Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Resisting The Coming Of Makita By Nnimmo Bassey
This is a quiet morning. But mornings here have been quiet for a long time. I learn that besides the squawking and chirping of birds, the quiet is pregnant with expectations, hopes and dreams. Dreams of what could be with the piercings of the earth down the dusty almost 3 hours drive road. The piercings have yielded crude oil and gas in a territory where mining activities are clearly prohibited by Article 24 of the Wildlife Act. Most of the oil wells are in the Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve and nearby areas.
I am sitting at breakfast in Hoima, Uganda., this day of triple twelve: 12.12.12. The three hours drive took us to Kaiso village, a sprawling natural beauty, on the shores of Lake Albert. The original name of the lake, I am told, was Lake Mwitanzige. Named after nzige, an insect that was predominant here.
This lake is shared by Congo DRC and Uganda with the boundary lines falling somewhere in on its watery surface and depths. It feeds the River Nile as it courses to Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.
Construction work by a Turkish company is furiously on-going on the road heading in the direction of Kaiso and soon the 90 kilometres road may be covered in one hour and without a crown of dust.
We drove over to Kaiso and back yesterday. On the way we veered to a cliff edge on one of the many escarpments in the Rift Valley to peek at Lake Albert from the distance and to enjoy the beauty of nature in this nature reserve that will soon be afflicted by the impacts of the crude oil extraction. From where we stood, we could sight smoke rising from the roofs of one or two homes in the village. Smoke of cooking, not fire!
There is no electricity supply in this village save by some micro solar devices constructed with bamboo and supplied by National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) activists. There are huge electricity poles and wires passing through the communities. These will convey power from a 50 MW hydro plant being built on River Wambabya for the purpose of supplying power to a proposed oil refinery to be built and run by the Tullow-Total-CNOC consortium.
The refinery is to be located at Kyaparoni community in Busenuka sub county. It will sit on an escarpment on an allocated plot of land measuring a princely 59 square kilometres. Community people are apprehensive of their displacement and the loss of such massive expanse of land. From compensations paid on land taken for road construction there is palpable fears that they will be driven into penury. A community person complained that they have been warned not to cultivate perennial crops, but only those that can be harvested in less than a year. They think that the reasoning behind that directive is to ensure that if work starts in the land after a year, they would have no economic crop to speak of in terms of compensation.
The refinery would be handed over to the Ugandan government after the consortium would have recovered their investment and made reasonable or unreasonable profits from it. That is the sort of arrangement typical of neoliberal love affairs.
The muted excitement in Hoima, the nearest town to the oil fields and the Administrative headquarters of Hoima District in Western Uganda, is seen in the scarcity of hotel accommodation and the rapidly rising cost of living here. Hoima, also the ancient capital of the ancient Bunyoro Kingdom, has now acquired the dreadful name of Oil City. Reminds me of Warri in Nigeria and Lago Agrio in Ecuador.
40 per cent of expected oil wells have so far been drilled. The oil here is of the heavy variety as compared to the so-called light or sweet crude of the Niger Delta.
The total is 75 wells drilled with 71 found to be productive and remaining 4 dry. Of the productive wells, three (3) sit approximately 20 kilometres into Lake Albert. Work has stopped at one of the oil wells, Ngasa 1, because it has been discovered that it was being drilled on a geologic fault line. This raises serious concern about the quality and scope of the environmental impact assessment and surveys conducted before operations began here.
Oil business and human rights infringements walk in step. Already army camps have been set up the territory and access to the Wildlife Reserve is severely restricted for the community people. Community people are allowed entry to pick fuel wood on two specific days each week. Only A curfew is imposed here and movement at night is curtailed. And, of course, for the wildlife. The locals complain of land grab by influential government figures that simply gazette desired locations ostensibly for public use. The people fear environmental pollution is already happening. What they do not have to fear is moral contamination, because prostitution has already arrived by virtue of the oil workers camps in the territory. The prostitutes are referred to as malayas. They come from everywhere, the people say, including from across the lake. The pull of crude oil can be quite crude.
We spent the afternoon with infectiously happy villagers in a tin building donated by Tullow, the oil company operating here. The hall was packed out with every space taken up by all generations. Many others peeped from outside through slanted steel louvered windows. A little space was left for performances by teams collectively known as Community Advocates.
All acts showed one impact of makita or the other. Makita means oil in the local language.
The advocates performed songs, drama, dance and poetry. A fragment of a poem as translated from the local language is as flows:
What are you, oil?
Are you the devil or a friend?
What is your name?
The oil companies are clearing the land
Oil companies are causing deforestation
Desertification is coming
The weather is changing
Animals are dying
What are you, oil company?
A partner, an adversary?
There were discussions after every act with the audience describing what they had seen. Human rights abuses. Land grabs. Moral decay. Politicians who do not care. False hopes.
Old people played the roles of old people. They young played the young. No elaborate make up. Everything was natural. At a point a well known village drunk sauntered into the hall. Roars of laughter erupted. And sure enough at a point in the drama the drunken guy concurred to a statement by one of the actors. In his drunken state he couldn’t miss the trajectory of the coming impacts. The atmosphere was electric.
As we drove away from Kaiso Tonya, the sun was setting; the antelopes, warthogs, impalas, baboons and others emerged for their evening search for food. Many hung around Tullow’s airstrip while others ran off our paths. Whether they will have anywhere to hide in the coming days is a huge question.