Follow the oil debate in Uganda
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Uganda’s oil may still be underground, but tensions are already bubbling to the surface as government, MP’s and civil society clash over allegations of million-dollar oil bribes, lawsuits and accountability demands.
Many Ugandans were positively surprised when Uganda’s parliament passed a resolution in early October demanding an end to all oil deals until proper transparency and accountability laws are put in place. There were also calls for an independent investigation into the alleged million-dollar bribes ministers had accepted from western oil companies.
“I could not believe it. It is the first time in my life that I've heard people in parliament speak out against corruption in this way and actually overrule a government decision”, recalls Joyce, a neatly dressed student at the Leadership Centre in the capital Kampala.
But Joyce's hopes soon disappeared when NRM’s ruling party quickly intervened last weekend and overturned the decision made by a parliamentary majority. Financial deals with Tullow Oil will continue, and the three ministers accused of taking bribes will not step aside, as parliament’s resolution demanded, said Chairman Dr Bahati last Sunday.
The battle has just begun. Six Ugandan human rights groups filed a lawsuit against the Ugandan government and Tullow Oil on Wednesday over their impending financial oil deals despite the parliamentary resolutions that blocked them, declaring it to be ‘unconstitutional’. They also claim Tullow Oil is guilty of unlawful land evictions. A group of lawmakers with the backing of MP’s have drafted a new motion accusing the ministers allegedly involved in the oil bribes of ‘failing to adhere to parliamentary resolutions’.
Excitement and bitterness
Ugandans follow the lively debate on the radio, television and internet with a mix of excitement and bitterness. “Old people like our president need to walk with a stick to support them. The Ministers who are accused of taking bribes are like the walking stick for the mzee (old man, red). He needs and depends on them so he will never kick them out!” argues 32-year old Kampala resident, John Ruyange.
Mr Godber Tumushabe, speaking on behalf of The Civil Society Coalition on Oil, Publish What You Pay and the Oil Watch Network said “We call upon our President to reflect on the crisis of confidence that our Government faces and provide leadership that mobilises Ugandans and our institutions to safeguard our oil resources against greed by individual politicians, public officials and corporations”.
Undermining the work of parliament
“We are particularly concerned that it is our president who is leading the charge to undermine the work of parliament,” added Mr GodberTumushabe, director of ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment).
Sources in the oil industry describe Uganda as ‘Africa’s hottest inland exploration frontier’. The majority of Ugandan oil reserves can be found in the Albertine Graben in the western part of the country. It is believed that Uganda’s oil is the biggest find in Africa of the last 20 years, with estimated reserves of at least 2.5 billion barrels, known as ‘black gold’.
This means Uganda is set to become a key oil producing nation like Sudan, Angola and Nigeria. Some hope the petrodollars, that could double the state’s revenue, will bring more prosperity for the landlocked East African country. Both Botswana (diamonds) and Ghana (oil) show that it is possible to profit in a sustainable way from the natural resources.
But critics fear Uganda will fall prey to what is known as the resource curse, a paradoxical situation in which countries with vast natural resources tend to have worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. Examples are Africa’s two top producing oil countries, Nigeria and Angola, both marred by corruption, bad governance and the majority of the population living in a state of abject poverty.