Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga yesterday rushed to meet President Museveni as it emerged that a multi-billion oil pipeline deal Nairobi signed last week with South Sudan had stirred diplomatic tension between the neighbours.
President Mwai Kibaki, his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi did the ground-breaking for the infrastructure project at Lamu, leaving Uganda in the cold.
The planned duct will be used to raceway South Sudan’s crude petroleum, whose extraction has stalled following a resource and revenue-sharing dispute with Khartoum, to be refined in Kenya.
It is understood President Museveni had secretly advised South Sudan officials to build their own refinery so as to create jobs and obtain other byproducts at home, and was surprised by Juba’s deal with Kenya.
Uganda, which has significant deposits of confirmed oil deposits, hoped to jointly construct a pipeline with South Sudan that the two countries planned to use for exporting processed fuel to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, according to government sources.
A senior Ugandan official, who attended yesterday’s meeting but asked not to be named since the discussions were confidential, said PM Odinga on behalf of President Kibaki offered assurances to Mr Museveni that it was not Kenya’s intention to back-stab Uganda.
President Museveni reportedly replied that he understood Kenya’s position and had no qualms with the venture since the newly-independent South Sudan is in “urgent need” of a functional oil pipeline within one-and-a-half years. He, however, indicated that it would be best to have the proposed pipeline pass through Uganda if time was on their side.
“Some mischievous characters were already saying that Kenya bypassed Uganda (on the oil pipeline deal), and Prime Minister Odinga explained that they did not go behind our back,” said the official.
In January, South Sudan shut down several oil wells in Unity State, alleging that Sudan, with which it has had a troubled relation since seceding in July last year, steals the oil funneled for processing in Port Sudan.
Presidential spokesman Tamale Mirundi said he was not aware of what Mr Odinga and his host discussed “since their meeting was not for the public”.
This newspaper, however, understands that the two principals reportedly agreed that the member countries of the regional bloc, Inter-government Authority on Development, as well as AU’s Peace and Security Council rein in on Omar al-Bashir’s government so that his troops stop bombing oil field in South Sudan as alleged.