Unlike other African nations, Uganda aims to dodge 'oil curse'
After one of the largest oil discoveries in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda is trying to avoid the pitfalls of other African nations that have become flush overnight with petrol dollars. Many worry that a culture of corruption could stymie these efforts.
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Biraahwa Mukitale Stephen Adyeeri, member of Parliament for the Buliisa District, which sits on roughly half the find, says that, given oil's history on the continent, the concern isn't surprising. "But we haven't served the food yet, and you say the food is bad?" he quips.Skip to next paragraph
Why It Matters
Uganda is the latest African nation to win the 'oil lottery' – a find that may yield $50 billion a year. Oil wealth has typically led to dictatorships, corruption, slow growth, and conflict. But some signs point to Uganda's response being a different, hopeful one.
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Mr. Biraahwa says it's important to build capacity and manage expectations.
Even some skeptics have been encouraged by the level of engagement by the government and its partners.
Xav Hagen, of the activist group International Alert, recalls a time shortly after Uganda hit on the huge reserves, when villagers showed up at the sites clutching jerrycans and expecting to haul off oil like water. In the time since, Mr. Hagan says, the government and its partners have held radio phone-ins, consulted with village chiefs, and have even showed up at potentially hostile meetings.
Involving locals in the oil boom
Engagement is also being used to inform Ugandans how they can participate in and benefit from the oil boom.
The government has begun degree programs and other training initiatives to boost local human capital. An institute is being set up to train people in petroleum geology, production, and other related sciences. The country's largest university, Makarere, has begun a degree program in petroleum geoscience. The Uganda Christian University at Mukono will begin to teach oil and gas law soon.
Taimour Lay of Platform, the London-based group that obtained the leaked papers, says these measures do little to ensure oil production will succeed. Besides what he calls "unfavorable" production-sharing agreements, he points to a lack of a revenue management system, undemocratic politics, and a border dispute with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Two years ago the government issued a national oil and gas policy that has generally been regarded favorably and is to be the framework of new legislation that would cover environmental protection and resource and revenue management.
Mr. Kamugisha cites the town of Chamwali, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where refugees have been driven from land they've occupied for 30 years. Meanwhile, tribal disputes in the oil-rich Bunyoro area have risen amid uncertainty about revenue-sharing, and there's talk of drilling in protected areas.
Frank Muramuzi, executive director of Uganda's National Association of Professional Environmentalists, says the largely unregulated landscape is worrisome.
The government and its partners say legislation will likely be finalized by year's end, putting them one step closer to turning the country's oil into gold.
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