Monday April 28 2014

Events in the Great Lakes region illustrate why oil is indeed a curse

By Samuel Baligidde

The impact of tight supplies of oil concerns the dynamics in many oil-producing countries. The discovery and extraction of oil in third world countries has in the past been known to fuel conflict.

Massachusetts Hampshire College Professor Michael Klare argues that the likelihood of internal conflict is destined to grow in tandem with the steady rise of world energy prices.

The higher the price of petroleum, the greater the potential to obtain huge profits from the control of a nation’s oil exports and so the greater the incentive to seize power by whatever means in such states or, for those already in power to prevent their loss of political power and control to a rival party, militia, faction or clique.

The history of oil has significantly been one of violent conflict, authoritarian repression, and neo-imperialistic interventionism, hence the contrivance: Oil Curse!

A new era of upheaval in the Great Lakes region where oil has been found in huge amounts (South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania) is in high gear, driven and shaped by a number of factors.

The first being the phenomenon of rapidly rising demand against a background of increasingly tight supplies and exhaustible resources. In addition to the old industrialised countries’ continued insatiable appetite for oil, emerging powers like China and India are rapidly increasing their demand for it.

Second, is the mounting competition among major oil importers over access to oil. Third is the political instability within many oil-rich countries, which is a result of both intense jockeying among the major economic and military powers as well as of highly unequal patterns of oil development.
Particularly with rising world market prices, oil is a highly lucrative resource, and hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested in exploration and production, as well as its shipping and refining.
Besides, the Great Lakes region, in which the Albertine oil fields are situated, has been in profound turmoil for the past 20 years or so. Through the practice and game of shifting alliances from time to time, and because of geographic proximity in an area with porous borders, conflicts have tended to, and will merge thus giving rise to an extensive area of instability right in the heartland the African continent.

Conflicts have been further fuelled by the deliberate or inadvertent export of war by the governments of some countries or by non-state actors to neighbouring countries, and the extreme weakness of the DRC and South Sudanese states has sadly led to the ‘satellisation’ of large parts of their territory.

This has in turn led to the unprincipled privatisation and unfortunate criminalisation of public space whereupon private militias, actors, local, regional and international ‘entrepreneurs of insecurity’ have acquired the space, to the distinct advantage or disadvantage of neighbouring countries.

From political, ideological, ethnic or security-induced, violence has become not only barbaric but also predominantly predatory, with loyalties and alliances essentially based on ethnicity and the search for personal or factional enrichment.

In human terms, the damage caused by the umpteenth time occupation and plunder of eastern DRC, which is close to the Uganda oil sites, has for its citizens been excruciatingly heart-breaking. And now the resumption of civil war in South Sudan is instructive.

As happened in 1983 when oil extraction started and the SPLA launched Anyanya II, so is recently when after the much-hyped independence of South Sudan, oil extraction and sale to China and other countries had started in earnest, a new round of a particularly vicious war started and is ongoing.
Nobody seems to know how it will end but it looks like it will also suck in other countries like the Republic of Sudan (Arab North), Uganda, Ethiopia and possibly Kenya, as opportunistic countries behaving like hyenas keenly wait on the sidelines to feast on the carcasses when it is all over!

Mr Baligidde is a former diplomat