As east Africa braces itself to reap in the benefits of the newly found oil resources, side-deals will brew an unwelcome distraction when it comes to who will benefit the most.
When Kenya went down the unfortunate road back in 2007, Uganda strengthened its resolve to building a refinery to avoid the Kenya transport corridor that it deemed unstable and tax-laden. Self-sufficiency, they called it, the ability to convert their oil into a vast array of energy projects to provide fuel, generate electricity and generate export income that was still being provided mostly by farm export. The discovery of oil in Uganda was the trigger to all the exploration being carried out in our country today and we have to be thankful for that, and this reduced the risk substantially that foreign multinationals had about oil being found in the Great Rift with investment topping the U.S $ 1,500 million mark in 2012.
That’s the rosy part of things. This exploration has come with its challenges. The conflict currently in Turkana paints a picture of what has also been happening in the other east African countries. Uganda’s Western neighbours have for long pushed Museveni to the brink especially the M-23 rebels who seem out of reach from both the Congo and Uganda governments, crossing both borders with diplomatic ease into the forests of Eastern Congo, haven for ICC wanted warlords and child fighter rebel groups.
The Allied Democratic Forces have for long being planning attacks on Uganda’s oil installations. The AU contingent of Uganda defence forces in Somalia have also seen a rise in the threats by terrorists group Al-shabaab. Kenya has seen such threats limited to Nairobi for now but I’m sure when the fighting stops in Turkana they will be planning to come in and take over. What happened during the Migingo debate shows just how fragile and thin lined our engagements are.
Our silent neighbours Tanzania have also not been left out. Their recent spat with Malawi over who owns Lake Malawi (or L. Nyasa depending on who you talk to), when Malawi started prospecting for oil showed that no one is immune to conflict (Read Tanzania’s Military Ready in Malawi Border Dispute). From a lame (Tanzania) man’s perspective here was what was happening..”Hawa wa-Malawi hawa wataka kunyonya mafuta yetu toke sehemu lile lao ndio tusifaidike sisi!” (I’ve heard this argument before from someone who suggested to me that the oil in the Middle East was somehow connected to our oil here and they were trying to stop us from drilling it because we would be effectively “mining what is not ours” and we could “finish it”). Both countries were ready to go for war to defend what they thought as theirs.
A similar thing happened in 2007 in the DRC, in the eastern border close to L. Albert where Uganda had discovered oil and violence flared, leading to the death of a geologist who was shot dead by DRC forces. A month later six DRC soldiers were shot dead by Ugandan soldiers who opened fire on a ferry carrying passengers on the lake. Museveni went on to purchase six fighter jets from Russia, by-passing all government procurement procedures.
South-Sudan has done well to resolve its recent upheavals although it has greatly damaged its image internationally. It had to deploy its military to the capital and the oil states both deemed as the most important during that conflict to leave the rebels without any bargaining power when they came to the table. Uganda’s President Museveni again offered military assistance to recapture their oil state. Museveni’s militarism is seen by many as ingredients for dictatorship if anything or anyone was to challenge him or his allies.
Kenya has seen our military being deployed too often in the recent years, with every major security issue being a matter of military involvement. Their famous capture of Kisimayu has led to a ripple effect in the country and they’re the same ones being called to neutralise the resultant attacks that spill over into Kenya.
All this is happening even before we have started drilling and production. The small conflicts that are happening up north have not yet blown over but this might be a sign of thongs to come.