By Faruk Kirunda
Uganda and East Africa at large are under attack just as we are making faster strides into modernisation of our economy(ies) and coalescing for common interests of our people, and a stronger bloc. A lot has been said about the European Union (EU) Parliament resolution calling for halting the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) running from the Albertine region in Uganda through Northern Tanzania to Tanga at the coast over alleged human rights transgressions and environmental concerns.
The resolution came both as a surprise and also as something to be expected. It was a surprise because while we know that the West generally has little regard for the progress of and interests of Africans and still has a hangover from the colonial era, some of us don’t expect their disdain to be so open and ruthless.
Targeting EACOP, a flagship project that is the lifeline of the nascent oil industry in Uganda is an act of great sabotage and illwill on the part of those who passed the resolution. Hasn’t Afrivan been sabotaged enough that, for once, we can be spared to make steps into modernity?
The idea that Africa should be relegated to receiving foreign aid at the expense of trading with the world has long been debunked by our dear leaders and Pan-Africanists. If EU wants us to stay at the foot of their table for the crumbs that come off, upfront, as a Ugandan and Pan-Africanist, mentored by the greatest Pan-Africanist alive and “Father of the Region”, H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, I cannot stand the ignominy behind it all.
We are better than that and more capable of more if only our friends accept to be real friends.
Passing the resolution would not be the problem; raising attention to human rights and environmental concerns would not be the problem. The problem is the timing and the spirit and motivation behind it.
Uganda has come from far in its struggle to harness its God-given natural resources. Having lost colossal value from its other resources which were blundered during the colonial era and a lot more through the unfair trade culture of exporting raw materials, thus transferring lots of jobs and money lost at value-addition level, the discovery of commercially viable oil deposits in 2006 was a fundamental chance. Oil money and the activities around all the processes of harnessing the resource spelt a fundamental opportunity for Uganda’s economy to take off.
Indeed, even before the first barrel got out of the ground, Uganda has benefitted from payments by oil companies with interests in the oil fields and that money has done a lot to support development programs. Oil is really brought transformation in Uganda and we see greater prospects when the resource begins flowing. If you go to Bunyoro, you don’t have to be told that there is a great shift in the fortunes of the sub-region, right from the infrastructure to the value of the land and the investment climate. Bunyoro of today is not the Bunyoro of pre-2006.
Even for Uganda at large, much of the economic outlook is pegged on oil to help power the other segments of the economy like Agriculture, Infrastructure development and Industry.
And just as we are in the last phase of the process to start drilling and sending the product to the world market, “our friends” come in to order us to stop activities. How is that possible and how would they expect us not to ask to know what is going on? Why would anyone feel that we don’t even have a right to want to know how the resolution was reached and why the Governments of Uganda and Tanzania were not involved before the resolution was made?
It’s not even about the Governments but the people. How many Ugandans know or have a hand in that resolution or have their voices on record? We only saw a few individuals carrying placards in Western capitals and a few meeting with wellknown political rivals of the regime. Do those form the “constituency” that aims to topple the economic prospects of an entire region? Which human rights are being preached when Ugandans and Tanzanians have not been spoken to-the ones on the ground.
I made personal research and have been among communities around the EACOP corridor; the people are very happy with the project. They are already benefitting from it and they look out for more fortunes. Telling them that the project has been halted is not something they even want to imagine. And they are correct! They are suspicious of the motives and I know that EU Parliament will have many questions to answer.
The reaction of the political class to the news of the passing of the resolution also gives a hint on the motive and mission behind it. For sometime now, there has been effort to undermine the Uganda Government in order to strengthen his competitors and give them political mileage. They fear that if oil money comes in and Government invests in empowering the local person economically through such initiatives as PDM and Emyooga that it will be impossible to upstage the current Government. The idea now is to engage in economic sabotage, alongside other schemes, but Ugandans have eyes, they have ears and they have the final say.
With or without oil, Uganda is on an onward match to greatness, and it’s unstoppable. But every additional investment is most welcome. All concerns-whether on human rights, environmental, political, etc-can be looked at closely and addressed but the discussions should be fair, just and complementary to full speed development of EACOP.
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary