And my thoughts on oil: Curse or Blessing? – Nandala Mafabi

Hon. Nathan Nandala-Mafabi Chairman BCU & MP Budadiri West
Hon. Nathan Nandala-Mafabi Chairman BCU & MP Budadiri West
  1. On behalf of Ugandans who value knowledge and on my own behalf, allow me to congratulate Hon Dr. Ezra Sabiti Suruma, for availing this sincere piece of knowledge to us. It takes a lot of wisdom, courage and thinking above -self to come out with such a damning and insightful writing if you are a member of the ruling party and an Economic Advisor to the President. Suruma, I salute you and hope that others will come out to give their candid opinions about the affairs in our country.
  2. This is a comment on chapter 17 “Oil: Blessing or Curse”. I will mention the areas I agree with the author then move on to give some other considerations about Uganda’s oil management.
  3. My first point of agreement is that indeed, Uganda’s unemployment and under employment levels are turning into a security threat and as Dr. Suruma’s statistics on students enrolment show, in five to seven years, if nothing is done, the situation could go out of hand. If 366,423 students completed national secondary program in 2010 and only half proceeded to post secondary, it means that about 183,211 youth entered the job market[1]. This number is then added to the thousands   who graduate every year but find no employment. In simple terms, we are talking about thousands of young people on the street every year. These energetic but idle youth pose a bigger threat similar to Al’ Shabab, yet, government continues paying lip service to productive sectors like agriculture that could absorb this labour.
  4. I agree with the author that the oil sector if well managed will create a lot of opportunities such as drivers, wielders, accountants and many others as listed by Dr. Suruma on pg 138[2]. Yet, as discussed, this will also come with other distortions as many people are likely to be excited over oil money. We draw the example from Gabon, where oil money has created a feeling that other menial jobs are below standards of the people of Gabon[3]. Artisan work is left to other African migrants from neighbouring states like Congo, Togo or Ghana. Also, while the per capita income of Equatorial Guinea rose from $ 368 in 1990 to over $2000 in 2000 as a result of oil, it is documented that the country slipped ten places  down the United Nations Human Development ranking[4] and the country’s   agriculture and manufacturing sectors  fell to less than two percent[5]
  5. On ‘who has the right to oil money’ I again totally agree with Dr. Suruma that some of this money must go directly to address the dehumanizing conditions in which our people have been condemned to live. Actually government should not wait for oil money to address the plight of the unemployed, people with disabilities, the terminally sick and all other vulnerable groups.  We should have started this yesterday so that oil money can only make a boast. The money that the President carries in bags and dolls out to his cronies during his internal travels must be put in a fund and given to the very deserving vulnerable people.
  6. Indeed, corruption and absorption capacity are big threats to our oil revenues. The raging Mukono/ Katosi saga is an eye opener of what would happen if over $2bilion was allocated to the infrastructure sector. But beyond poverty and income insecurity causing corruption as highlighted in the book, there are other underlying factors that the author fails to bring out. In Uganda, corruption is on the increase despite the extensive institutional mechanisms aimed at curtailing the vice because of the lack of will by those in power.  Uganda is now the second most corrupt country in East Africa after Burundi[6]
  7. Having noted the above, I would like to state that Dr. Suruma has written with a lot of reservations perhaps due to his position in government. I am more inclined to think that Uganda’s oil has already turning into a curse and I have reasons to think so.
  8. Countries like Norway whose citizenry has benefitted from oil and other mineral resources are very transparent. This is missing in Uganda. Much of the information about oil is held by very few people. The country is yet to sign the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) agreements. The minister for Energy has in several foras promised to do so but nothing has materialized. The other guiding pointer to this oil curse is to consider the institution and persons guarding the oil fields in the Albertan region. Is it the Uganda police or some other security entities and why?
  9. Also, good oil management has been exercised in democratic  countries like Botswana which is in contrast with the stark dictatorship in Uganda. Eventually, it has become a reality that whoever aspires for the top leadership of the country is treated as an enemy of the President! I laughed when I read on pg 145, Dr. Suruma saying, ‘The NRMs original philosophy rested on two pillars; anti sectarianism and anti totalitarianism[7]. Am sure Dr. Suruma would want to revise this sentence given the circumstances that have unfolded in the last five days. President Museveni has already emulated the late Umar Bongo, whose management of oil was done by his family and a few loyalists in State House. Before he passed away, the late Bongo acted like a village super chief, resolving disputes, intervening in students’ strikes and handing out cash![8]
  10. Remember why Hon. Ssekikubo, Hon. Niwagaba, Hon. Tinka and Hon. Nsereko were expelled because they raised governance issues in oil sector. Umeme contract renewed for 20 years, without due diligence by same Minister of Energy who approved the contract while a Civil servant. This is same person managing oil sector.
  11. The other issue that I felt Dr. Suruma should have addressed is the role of the international agencies in Uganda’s emerging oil sector. Many times, development partners, multi-nationals companies, the World Bank and IMF have ignored local voices demanding for democracy and instead chosen to entrench the dictators who serve their interests[9]. We know that while oil is a cause of conflict, external actors like Private Security organizations, mercenaries, International traders, armed suppliers and other powers pursuing strategic and economic interests have fueled these conflicts[10] . Is Uganda able to maneuver these international lobbyists with multi-layered interests to ensure that Ugandans benefit from the oil resource?
  12. I agree with Dr. Suruma’s call that the opposition should “stand shoulder to shoulder with government to maximize an opportunity that at best arises once in a life time”[11]. However, this can only be possible if government revisits its perspective and begins treating opposition like partners in this country rather than foes. If government allies with particular multinational companies to oppress the opposition, there is no way the opposition will not ally with another.
  13. In Conclusion, I agree that oil is a great opportunity for Ugandans which could lift many Ugandan lives from the tortuous unemployment and humiliating poverty levels. I also have agreed that in using proceeds from oil, we need to think beyond roads and dams and provide immediate needs to vulnerable groups in the country; and that there is need to strengthen capacity and fight corruption which pose a threat to the countries oil sector.
  14. I however think that given the increasing totalitarian tendencies exhibited by the President and his ruling class, there is no hope that Ugandans will benefit from the oil resource. I have highlighted that as a country, we need to be keen about multinational companies and lobbyists who often fuel internal conflict in oil resource countries for their selfish interests. I support the issue of transferring 50% directly to the population and putting 50% to support the budget.
  15. Once again, I thank Dr. Ezra Suruma for finding time to piece up this very enlightening book.

Nathan Nandala Mafabi

Chairman Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) 

MP Budadiri West

[1] Suruma E. Sabiti; Advancing The Ugandan Economy: A personal Account pg 135

[2]  Ibid pg 138

[3] Nicholas Shaxson (2007);  Poisoned Wells: The dirty politics of African  oil pg 66

[4]  Ibid pg 142

[5] Nicholas Shaxson (2007), Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African  Oil pg 142

[6]  http://www.google.co.ug/#q=corruption+index+2014

[7] Advancing  The Ugandan Economy: A personal account pg 145

[8] Shaxson  (2007), Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil  pg 76

[9] Massey &May, (2010) Oil and War in Chad  in Southall Roger & Melber Henning  ; The Scramble for Africa, pg 223

[10]  Obi Cyril (2010), Scrambling for Oil in West Africa in Southall Roger & Melber Henning; The Scramble for Africa pg 199

[11]  Advancing The Ugandan Economy: A personal Account pg  146

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