Tullow is a rapidly growing oil company that first made waves in Africa with its development of the Jubilee Field offshore of Ghana. Its purchase of oil blocs from Heritage Oil along the Lake Albert Basin in 2010 made it the largest oil investor in Uganda. An estimated two billion barrels of oil are stored under Lake Albert, with continuing exploration finding more every quarter.
Tullow’s investment in Uganda’s oil sector has the potential to revolutionize the poor nation’s economy. It is likely to double the GDP, providing the government much-needed revenue to fund health services, education facilities and communication infrastructure. Well before producing first oil, the company had begun sending Ugandans to the United States and Europe for skills training programs. The company’s commitment to benefitting Uganda is clear, but there is no clear path to follow to that end.
The human rights risks are as significant as the potential human rights benefits. The oil is located in a region where recent and looming land disputes have sparked terrible violence. Population growth — resulting partly from in-migration from neighboring Democratic of Congo — and land loss have made the area volatile. The government has failed to address problems of tenureship and, on the contrary, has contributed to issues through the work of a corrupt land management ministry.
The Project has strong government support, but local communities are not confident that oil will benefit them. In its early phases of development, the company neglected local leaders, including the king of the Runyoro people, who inhabit the area. Though the Runyoro people are not recognized as holders of an “indigenous” culture, the strong ties to traditional leadership make social dimensions extremely important in terms of the Right to Public Participation.