Prioritise our fuel reserves

Sunday September 9 2018


Neighbouring Kenya was this week hit with a fuel crisis as petroleum suppliers went on strike over new taxes on the commodity. Motorists, especially in Nairobi, faced serious fuel scarcity as the few filling stations that had fuel resorted to rationing it.

The Kenya fuel crisis was created in Kenya and Kenyans have the capacity to resolve it. But in a number of instances as we have experienced in the past, the causes of fuel crises are global and individual countries may not have capacity to resolve them by themselves.

The cause may be a spike in international oil prices, but it may also be due to disturbance in a neighbouring country through which we import our fuel since we are landlocked.

Whatever the cause may be, the debate in Uganda whenever there has been a scarcity of fuel has been that the government should set up national fuel reserves, perhaps at regional level.

At the beginning of 2008 when Kenya experienced post-election violence, for instance, importation of oil into Uganda was disrupted and a fuel crisis occurred in Uganda.

At that time, as on other such occasions, the country was reminded that we have only one fuel reserve in Jinja, which is operating well below capacity. It had been planned in the 1970s that Uganda would build four oil reserves, in Nakasongola, Gulu, Kasese and Jinja, with only the one in Jinja eventually getting built.

Government spokespeople, like on all other such occasions, promised that the country would set up the much-needed oil reserve to resolve the problem. The crises passed. The plans were not talked about again.

As we speak, Uganda is not experiencing a fuel crisis, but the Kenya example is a reminder that we are always living on the age.

Petroleum products are the engine on which modern economies run, most especially the less technologically advanced countries that have limited penetration of use of electricity like Uganda.

It, therefore, goes without saying that stocking considerable reserves of fuel to hedge against whatever crisis may hit the country is a matter of strategic national security. It is not enough to completely rely on reserves by private petroleum dealers, who may hoard fuel to profiteer in times of crises or worse.

It is our view, therefore, that the government should set aside resources to invest in oil reserves, nearly all countries that plan better than us have significant reserves of petroleum resources.

This plan should involve expanding our reserves even further when our fuel eventually comes out of the ground.