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sharing in governance of extractive industries

Uganda on the verge of sacrificing Democracy at the altar of Oil Production

The effects of oil discoveries on state building and democratization are well documented. Countries rich in natural resources –in particular oil and gas-are less likely to have democratic political systems. In effect, access to oil wealth can allow leaders to successfully repress or co-opt their oppositions, and thus avoid having to relinquish power through competitive and fair electoral competition.

Uganda, long hailed as a beacon of hope in regards to democracy and building of strong institutions is at across roads following the confirmation of commercially viable oil reserves. The behavior of the Ugandan government under the leadership of President Museveni in the recent past evokes the temptation to make comparisons with other states that have decided to sacrifice democracy and good governance under the pretext of protecting the national wealth.

I have read in the press recently, in a manner that tempts me to believe that what was reported is true, that President Museveni on March 24th met MPs from the ruling National Resistance Movement party and asked them to rubber stamp the purchase of fighter jets at a tune of shs. 960 billion (approximately US $ 384 million) without following the proper procurement procedures which in this case requires parliamentary approval for such transactions.  The President reportedly defended his action by informing the MPs that the jets were necessary to defend Uganda’s confirmed oil reserves.  

The President need not develop throat cancer defending such transactions since it’s well documented that with anticipation of oil money and in absence of strong independent institutions and legislations, the temptations for financial indiscipline are many. It’s public secret that Oil Exporters spend much more on their militaries even in the absence of civil war.  States that are able to generate revenue from the sale of oil and gas are less reliant on citizens which often results in weak links between governments and citizens. When citizens are untaxed they sometimes have less information about state activities and, in turn, may demand less of states. Even if they disapprove of state action, they lack the means to withdraw their financial support from states. Access to oil wealth can allow leaders to successfully repress or co-opt their oppositions, and thus avoid having relinquishing power through fair electoral competition, just like it was in Uganda the February elections where it’s alleged that a big fraction of the shs 605 billion (approximately US $ 242 million) supplementary budget went to financing election related expenses and buying off of political opponents. The brutal crackdown of the “Walk-to –Work” protests  is an indicator of what lays ahead when full oil production starts, if those in leadership do not take caution.  The recent investments in the coercive capacity of police is in preparation to quell threats to the ruling governments political power , is all , but a common sight in oil producing states that are characterized by opacity.

The adverse political effects of oil are not just a problem of a developing country like Uganda; such patterns have even been seen with in the United States. However these temptations coupled with weak or non-existent legal and institutional framework to guide political leaders only helps to exacerbate the problems associated with oil and gas exploration leading to weak and unaccountable states. The militarization of oil producing states has but only helped to fuel civil conflicts and suffering for the citizens. The examples of Cabinda in Angola and Doba in Chad attest to this assertion. Where natural resources have benefited citizens, its where transparency and accountability has reigned and the oversight role of parliament respected as is the case with Botswana.

President Museveni and the NRM government has done a lot for this country and since Uganda is blessed to learn from other countries that mismanaged the natural resources with dire consequences, we pray that our leaders defeat the temptation to sacrifice democracy and accountability for militarization, buying off of political opponents and use of coercive means to quell those with dissenting political views.

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