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Oil brings new facelift to Hoima

Visiting oil rich Hoima town after a year, one gets the impression that the town is re-positioning itself to tap the huge expected revenues from oil.

There seems to be a belief that the first areas to benefit from the oil sector will be in the hospitality and real estate sectors. Just cruising around the town, a rough count of the hotels and lodges brings the figure to 28, an increase from 12 a year back.

And the old ones are improving their facilities to remain relevant in what they expect to be a vibrant sector.

Lawrence Bategeka, who has been running one of the district's best schools, Mandela SS Hoima, since 1997, recently started putting up a hotel, which he is yet to name.

"I think that if you invest in a hotel, it will return more money than a school while accounting for less in operating costs. And with the oil industry coming, one can't go wrong", he says.

Others like the long-running Kon Tiki and Kolping hotels have seen improvements in their facilities by installing solar powered lighting and DStv to ensure uninterrupted services.

"We want to ensure that clients will get uninterrupted service", a receptionist at Kolping Hotel said.

Two major bus companies, Link and Hoima coaches, serve the town as well as a string of mini-bus taxis. Link Bus, in particular, has devoted eight buses on this route alone, even though some of them travel half-full.

But the company continues to build its capacity for the long term. "We are new on this route, but we are hoping to give customers a good service and eventually they will look at it as value for money", Swaleh Ayebale, a staffer on the Link bus says.

The company has put up a relatively modern bus terminal in Hoima that accommodates two buses at any one time. The company has also improved its services, with a staffer ready with a jerrycan of water around Busunju in Mityana district for passengers after easing themselves.

But the availability of office space is the most visible aspect of Hoima's new facelift. Most developers are evidently going for taller buildings to take advantage of every inch of space.

"There is a belief that many companies working with the oil explorers will come here to look for office space, since the oil is in the village", Abel Mugangaizi, a part-time land broker in Hoima, says.

Mugangaizi also admitted that the price of land has shot up around Hoima in the last three years. A plot of land measuring 100ft by 50ft with a relatively old structure now goes for Shs 25 million, up from Shs 15 million two years ago.

"And as it becomes evident that oil is coming, those prices will go even higher, because some companies may want to buy more land to build offices and homes", Mugangaizi explains.

But the real estate area is likely to be dominated by the old players.

For instance, Tullow OilĂ­s offices are to be found on the two-storeyed Muganwa Centre, which belongs to deputy Prime Minister Henry Muganwa Kajura.

The town's banking system has also become more active in the last two years. There are now 14 commercial banks and at least three Microfinance and Deposit-taking Institutions (MDIs) like Pride Microfinance, making for a very busy bank clearing house.

However, the town faces the challenge of a poor road network. Compared to Takoradi in Ghana, the coastal town close to the offshore oil where the infrastructure has attracted all sorts of trading activities, Hoima remains a sleepy town, with boda bodas including bicycles the main means of transport around town.

Hoima town recently upgraded to a Municipality but the transformation in its infrastructure will take time. Most roads in Hoima are murram and dusty.

mtalemwa@observer.ug

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd