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Fishing communities in despair over oil drilling

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Pupils at Nyawaiga Primary School point to the dilapidated borehole donated to the school by Tullow Oil. PHOTO BY FREDERIC MUSISI 

By FREDERIC MUSISI & ISAAC IMAKA

Posted  Tuesday, March 25   2014 at  22:34
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Kampala.

Aids kills. Aids has no cure. Stay Safe. Be Polite. Love God. Avoid early Sex. Avoid early marriage.
Seen from a distance, these words in bold-black plastered over the face wall of the six-roomed rickety structure which houses classes from Primary One to Six; welcome you to Nyawaiga Primary School.

The school has a population of approximately 300 pupils from the Rift Valley villages of Nyawaiga, Ssebagoro and Kyavuda, Kabwoya Sub-county in Hoima District.

The pupils on completion here have to decide on two options; Continue to primary seven at a school in the nearby village 2-3 kilo meters away or keep off the education thing altogether; boys join fathers to comb the lake for fish and girls get married.

Nyawaiga Primary School has six teachers but none has reported for duty since schools, countrywide, opened on February 3; reason being, their salaries for the last three months have not been paid.

The head teacher, Severias Kabandore, who is also new in the area, says: “I have just been transferred here, and I cannot force them to classes.”
The best student, the school prides in, save for being shy, can only confidently utter three English sentences; “My name is David Okello and I am in P.6. I come from Congo. When I grow up I want to be a teacher.”

The other pupils except for the usual greeting “How are you? I am fine” stare puzzled at the English-speaking strangers without comprehension.
But to many parents, this education is the only path to a better future for their children, and perhaps getting a chance to secure jobs in the budding oil industry.

Tullow helped the village by constructing a new modern school, a kilometre away, early last year but is yet to be commissioned.
The sense of unpleasantness at Nyawaiga is a representation of limited hope amidst a long list of demands and mixed reactions harboured by the fishing communities along Lake Albert in whose backyard oil was discovered.

The oil companies, Tullow Oil PLC and Cnooc, operating in the area, have coined the term “Oil Cities” to refer to the villages.
But even with the ongoing construction of the 92-km Kaiso-Tonya road which winds up South East of Lake Albert, the oil cities are still hard to reach; more than an hour’s drive off the main road.

A return journey from Ssebagoro to Hoima in an ostensibly death stinking car in pitiable mechanical condition owned by some wily villagers costs the locals between Shs30, 000 to Shs40,000.

The locals appreciate the fact that oil is yet to be pumped out of the ground but all they ask is a little bit of improved service delivery—good roads, health centres, clean water and good schools.

“If our children must get oil jobs they must study hard but we don’t even have a secondary school here,” said Mr Robert Garang, the general secretary Ssebagoro village, “We have seven primary schools but no secondary school.”

The nearest secondary school is close to 50kms away. Although the locals are happy with the project, they say they were denied jobs, especially those of casual labourers.

“We have never seen anyone in government to tell these problems. Residents have to channel their problems to councils which sit once in six months, then travel to Hoima” where the district is headquartered, he notes.
We know we are a fishing community but we just need better lives ahead for our children and grandchildren.”

Residents though happy with ongoing projects, claim they have been deliberately turned away by companies, even for casual jobs.

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