Is oil giving Hoima a new lease of life? Tracing the changing face of Uganda’s “Oil City”

A sketch Map of Hoima Town

A sketch Map of Hoima Town

On the Journey to Hoima

It’s 4:00pm and I am boarding a commuter taxi to Hoima. It’s not the first time I am travelling to Hoima and neither is it the last. The only difference today, I am not just travelling back home to check on my parents. I have to check on our oil wells and also try to find out why the government is refusing to compensate the people of Kabaale for the land lost over the intended construction of Uganda’s Oil Refinery. Why?


I have just paid my 14,000 Ushs (about 6 USDs) to cover the transport fare and the moment the guy hands me my receipt, my mind retreats to my personal reflections and I think of Hoima back in the day, the little known town that we used to visit every school Holiday, the days when we had to dance through the pot holes of the murrum gravel, the days when River Kafu closed down the road and we were carried across from Kiboga on men’s shoulders, the days where some brave drivers would cross through with their cars but with the legs of the passengers lifted up to avoid contact with water as they maneuvered through the flood.

I remember the stories told of the time when travelling to Hoima would take an entire day and of the days when the only bus service available was Kasamba Coach, of how when one missed the bus at 5:00am, they had to wait to travel the next day.

But things have changed. When I think of things changing I consider the fact that I will cover what used to be a day’s journey in 31/2 hours. Thanks to the evolution over the years, at 7:00pm I am in Hoima. The 225 Km Journey has taken less time than the usual average for the journey because the driver was driving at a great speed. I liked the speed at which he was driving.

And then this ever-present power problem

In Hoima, I am ushered into the town by the rattling of the generators. There’s no power supply today in the entire town. It is the normal thing here and it happens almost every other night.

“I really love Hoima except for its persistent power issues.” I grumble.

It is the first thing I complain about when I start chatting with my mother. She is empathetic but also helpless. She understands my predicament but she won’t do anything about it except add her voice to my protests.

“So, for how long has this town been without power?” I inquire

“Two days,” she snaps

“But I thought they had found a solution to this problem. The last time I was here, somebody said power was no longer a big issue here?” I argue.

“But sincerely, do you think Hoima will ever get a solution to this problem. I don’t think.” She responds

I cut the conversation. I hate this negative talk about Hoima. Honestly. I only want to hear good things about my home town. So I have to keep hoping that one day, one time this everyday load shedding thing in Hoima will be solved once and for all. Perhaps when they construct one of those Dams they say they are constructing or when they realize that Hoima is actually an Oil City and not just any other town.

Hoima Central Market as seen from Wright Road Hoima

Hoima Central Market as seen from Wright Road Hoima

The new Hoima Central Market

Opposite home, the new Hoima Central Market glitters and shines in the sorrounding darkness. It is not the kind that will be concerned about our power problems because its lights are powered by the Solar system. But are they? Okay that’s what I imagine because when I ask my mother where the market lights are picking their power from, she keeps guessing. I am almost certain Solar Power is doing the magic here.

The next day the first thing I do is to take pictures of the new Market. I go all around the enormous structure that is clothed in a pink shade of paint trying to get the best shot. The construction of this fine work of art was handled by Amugoli General Enterprises Ltd or so we are told. The three storey market cost the government 13.7 billion Uganda Shillings, thanks to a loan from the African Development Bank under the Market Agriculture Trade and Improvement Plan Project.

The market that was commissioned on 6th October 2014 has the capacity to house over 3,000 vendors and will have a bank, restaurants, a cold room for perishable items, pharmacy, ample parking space plus a yard for loading and offloading merchandise. According to the Town Clerk of Hoima Municipal Council, Emmanuel Natal Banya, market vendors will pay 20,000 Ushs to rent the market stalls and 150,0000 Ushs to rent the market shops here.

Speaking of changes, the market will create over 1,000 jobs for the people of Hoima and since it comes at a time when every conversation about Hoima will have an oil component in it, the market looks like a “real change” that oil has brought to Hoima.

Visiting Bunyoro Kitara Royal UniversityBunyoro Kitara University

After taking pictures of the market, I head to Rukurato Road to visit the recently opened Bunyoro Kitara Royal University. I have to write a profile of the University. It is one of the things my editor asked me to do. At the University I meet the University’s Public Relations Officer Bamuha Allan and when he starts to talk of the University’s plans I realize oil is a central reason for the existence of this university.

“We want to be a centre of excellence in Oil and Gas Management in this country,” He asserts. He tells me of other areas that the university will focus on to create a niche as an institution but in my heart I am thinking, it’s all about oil. It seems like everything that is happening in this town these days is about Oil.

The cost of accommodation

From the university, I move around town asking for the prices of accommodation in the different Hotels and Guest Houses. From my inquiries around town, I realise that accommodation in town for the lower-end guest will cost between 10,000 Ushs (About 4 USDs) and 25,000 Uganda Shillings (About 9 USDs). But in the upscale Hotels like Reviera Hotel, Hoima Resort Hotel, Hoima Kolping Hotel accommodation will cost between 65,000- 85,000 Ushs (Between 24 USDs and 32 USDs) depending on the Hotel and also the kind of room you need.

Nonetheless if one thinks they are a class above the ordinary, they can opt for the spacious suites in Hoima Resort Hotel at a cost of 120,000 Uganda shillings (About 45 USDs). Or one may go for the hideout experience at the serene Kontik Hotel where accommodation costs 142,000 Ushs (About 55 USDs).

Barclays and DFCU Bank are some of the banks that have opened shop in Hoima   in the recent past

Barclays and DFCU Bank are some of the banks that have opened shop in Hoima in the recent past

The Banks, the roads and the bustle of Kinubi

While taking the walk around town, I see Crane Bank, DFCU Bank, KCB Bank, Barclays Bank and Equity Bank just some of the banks that have opened branches in Hoima in the last 7 or so years. These banks were not here back then. But now they are all here, scheming for oil business, I suppose.

While I take the pictures of the Barclays Bank and DFCU bank, my attention is drawn to a sickening peculiarity in this town, the rotting roads. This is another problem that the oil must solve. The roads in this town are in a sorry state. Someone needs to attend to them.

My walk around town eventually leads me to Kinubi. Kinubi is the town that literally lies at the gates of Hoima town ushering people from Kampala into Hoima town. I remember the history of the name Kinubi. It is said that in the past, Nubians were the chief inhabitants of this area and thus the christening, Kinubi (a place of Nubians).

10 or so years ago, Kinubi was just a trading centre with nothing to write home about. But things have evolved here. The town boasts of real life now. While there, the blaring music from the shops will not escape my attention. I am almost certain the people in those shops are pirating other people’s works of art. It is the way people deal with other people’s music here in Uganda anyway, not only in Kinubi.

Hoima’s night life

I have been walking around town whole day. It is 7:00pm. I think of going back home but I just cannot write and forget about Hoima’s night life. For those that know me, they will tell you I am not a night kind of guy. The only place you can ever find me in the wee hours of the night or morning is in a church for a prayer overnight. Honestly. But for this one time I am curious to know what happens in Hoima when the rest of the world is sleeping.

For starters, at least I know that the New Tunes on Main Street is the most reknown night club here. There is another one down Rukarato Road but I guess that one is relatively new, it is called De Place. There are also hosts of pubs around town. Call In Pub was the darling of many a few years ago, but from the time it shifted to that location opposite Hoima Town Mosque, I wonder whether it still rocks like it used to.

I am On Main Street. I can see the numbers that have flocked Setlight Pub tonight for an evening drink up. Most of the shops opposite the pub are closed. There is more darkness than light because not all Ugandans can afford generators like the proprietors of Setlight Pub. Besides, the kind of light in such settings is usually dim to provide for cozy moments. The less the light, the less the number of people watching you know.

Stumbling into Hoima’s red light zones

But some of us must watch, for it is the reason why we are paid. However there is more watching to do tonight than just keeping an eye on the inconsequential things happening at Setlight Pub. And because there is more watching to do, I call a Boda Boda (Motocycle Taxi) rider and ask him whether he knows of any place where I can get a harlot for a night. He tells me of a certain Sax pub that is behind the the Bus Park in Hoima.

I head straight to Sax Pub. I have never been to Sax Pub for the all the days I have been in Hoima but the moment I reach the place, even in the absence of a sign post, I am certain it is the Sax Pub, the Boda Boda guy was talking about. I can see half- naked girls trading their “God-given goods”. King Saha’s Mulirwana is playing. The girls selling their goods stand outside the bar show casing what they have to offer. Amongst the many I see a young light skinned girl or should I say babe. I almost imagine she is not 18 years yet but hey, I am not here to examine and determine how old people are. (Enters Bar).

I make my order for a Mountain Dew. There are a number of men here playing Pool Table and the bar attendants are attending to whoever calls for their attention in this comfy makeshift. There is this one bar attendant dressed in a low-cut yellow pair of pants and a red top. I can see her knickers. They are supposed to be white but I can’t call that white. I wonder when she last washed them. Despite the dim light in the bar, I can tell that it was a very long time ago. I am starting to fight for oxygen here. I have to get out immediately. I can’t wait to take the Soda I ordered for and get out of here.

I have abandoned the Soda idea. I am outside Sax Pub. I inquire from the Boda Boda guy what he thinks is the cost of hiring a prostitute here. He tells me for just a conversation within the confines of Sax Pub, it will cost 10,000 shillings. If you want to take any of these girls out of here, it can’t be less than 20,000 Ushs.” he reveals.

“But I am not here to buy prostitutes for a night. I have to go now.” I silently protest.

The next morning I am on the road to the oil wells. I enjoy the ride on the newly tarmac-ed Hoima- Kaiso Tonya Road. I am heading to Kyaparoni Village. From Kyaparoni, I want is to get back to Kampala. But before I leave, I contact Ernest Byaruhanga, a land Broker in Hoima to inquire about the prices of Land. He tells me, a 50 × 100 metre plot of land in the upscale suburbs like Kijungu will cost 40 Million Ushs. In the other places like Kinubi, Mparo, Kibati and Kiryatetete and Kibati a plot of that size will cost between 7 Million Ushs and 15 Million Ushs. This is however may depend on a host of other factors.

A resident’s take on Hoima’s progress and the oil

Whereas the talk of oil is one that you would expect to excite any resident, to some of them oil is not a cause for celebration unless the oil talk translates into more effective service delivery in the municipality.

Micheal Businge, the Field Office Coordinator of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance and also a resident of Hoima says “It’s good for us to have oil but if the oil is not reflected in the roads that we have or a steadier hydro electric power supply in the municipality, then the common man loses out.”

“What people want here is to be able to do their businesses without the fear that power is going off anytime, or to move through the town and the roads are in good shape.”

“Look at those roads” he says while pointing at roads, “And you except us to be happy because we have oil.”

Micheal Businge believes that it is not just the roads in town that should be improved but even the feeder roads that link the rural areas in Hoima to the urban market. He cites the example of the Hoima- Kaiso Tonya Road which is now tarmac and how it has helped improve access for the people from the villages to Hoima Municipality.

“When people start to access Hoima town more easily to sell their produce, then they will appreciate the essence of the oil discovery.” Businge argues.

The Municipality embarks on new structural plan

Hoima Town Clerk Natal Banya. He says the town is developing at a first rate

Hoima Town Clerk Emmanuel Natal Banya says the town is developing at a first rate

However, according to the Town Clerk, Emmanuel Natal Banya, most of the infrastructural shortcomings of the town will be history when the municipality adopts a new structural plan.

“We have contracted Dr. Charles Koojo’s Urban Research and Training Consultancy Ltd to help us come up with a detailed plan for this town.” Banya states.

Banya says If the Municipality adopts the proposed structural plan, buildings structured in the old Indian style which constitute the majority in Hoima will have to be brought down to pave way for more modern structures in the Central Business District.

With assistance from the government under the Uganda Support for Municipal Infrastructural Development project, plans are also underway to refurbish all the roads in town.

“We were waiting for the structural plan before we start working on the roads. Now we are getting the plan soon. As soon as we have that plan with us, we shall start working on the roads.” Banya states

The Municipal Council is as well engaging Solar Companies that can provide improved street lighting in Hoima.

When I ask him about what effect he thinks the oil business has had on Hoima he points to an increased the demand for hospitality services.

“The rate of development is very high of late. In the past, the council would approve less than 30 Development Plans per month. But today we approve over 80 Development Plans every month,”The Hoima Municipality Boss says

“There is an influx of people coming into Hoima to do business now. The food prices have also shot up”

The town has grown from covering a space of 8.9 Sq Kms to a space of about 23.5 Sq Kms in the last 5 or so years.

About 15 years ago this town was even smaller only covering 5.5 Sq Kms.

Therefore, though the common man in Hoima may find it hard to agree with this, if we are to go by these statistics, we cannot help but believe the notion that this oil thing is causing fast paced development in the town of Hoima.

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