14 June 2017

Uganda: Hoima Faces Pressures of Being an Oil-Bearing Town

Photo: The Observer
President Museveni campaigns in Hoima (file photo).

In the central part of Hoima, new storeyed buildings are being erected, eating into the green spaces that once covered parts the town.

The buildings represent a changing face of the town, which, 16 years ago, was by a number of definitions a poor town. For Fred Owiny, there are several opportunities that can be tapped as the residents wait for First Oil in government's target year of 2020.

Owiny, who runs a first food booth in Hoima town, made the tough choice of leaving his wife and two children behind in Busia district in search of better opportunities in 2013. He refuses to become part of soaring unemployment statistics by creating and managing his own business on a small scale, hoping it will grow into something bigger.

At 26, he says he hates being idle. He repeatedly checks on the charcoal stoves to make sure his items do not burn. He juggles between roasting chicken, meat, frying chips and selling boiled maize.

Owiny says he does not regret abandoning his family, saying their future highly depended on him doing something different. Previously, he used to be a casual helper at construction sites, where he could mix sand and cement for a small wage.

At the end of the day, he says, he would earn about Shs 6,000 or less to take care of his family. "When I came to Hoima, I spent about three months working at construction sites. But considering the booming night life in this town, I thought I could do something different," he explains.

Owiny's customer base has been growing steadily. A piece of chicken goes for between Shs 3,500 to Shs 5,000; chips go for Shs 2,500; three pieces of meat go for Shs 3,500.

"I relocated my whole family here [in Hoima] because I am earning much more now from this business," he said, adding that going back to Busia is one thing that has not crossed his mind.

POPULATION BOOM

It is because of people like Owiny, according to Grace Mugasa, the mayor of Hoima municipality council, that the town has seen its population soar.

"We have seen a boom in trade but the challenge is the population influx that has not been planned for by the local government. So, our resources are depleted even before the year ends," Mugasa says.

Between 2002 and 2014, Hoima municipality has seen the second highest population growth rate for a local government unit at 10.7 per cent, after Wakiso district, according to the 2014 national population and housing census report. At least 100,126 people now live in Hoima town, according to figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. As a result of the increased economic activity, Mugasa said, Hoima was upgraded to municipality status.

Land prices, rental rates, and other real estate costs have gone up recently, as demand for real estate in the town and surrounding areas increases, residents say. For instance, a two bedroom self-contained house goes for between Shs 250,000 and Shs 300,000 monthly.

HIGH CRIME RATE

Since the discovery of oil, there has been a rise in crime in the growing oil city, with most cases involving drug abuse, theft and prostitution, according to Mugasa.

"There are people who come to look for opportunities but they are not employed. So, they have engaged in some nasty activities like drug abuse. These days, we normally see many prostitutes in town, which was not the case before," Mugasa says.

Oil companies have camped in the Albertine region, where oil exploration is being carried out. As a result of their activities, Hoima is now known as an oil town.

Additionally, several financial institutions are setting up branches in the town.

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