The impact of oil discovery on Hoima District

Tuesday August 5 2014

Work goes on Butyaba Road in Hoima.

Work goes on Butyaba Road in Hoima. The new infrastructure as well as developments have brought services closer to the people. However, the cost of living in the area has also gone up. PHOTOs BY Rachel Mabala. 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

Mention any bank operating in Uganda; chances are high that it has a branch in Hoima. Forget the “big boys” in the game such as Stanbic, Barclays and Centenary banks, that are commonplace in almost all districts in the country. Even the up-and-coming like Opportunity Bank have set up branches in the prospective oil city. While in the Central Business District of the formerly dull Hoima, by the end of a 360 degrees turn, one’s eyes are likely to have landed on a construction site. New buildings are mushrooming; some to house hotels and others apartments.

Such is the picture of Hoima on its journey to becoming one of the admirable districts, thanks to the discovery of oil in the Albertine. These new developments, however, have come with both positive and negative impacts. We look at both below.

PROS

Paved roads bring rewards
Geoffrey Kugonza is a youthful farmer in Buseruka Sub-county in Hoima District. He grows maize and beans. His market is in Kampala and Hoima. “The buyers come up to here (Buseruka) in search of my produce,” he says with an air of satisfaction. The story line, four years back, was different. Getting market for his food items was frustrating. Why? The road connecting Buseruka to Hoima town was in a miserable state. It was dusty and inundated with potholes.

The car leaving for Hoima town, Kugonza says, only made a single route and the journey was longer. The area, in a nutshell, was not easily accessible to buyers of agricultural produce. But then oil was discovered in the Albertine. Transport to the area had to be made better. This led to the tarmacking of the Hoima – Kaiso –Tonya road, which work commenced in 2012 by Kolin Construction.

Kugonza and others farmers are all praises for the road. “That road is the best thing to happen to us,” he states directing his hands to the sky in gratitude to God. “The prices have also increased, besides the improved access to markets. Previously, for example, a kilo of beans sold for either Shs400 or Shs500. Today, it swings between Shs1,000 to Shs1,500. We are reaping more for our sweat,” he adds.

More customers, more money
In Hoima Municipality, the situation is not any different. Sax Pub is one of the hanging out spots that was recommended when this writer inquired where he could unwind with “everyone” during an evening. Glamour is elusive at Sax. The roofing is a mixture of rusty iron sheets and the canvas fabric used for tents. Patrons, who are predominantly youths and low income earners, sit in old and abandoned car seats. But Fred Baitwaki, the proprietor, says business is thriving. “Many people have come to Hoima since word made rounds that there is oil. This is market.

Consequently, our sales have gone up, “he says and adds; “Back in the day I used to make sales of Shs300,000 or Shs250,000, daily. Lately, my daily sales oscillate between Shs1m and Shs1.2m. The compensation programme improved people’s incomes. Some of that money was spent here,” he states. A walk around the place got this writer concluding that one of the attractions to the dingy facility are the ladies of the night. They charge between Shs4,000 to Shs8,000.

Businesses are thriving
The eatery business is said to be the “correct” venture to invest in. Frida Namutebi works at Trudy’s - a fast foods restaurant. She does not dispute the assertion. “There are more people in Hoima today. All these people eat, daily. And some of them have the money to spend on quality food. So, if one offers what they want, then the money will definitely flow in,” she says. “Of course there are challenges. But like all challenges, they can be circumvented.”

If all the above businesses remit taxes, the municipality’s purse must be heavier. Emmanuel Banya, the Town Clerk says local revenues have increased, as a result of the new developments in Hoima. Previously, local revenue potential was between Shs800m to Shs1b. “But now we have a revenue potential of Shs3b,” Banya states.

Services brought closer
The new bank branches, supermarkets and companies like Motorcare Uganda Limited – which offer transport solutions have brought the services closer, says Benon Tusingwire the Executive Director Navigators of Development Associations a CSO. He notes that some of the banks, like KCB Bank and Crane Bank, take the extra mile of sending their field officers to remote areas to ensure every “Hoimaian” benefits from their services. The monopoly previously enjoyed by the traditional banks – Stanbic and Centenary – in the district, was broken. “The banks are many in number. This has sparked competition and the result is better quality service,” Tusingwire remarks. The sprawling supermarkets, he says, have offered the people more options of shopping destinations.

CONS

‘Losing’ property
However, on the converse side of the coin are individuals and families who point at the Hoima Kaiso Tonya road as the exact genesis of their gloom. Pastor Joseph India is one. His house was indicated to be in the road’s reserve. He was offered compensation to relocate. “They gave me Shs3.5m. My property is worth Shs60m. I rejected the offer. The matter is now in court. But the future is more uncertain than ever,” remarks India. Other residents begrudgingly received the money for they could not afford to go to court or they were unaware of seeking legal redress as an option. “Nevertheless, they still complain to government for more money to be given to them,” reveals the Pastor.

Too much wealth at once
Tales, in Kabaale, are rife about people who accepted the money offered and embarked on an intense effort to squander it. “There is a man who spent his money on a motorcycle. It was stolen shortly. He immediately bought another to “prove his financial muscle to the thieves,” narrates Beatrice Rukanyanga, a focal person in Kwatanisa Women’s Group a Civil Society Organisation (CSO). “The second one bought a Toyota Premio at Shs20m out of excitement of the compensation money. A car that he could have bought at Shs12m, at most.” The apparent cancer of compensation has also been endemic in the oil refinery project. Some people have not been compensated because they declined the amount of money that was offered. Even those that were compensated do not know where their destined relocation point is.

Culture clashes
One would assume that prostitution is no longer something to lose sleep about. Not in Bunyoro Kitara.
Prostitution was unheard of in Bunyoro, says Joy Catherine Byenkya the Minister of Gender and Social Development in Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom. It was and is still an abomination in the culture. “Our girls were shy. They could not fathom selling their bodies for sex. They were worried about society’s perception,” Byenkya says. Commercial sex workers are a category among those that swarmed Hoima at the whiff of money-making opportunities. Initially, according to Byenkya, these were girls from neighbouring districts with some coming from as far as Kampala. She says the biggest target market is the Turks working with Kolin (the Turkish firm contracted to build the Hoima Kaiso Tonya Road). They easily fork out as much as Shs50,000 or Shs100,000 for a night with the girls, the minister says.

“The huge sums of money and peer pressure gradually attracted our own (Banyoro) girls into the kind of immorality,” says Byenkya. “This is money they do not expect to get in a long time yet someone is offering it for a few minutes of carnal knowledge.” She explains that the trade has been supported by the accommodation arrangements of Kolin. Workers of the company leave amidst the community in Hoima, unlike their counterparts working with the oil companies, such as Tullow, who leave in work camps. The concern about the vice is not only in the municipality. In the periphery of Buseruka and Kabaale, residents say a notable number of children that are a product of the intimacy with the Turks have been given birth to. Most of these have been abandoned by their fathers leaving the hapless victims as single mothers.

Cost of living is up
Patrick Kyomuhendo runs an electronics shop in Hoima town. He was having lunch at the time I walked in. When I cracked a joke asking him to share “the oil money” he laboured to find the joke. “We, my brother, are just suffering,” he said, setting aside his meal. He says the cost of leaving has increased. Demand for foodstuffs is higher than the supply. “Today, you need about Shs8,000 to have a decent meal.

Back in the day it was a sheer Shs2,000 or Shs4,000. People have abandoned farming and come to town speculating to get the so called “oil money”,” he says shaking his head. “Rent has been increased. Four years back we used to pay Shs50,000, monthly, but today we pay Shs180,000. Of course the figure varies depending on the location of one’s shop. But generally rent has been increased everywhere.”
Emmanuel Banya, the Town Clerk of Hoima Muncipality attests to Kyomuhendo’s remarks. He adds that the rent for residential houses has also increased. He says one has to fork out in the range of Shs250,000 to Shs300,000, monthly, to get a two bedroom house. One with three bedrooms goes for Shs500,000 yet previously they went for about Shs180,0000.

Strain on services
“In case of an outbreak of a disease like Ebola in Kabale, few people would survive,” says Pastor India. He explains that the numbers of people flocking to Hoima - and Kabale in particular, has increased but the numbers of social facilities like hospitals and boreholes have remained constant. He illustrates that in Kabaale a jerrycan of water, at the sole borehole in the parish, has increased from Shs500 to Shs1,500. “This is very expensive for low income earners like many of us,” says India. Despite the influx of people, the parish still has a single Health Centre three hospital.

Banya adds to India’s list by pointing out that there is more garbage in the municipality than before. The town clerk says the small budget on which the municipality operates curtails the will to address the situation. He remarks that the money allocated for the municipal budget has not changed despite the need for more resources. “Fortunately we are having private investors coming in to provide these services as a supplement to what the government is offering,” Banya says.

Crime rate is up
Banya reveals more from the negative side of the fence; “There has been an increase in crime rate. People who randomly come to Hoima expecting free money or quick jobs get disappointed when they do not find either of the two. In turn, they resort to crime as a means of survival.”

A number of cars have been stolen and a number of houses have been broken into. “The thieves are sophisticated. They use smart phones to take photos of people’s keys, duplicate them then break into homes. Cases of land conflicts are also high. Families have broken apart over land disagreements,” says the town clerk.

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