When Uganda created 10 new cities in July 2020, Hoima rose from a municipality to assume the moniker Oil City. This had been long in coming. About two decades ago, Hoima was a small, humble and almost lifeless town with a population of less than 30,000 residents.
“Back then Hoima’s economy was the weakest in midwestern Uganda,” says Lennox Mugume, 43, a local businessman. “Neighbouring Buliisa and Kibale towns had somewhat booming economies. Buliisa was famous for fishing while Kibale was arguably Uganda’s biggest producer of illicit liquor. In Hoima, almost nothing appeared to be going on then, both socially and economically.”
Things began to buzz in 2006 when oil was discovered in Lake Albert, about 40km west of Hoima town.
By 2010, international oil and construction companies such as Britain’s Tullow Oil, France’s Total and China’s China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Chongqing International Construction Corporation were in Hoima, and construction of roads and other mega infrastructure was set in motion.
Since then, the government has poured millions of dollars into Hoima’s road network, including the 190-km Hoima-Kampala road, Hoima-Butiaba-Wanseko (111 km) and Kyenjojo-Hoima-Masindi-Kigumba (238 km).
Leaps and bounds
With better roads and rising number of locally-based international firms, the years that followed 2006 saw 10 more regional and international financial institutions setting up base in Hoima, including Bank of Africa, Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, DfCU and Absa.
Hotels such as the four-star Kontiki Hotel and Hoima Resort Hotels soon sprung up, setting the stage for several others, says Fred Kabagyo, acting deputy mayor, Hoima City, which today, looks determined to handle new businesses and the burgeoning population.
To boost oil production and tourism, the government has invested $309 million to construct Hoima International Airport, expected to be complete and start welcoming passengers by 2023.
Hoima’s biggest tourist attractions are cultural and historic like: Mparo Tombs, the final resting place of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom’s last two kings, the legendary Chwa II Kabalega and his son Sir Tito Winyi IV; Karuziika Palace, the principal seat of power for the kings of Bunyoro-Kitara since 1872; and Katasiha Fort, built by Omukama Chwa II Kabalega following an attack on his capital in Mparo by the British colonial army.
Murchison Falls National Park, is 65 km to the northeast. It is Uganda’s oldest wildlife reserve and is boasts over 90 animal species, including three of Africa’s Big Five: lions, buffaloes and leopards.
A two-hour drive west of Hoima leads to Kibale National Park, also known as the World’s Primate Capital, for indulgence in one of the most exciting activities on an African wildlife safari: chimpanzee tracking in the Kibale rainforest.
Also in the mix is Budongo Forest, one of the largest rainforests in East Africa (covering 825 sq. km), luring birding and nature enthusiasts.
With the planned Uganda-Tanzania Crude Oil Pipeline — a 1,445 km $3.5b project that will connect Hoima’s oil fields to the Tanzanian port of Tanga — things seem to be looking up for Hoima.
One can also retrace King Kabalega’s footsteps by trekking the Royal Mile, a mile-long trail created by the legendary King of Bunyoro-Kitara.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on February 20, 2021.