Uganda’s Oil Can Support the Country’s Economy

Ugandan oil rig

For the past few weeks, Uganda’s Parliament has been pre-occupied with oil postmortem. Both the members of the ruling party and the opposition agree on crucifying some people.

They have generated more heat for themselves than light for Ugandans. The rest of us just look on in bewilderment. A Primary Seven son of a minister could only ask his father to resign. Are we witnessing institutional entropy?

In New Vision of August 5, 2005, President Museveni is quoted to have lamented that harnessing Africa’s resources had not transformed the continent, but rather been a bad omen.

He further said the situation was becoming untenable because when oil is discovered in an African country, it is considered a curse. The corrupting tendency of oil can be worrying. Look at Libya or Equatorial Sudan.

Uganda needs oil winning agenda which all Ugandans can benefit from.

If managed wisely, this oil has the potential to do great good. We need to use the oil money to pay for better education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.

So far, it is worrying that there is far more debate about how oil money was spent than how to create benefits to enable Uganda compete for the future and shape our destiny. The future is not what will happen to the minister’s family. The future is what is happening to Ugandans now. Could MPs help create this future?

MPs should help us avoid the risk of starving non-oil business of capital, skills, attention and intention much like in the dark days of Magendo (White market). We need to strike the right balance. A politicised bloat that can follow an oil boom is likely to corrupt us. Who is benefiting from Nigeria’s oil?

Becoming an oil exporter could complete the social transformation process that began with the NRM revolution. Oil could add pleasingly to geographical commercial and security benefits Uganda continues to create for the whole of Africa. Without a lot of care, oil might block our transformation as much as spur it on.

Almost one year after general elections, the Government has not implemented its manifesto and the promises it made to Ugandans. We only witness accusation and counter-accusations, phenomenal wastes, misallocation of money and corruption. Parliament appears to be a theatre!

Yet MPs will give accountability to Ugandans and to God.

Uganda’s population is a strategic resource estimated over 50 million by 2050 compared to Japan’s population of 127 million, which is predicted to be 90 million by 2050. As Japan grows old and feeble, why can Uganda not provide their companies with local owned competition? Why not make this our diaspora agenda?

First, it is the peasant and the town slum dwellers, who contribute greatly to our population growth. We need to focus our debate on them.

Uganda had food security, exported coffee, cotton and tea. It is the peasants that liberated this country and stabilises its economy. MPs should spearhead building modern markets at all border posts of Uganda since social transformation of our villages fundamentally depends on foreign markets.

MPs should strengthen SACCOs and promote co-operatives and tourism. Organised peasants can produce everything Uganda needs. We do not need massive displacement of peasants in the name of commercial agriculture.

Second, creating a world beating oil services industry should be our strategic intent. Let us establish an oil and gas college at Makerere University and expand Uganda Petroleum Institute in Kigumba.

Third, strategic intent of oil must take primacy over real politik of oil.

Let us create an Oil and Gas Authority, which will seek to strike the right balance between national content and foreign expertise and kick-start an oil-services industry. This Oil and Gas Authority should command the respect and allegiance of Ugandans.

MPs can change the rules to be more Norwegian and not Libya.


The writer is the director, Uganda Transformation Society