Who will manage Uganda’s oil better?

04 January 2016, Kampala – Charles Onyango-Obbo, a veteran journalist and editor of South African online newspaper Mail and Guardian, in August 2015 wrote in his weekly column published in this newspaper that “oil is Uganda’s moon landing.”

Yoweri Museveni, Uganga's president

President Museveni

When you come to look at it critically, the description makes perfect sense. At every debate on Uganda’s political economy, you won’t miss mention of Uganda’s oil and the current 6.5 billion barrels (1.4 billion barrels recoverable so far), the stock tank oil in place/reserves and Uganda’s position in its background.

Petro-dollars, which are yet to start flowing when the country starts commercial production around 2018/2019 according to government, Mr Onyango-Obbo said will intensify the race for State House further in future.

“What this means, is that the shape of Uganda over the next 20 years is uncertain,” he noted. “This fluidity about the shape of a future Uganda was not there in the pre-oil era when Museveni and Kizza Besigye first tangled in 2001. So write that in your risk analysis.”

A lot has been written about Uganda since commercial oil discovery was made public on the eve of Independence Day in 2006; almost a year after Parliament changed the Constitution to lift the presidential term limits, and five months after President Museveni had returned to office for a third term after a 59 per cent poll victory.

Researchers, economists and naysayers alike have since been painting a dark picture of Uganda–plunging into a resource curse, rise of clientelism, economic/financial turmoil, and the black gold effect on the current political setting–that is said to be alternating between democracy and semi-authoritarianism.

But as the presidential race enters the eighth week, the candidates’ manifestos so far offer some hope.

President Museveni, the incumbent seeking a fifth term in office until 2021, promises that his government is “consciously and strategically developing the oil and gas sector to ensure that the country gets the maximum possible benefits”.

His former long-time friend and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi in his manifesto indicates that the 25 districts in which the oil resource is located will not miss out on the revenue sharing programme.

Four-time presidential contender Kizza Besigye, also the Forum for Democratic Change flag bearer, is yet to release his policy prescription, but in the Leap Forward document the party released recently offers some insight into how the FDC government will lead while basking in adulation of oil production.

Projected revenues/petro-dollars when production starts, according Dr Paul Bagabo, the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI)’s resident coordinator, are estimated will be around Shs11 trillion ($3.3b) annually by 2028.

The plummeting prices for crude currently ($35 per barrel down, the lowest since 2009, and down from the standard $100) notwithstanding, oil remains the world’s most indispensable commodity.

  • The Monitor
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