April 11 is a historic date for both business and politics in Uganda and Tanzania. It was on April 11, 1979 that exile forces in Tanzania, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) bolstered by the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces ( TPDF) overthrew the then government of President Idi Amin Dada.
The toppling of Amin meant ushering in a fundamental change but unfortunately chaos, war and bloodshed followed though not in succession until 1986 when the guerrilla outfit, the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by General Yoweri Museveni captured state power.
By strange coincidence, April 11, 2021 was the day Tanzania and Uganda chose to finalise the agreement between them and two international oil firms, France’s Total and China’s CNOOC. These agreements will kick-start the construction of a $3.5 billion crude oil pipeline between Hoima and Tanga in Tanzania.
Indeed President Museveni who participated in the 1979 war said that apart from the economic factors, Tanzania had to be rewarded with the passage of the pipeline because of its contribution to Uganda’s liberation struggles.
Uganda can never adequately compensate for the sacrifices Tanzania made during those wars, Museveni said. Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan, just like Museveni, witnessed the signing of the three agreements. The other two were: a tariff and transportation agreement and a shareholding agreement.
These agreements propel Uganda’s efforts of being an oil giant, which started with the discovery of crude reserves in the Albertine rift basin in Hoima district in 2006.
The planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is 1,445 kilometres and oil production is expected to commence in 2025. It is only hoped that the jinx of April 11 will not trigger the usual oil curse that is associated with oil-producing countries. And the curse comes in many forms; corruption and over-reliance on the resource.
There is also the environmental degradation which in most cases is subsumed in the profits that the country earns. About 263 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the world are advising banks not to fund this project.
They claim the project, would pose immense threats to local communities, water supplies, and biodiversity in the countries where the pipeline is routed. These concerns should not be ignored but adequate responses should be found.
In countries where such concerns were ignored, violence frustrated the projects. Then there are the inevitable cartels that usually hijack such projects at the expense of the welfare of the citizens.
Oil is a communal resource, all Ugandans are supposed to benefit. It is expected that when the oil begins to follow, our domestic and foreign debts will be reduced, the quality of life of Ugandans will be better. And there are numerous examples to learn from such as Norway and the Emirates where oil reserves have been more of a blessing than a curse.