Scare tactics against oil NGOs suspicious
Posted Thursday, October 3 2013 at 01:00
Oil is a dirty business that deserves constant policing. Civil society organisations play a vital watchdog role in the sector.
If the government has nothing to hide, there should be no reason for the Internal Affairs minister to go around threatening well-meaning Non-Governmental Organisations working in the oil sector.
A few days ago, Gen Aronda Nyakairima said NGOs suspected of undermining Uganda’s oil and gas industry are being investigated. He did not say specifically how they were undermining the industry.
It is possible that the agencies referred to are helping locals claim their rightful compensation for lands now being used to either explore for oil or build infrastructure. Others may be involved in advocacy aimed at transparency and environmental protection. All of this is legitimate work.
Almost wherever oil has been found in the developing world, governments have mistreated citizens who deign to ask questions.
The Ogoni people in Nigeria have had a bitter experience. And when the writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa spoke out, he was hanged along with eight others by the military regime in 1995. Their crime was to campaign for equitable distribution of revenues from oil and for sustainable and environmentally sensitive exploitation.
Uganda has been advised about the dangers of the oil curse, that unhappy tendency for nations which discover rich resources to end up worse off because of mismanagement. A sensible leadership should be paying heed to the wise counsel of experienced hands, not going around issuing threats.
Uganda’s natural resources do not belong to the State. They belong to the people. Politicians who happen to lead the country are only entrusted with managing these resources. The new Internal Affairs minister should know what the Constitution says in the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State. There, the State is enjoined to ensure social-economic justice for all and that all development is directed at the wellbeing of the people.
Utilisation of natural resources must meet the development needs of present and future generations, the Constitution says. In particular, the State must also take all measures against pollution of the environment as a result of exploitation of our natural resources.
Oil is a dirty business that deserves constant policing. Civil society organisations play a vital watchdog role in the sector. Only those who may seek to violate our environment or make undue profits would prefer that no one speaks about their activities.