West Nile. The residents of Nwoya district have resorted to the use of puppets to share information regarding oil and gas in the area.

This follows several concerns about the existing information gaps on oil and gas prospects in the district. Similar concerns were also raised in the West Nile region.

The discovery of oil and gas in Nwoya district took place after seismic studies around the Murchison falls area were conducted by Total’s Ugandan operations, Total Exploration and Production (Total E&P) in September 2012.

Since then, many residents claim Total has not been empowering them with information on the benefits and challenges that may arise as a result of the discovery of oil in their area.

But with the help of Northern Albertine network on environment and petroleum (NANEP), Rural initiative for community empowerment west Nile (RICE-WN) and World Wide Fund for nature, selected residents were trained on how to use puppets, drama and traditional songs to sensitize their fellow residents on issues regarding oil and gas.

The selected residents who are now championing the sensitization drive across the district belong to Lubanga mamiyo and Nwoya district youth puppeteer groups.

Mr David Okumu, the coordinator of Nwoya district youth puppeteer group said they were trained to disseminate information on environmental issues, wildlife conservation, oil and gas so that people know what exactly takes place within their communities.

“Therefore, with the sensitization, we have chosen the use of puppets because they entertain people and make us pass our information easily. People are used to our normal body gesture and movement but with the use of puppets, they enjoy our activities so much without being bored,” Okumu explained.

“Puppets also help us in mobilizing people. They are seen as new things in the community and every time we come with them, people gather automatically and by the time we start performing dramas and singing traditional songs, people get our messages on oil and gas with ease,” Okumu added.

He noted that at the beginning, people knew nothing much about oil and gas because they thought the oil only concerns the government.

Okumu said later through their interaction, locals have started knowing what oil and gas is all about and how it can impact on their lives.

“We usually tell people that oil and gas has many opportunities; whether you are educated or not but so long as you have the capacity, you can work within the oil sector either directly or indirectly to get money. You can have your business within the oil centre and people working there can buy your things or you can be employed to work there as a casual labourer, carpenter depending on the qualification you have,” Okumu said.

He said they always inform the public that oil and gas is not a one-man activity but a natural resource for the whole country.

According to Okumu, on environmental protection, they usually encourage locals to plant trees to absorb the toxic carbon emitted through the waste products from the oil industry so as to avoid the challenges associated with global warming.

Meanwhile Ms Grace Akidi, the Rubanga Ayemiyo group leader said through their interactions with the community, they have been encouraging people not to sell their land on grounds that the value will go up anytime in the future.

“Many people are right now coming to buy land in our district. Most of them are targeting the oil in this area so that when exploration starts, they can get compensated better and this is what our people didn’t know. But through the dramas, the traditional songs and by the use of puppets, we have been passing such information to them and they are now understanding,” Akidi who doubles as the district female councillor representing Purongo and Got Afoyo sub-counties said.

However, when contacted on phone, Mr Chris Ocuwun, the Total Public Relations Coordinator argued that they have been engaging the public on issues concerning oil and gas regularly.

“Before Corona came in, as Total we have what is called notice board in all the sub-counties in Nwoya district. On these notice boards, each time we have new information about oil and gas, we put it there. Leave alone that one, every quarter, we organize what we call national supplier awareness workshops on opportunities and benefits of oil and gas,” Ocuwun said.

He said last year, they had one at Purongo Hill primary school where different stakeholders were invited.

“So, when it comes to information, I don’t want to believe that we don’t avail it but people should also show interest in getting the information. Besides, we have community liaison officers who move from village to village to share information with the community. We even conduct radio talk shows on all the radios,” Ocuwun stated.