospect, residents of Kanara and Rwebisengo sub-counties in Ntoroko district remain confused on the status of ‘their’ oil resources.

Oil in Uganda visited the district and encountered mixed feelings from the locals there, with most of them admitting they do not know what is going on regarding oil activities in their district, while others remain hopeful that exploration work will soon resume.

Kanywataba, located in the southern part of the Lake Albert Rift Basin, was the first exploration well drilled by CNOOC in Uganda in May last year, with disappointing results. The Chinese packed up and left the area and the license consequently reverted to the Uganda government in August the same year, for possible re-licensing.

But the locals in the district have a different story, with many optimistic that their area will soon join the ‘oil producers’ list in Uganda.

"They will be back," says Ambrose Amumpe

“They will be back,” says Ambrose Amumpe (Photo: Emil Hougaard)

“They will come back,” says Ambrose Amumpe, a businessman in Kanara town.  “Their camp (referring to the Mineral Services Limited [MSL] camp-a logistics service provider) is here. Their cars are here, even the manager is here. They will come back,” he stresses.

A quick chat with some residents of this lake side trading centre revealed that most of them, particularly the youth, long for a resumption of oil activities due to the lucrative business and employment opportunities that come with the industry.

Majority of youth in the area are fishermen.

In neighbouring Rwebisengo subcounty, Amos Kisembo, a community worker, told Oil in Uganda that oil brought some jobs, although he believes the locals were exploited.

“Many people came here looking for employment. Of course some people got employed but they did not have (permanent) contracts,” he said.

Daniel Kalwana commonly known as “Steady” recalls the days he used to supply firewood to the Heritage camp at Makondo, close to Rwebisengo town, almost a decade ago. That business has since ceased and he is now a full time cattle keeper.

Although he claims his supply business was not that lucrative, he looks forward to the resumption of exploration work and hopes to resume his business when that happens.

We don’t know much!

Most Ntoroko locals Oil in Uganda spoke to decried the lack of information on the country’s oil and gas sector, and some even expressed fear of the subject.

“The President warned us not to talk about oil,” said John, who operates a pub in Kanara town.

Yet those willing to discuss the subject confessed their ignorance of it.  “We only hear that (natural) gas was found and that they will come back. However, we are not sure whether the gas is there or not because we have not had any official communication about what is really happening,” says Rusoke Julius, another community worker in Rwebisengo town.

“We do not have the full knowledge to engage the locals in oil issues,” he admits, adding “We are just giving them something small because even us, we do not have much information.”

Yet, says James Kaahwa, some Community Based Organisations, like the Ntoroko Concerned Citizens that he works for, are being intimidated by some local and district leaders, being warned to refrain from venturing into oil matters.

“Some people have threatened us a number of times to take us to court especially when we are on radio talking about oil because they argue that we do not have empirical evidence since we only read these issues in the newspapers,” he reveals.

“They are threatening our lives and the leadership of our organization, but we are surviving.”

The Ntoroko District Commissioner, Feddy Garyahandere,denies the accusation, saying that residents are allowed to hold their meetings freely anywhere in the district.

“Whatever you heard is not correct. Before drilling started in this district, NGOs sent people to sensitize communities about the advantages and disadvantages of the oil activities. We held meetings especially in Kanara sub-county where the drilling was done,” she said.

“In fact it was beneficial. They got jobs with the company, and some have even moved with the company to their new location. (For) those few that remained jobless, it is not the fault of the district.”

She stressed that government had no intention of withholding useful information on oil and gas developments from its citizens.

“Those who don’t know don’t want to know. We announced things in the media. They (locals) will always talk and we shall always defend the leadership,” she added.

The Senior Communications Officer at the Petroleum Exploration Production Department (PEPD), Gloria Ssebikari also told Oil in Uganda that government has been making an effort to keep host communities informed about developments in the oil and gas sector.

“We had closeout meetings with CNOOC at the end of last year,” she said. “We also have quarterly radio programs in the region to update the people about the oil sector.”

Despite all these efforts, however, Ntoroko residents remain in the dark on developments in the oil and gas industry, relying almost entirely on what local media broadcasts, which on some occasions, is far from the truth.

Report by Chris Musiime and Beatrice Ongode, additional reporting by Flavia Nalubega and Ssonko Isaac