Without Good Governance and Rule of Law Uganda’s Oil will Be Curse, Not Blessing


Harold Acemah

[Aluta Continua]

On April 11, 2021, Uganda, Tanzania, Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) signed three Agreements at State House, Entebbe to develop Uganda’s oil and gas resources located in Bunyoro kingdom, Acholi and West Nile regions.

The agreements which were subject of protracted negotiations for almost 15 years are the first concrete steps in efforts by the two East African Community partner states to construct the 897 mile East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) from Hoima in Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga. When completed, at a cost of $3.8 billion, it will be the longest heated pipeline in the world. EACOP will initially pump and carry petroleum and gas from the Tilenga and Kingfisher projects located in Bunyoro, but Uganda’s richest oilfields are located in the Albertine Graben which is in Acholi and West Nile, along both sides of River Nile.

Contrary to what President Yoweri Museveni said in his speech at Entebbe on April 11, Uganda’s oil was discovered in the 1920s during the British colonial regime. In a report titled “Petroleum in Uganda” the existence of oil along the shores of Lake Albert was documented in 1925, by E. J. Wayland, a British geologist of the colonial regime.

In the presence of President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, ministers from Tanzania and Uganda and several distinguished and invited guests, President Museveni proclaimed, without any shame whatsoever, that Uganda’s oil and gas were discovered in 2006 by the NRM regime. It is disingenuous, misleading, mindboggling and unacceptable. In recent times, a comprehensive aeromagnetic survey was done in 1983, by the second UPC government led by President Milton Obote, to identify areas with hydrocarbons in the Albertine Graben. Another aeromagnetic survey was done jointly by Uganda and DRC in 1983-1984 of Lake Albert which contains rich deposits of oil and gas. An agreement for the joint exploration and development of common oilfields in Lake Albert was signed by Uganda and DRC in 1990.

Serious exploration and exploitation of Uganda’s oilfields started in 1984, but was suspended because of a reactionary military coup which happened on July 27, 1985, followed by another military coup on January 25, 1986.

The pipeline was originally intended to run from Hoima via Acholi, Lango, Karamoja and Turkana regions and finally to the Kenyan port of Lamu, but for dubious political and parochial reasons the original plan was changed unilaterally to the chagrin of President Uhuru Kenyatta and the government of Kenya. The irony of it is that the route via Kenya is shorter and cheaper than the route via Tanzania, which raises many intriguing, troubling and unanswered questions.

Then there is the issue of beneficiaries of the industry. A friend who is an expert in the oil and gas sector told me recently that if the resources had been located in the Ankole region, the proceeds would most likely be ring-fenced for the exclusive benefit of the privileged people of that region. It is indeed quite telling that citizens from the Greater North of Uganda have been excluded from operations of Uganda’s oil and gas sector, especially at senior levels, despite the fact that most of Uganda’s oil reserves are found in that region. It is as if Ugandans from the Greater North are not legitimate stakeholders who are entitled to Uganda’s oil and gas resources. In addition, I am advised that students and teaching staff at the Uganda Petroleum Institute, Kigumba are predominantly from Western Uganda. I stand to be corrected.

On behalf of the silent majority of Ugandans, I would like to state categorically, for the record, that Uganda’s oil and gas resources belong to all Ugandans and the proceeds accruing from the same must be shared fairly and equitably. Second, the government of Uganda must immediately publish all agreements signed at Entebbe on April 11 and subsequent agreements. Third, the people of Uganda demand and deserve transparency and full accountability from the government, Uganda National Oil Company and Petroleum Authority of Uganda.

I believe that good governance, integrity and the rule of law are necessary to ensure and guarantee that Uganda’s oil and gas will be a blessing, not a curse for our beloved country. Aluta continua!


Oil pipeline photo for illustrative purpose–this is not the actual Ugandan project. Credit GordonJ86/Wikimedia Commons.

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