A few days ago, the European Union Parliament raised hackles in Uganda after it passed some resolutions on oil. It raised the alarm that the oil pipeline to Tanzania threatened fragile ecological areas.
Secondly, it opined that the Uganda government had blood on its hands and needed to clean up its human rights record before dipping them into the oil.
Today, however, we aren’t talking about the EU Parliament’s line. We are all about how dramatically the Ugandan responses to it revealed the social and political change the oil has already brought. It has already created six new tribes before it hits the market.
The first tribe are the Oil Indigenes. They are found mostly in Bunyoro Albertine region, where most of the oil has so far been discovered. Indigenous to Bunyoro, they lay a claim to oil for historical and land reasons. The oil is on the ground the creator gifted them, and therefore entitled to a cut as its guardians. These are the children of the great King Kabalega, who fought heroic battles against the British coloniser. They spilt blood for the cause. Who knows, if they hadn’t, the Albertine region might not even be Ugandan today. They speak of “ancestral rights”. Their claim is impeccable.
The second tribe are the oil finders keepers. They invested the country’s economic and bureaucratic resources and established that there is oil in commercial quantities. They are laying claim to a massive chunk of the oil bounty. When the leader of this tribe, President Yoweri Museveni, speaks about the oil, he says it’s “my oil”. When the people in his orbit speak about it, they say “our oil”. They are very militant, threatening to crush oil and pipeline critics as “enemies of development”, “imperialist agents”, and outsiders that poke their noses in as “racists”, “colonialists”, and “environmental hypocrites”. I think the country should hear their case for the hunter keeping the prime part of the carcass (however, the president already gave it to the frontline oil finders, didn’t he?). President Museveni, however, is bi-tribal, as we shall see shortly.
The oil flag wavers are the largest new tribe. Not being Banyoro, directly involved in the oil hunt, or in the inner circle of the Chief Finder, their claim is national. The flag, really. The oil fields are in Uganda, and all natural resources in the republic’s lands belong to the people of the greater nation. Usually prim and proper, this tribe is the one that usually talks about “Ugandan oil”. They are less militant about it than the indigenes or finders keepers.
These are the Ugandans who fear the oil refinery and oil pipeline will bring to the Pearl of Africa the environmental carnage witnessed in Nigeria. They believe oil will pollute or destroy the ecological resources that keep Uganda liveable and turn it into the kind of bleak landscape you see in the Mad Max movies. They are mostly environmentalists and climate justice activists. They talk a lot about “green alternatives”, “climate change risk”, “sustainable fuel development”, and “environmental justice”. Nice tribe, the kind you feel safe sending your children over to their homes for a sleepover.
The oil curse jocks see oil as the devil and dictator’s liquid. They believe the people will not benefit from the oil. The government and its cronies will steal the revenues as they have done with other resources. With its pockets full of oil money, it will have no reason to listen to the people or negotiate their consent and become a naked dictatorship where we will be waking up every morning to find bodies hanging from lampposts. They seem open to an enlightened and democratic government exploiting the oil if one were ever to come around. They speak in apocalyptic terms about “environmental catastrophe”, the “end of Uganda as we have known it”, and a coming “reign of terror”. You can’t blame them for being afraid.
We said President Museveni is bi-tribal. Yes, he belongs to the oil finders keepers, but also the East African oilers. The East African oilers present the oil as a regional resource that will grease the engines of integration and prosperity on Africa’s east coast. They even named the pipeline to Tanzania the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
It’s interesting to see where this trend of projecting national resources as regional takes us. As a marketing ploy, selling the oil pipeline as a shared East African heritage is brilliant. Hopefully, it will help win market acceptance for the products from what now seems to be its adjunct refinery project.
Tune into this channel in precisely a year to find out which tribe is winning the oil race.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]