Geoffrey Mutegeki & Robert Atuhairwe
The media has been challenged to take center-stage in peace building and reconciliation in Uganda especially in areas where oil activities are taking place to avoid the oil curse.
Stephen Oola, the program manager, conflict transitional justice and governance, says the media is vital in reducing the likely negative consequences of oil.
“The media can help people understand what is happening around themselves instead of living on stereotypes and false information.
“It can help promote peaceful living among the communities. Do not escalate the conflicts, but always try to minimize them or try to make them come to an end,” said Oola.
He made the remarks during a one-day peace journalism training for journalists in Bunyoro region organized by Refugee Law Project (RLP), School of Law, Makerere University, at Max Hotel, in Kigumba town, Kiryandongo district.
Recently, there have been strained relations among different tribes within the Albertine region following the discovery of oil in the area and if not well addressed could lead to problems in the future.
Clashes between Bamba-Bwabwisi and Bakonjo in Bundibugyo district last year are said to have come as a result of oil revenue prospects which the Bamba want to control by rejecting Rwenzururu Kingdom.
The Bamba-Bawbwisi have gone ahead to crown their own cultural leader in order to get their share of oil, which has left the Bamba and Bakonjo separated.
In Ntoroko district, the Batuuku have rejected both Tooro and Rwenzururu kingdoms, saying they don’t belong to any of them. They have gone ahead to block the kings of the two monarchies from visiting the district.
They argue that the two kingdoms are targeting oil revenues.
The Bagungu in Bulisa district have also shown that they want to secede from Bunyoro kingdom, which is not a good sign of good relations.
Although these communities have lived together for years, the discovery of oil has brought about some division among them.
Lyandro Komakech, the Senior Research and Advocacy officer, RLP, notes that there is a big information gap in the country which needs to be reduced for the masses to feel involved in regard to oil and other areas.
“Information flow in this country is very poor. People don’t know what is happening even in the nearest neighborhood. There’s need to promote oneness among Ugandans on issues of national importance.
“People need to know that they are all Ugandans and will benefit equally. If information is available to the public we can avoid conflicts,” said Komakech.
He added that the media has a big role to play in seeing these conflicts end “because many people believe in you”.
Joshua Byabagambi a resident of Masindi thinks the oil is already being taken though extraction has not started.
“They are taking our oil,” he says. “Big trucks always go to the oil wells and come back with containers full of oil. For us we are just asleep.”
Byabagambi, like many other people in the region, is not informed, which calls for more information sharing In regard to oil or this may breed anger among the masses who would feel left out of the oil benefits.
“We should face the conflict-ridden realities in the oil sector and search for ways through which they can be negotiated and addressed. This needs everybody’s participation” Oola said
He pointed out that issues regarding land and compensation need to be done transparently and carefully so that people are not left begrudged.
Oola added that all conflicting communities need to be reconciled for a better future.
The discovery of commercially viable oil deposits in the Albertine region can lead to positive development outcomes if various aspects of oil politics are handled more progressively.