What you need to know:
- A wiser Uganda would search its sovereign soul and address the set of legitimate concerns.
Rising recently from the consciousness of our times, the Swedish climate prophetess, Greta Thunberg, was a teenager when she challenged the most powerful nations and corporations over the abuse of the earth’s life-supporting system.
Five centuries ago, in some parts of Europe, a female youngster of Thunberg’s daring could have been treated very shabbily, even executed, by the State or the Church.
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Today, the UN will listen to Thunberg; not only to multinationals and oil-rich nations.
Reality check: the world has changed.
In 1986, when Gen Museveni’s men emerged from the bush with hundreds of armed children, the common narrative at the time limited itself to their heroism. The victorious fighters were all patriots.
A similar scenario today would raise serious questions about the child soldiers as victims, and some of their lords as war criminals.
Why; in 40 years, human civilisation has seen changes in its war protocols, and in subtle behavioural ways that we often trample when pursuing our limited interests.
Turning to the Uganda-Tanzania oil pipeline, the democracy and human rights issues the European Union (EU) has raised are not new. Indeed, President Museveni’s Fronasa and NRA outfits fought their wars against Idi Amin and Milton Obote precisely to address those issues.
Citizens endured and accepted the Bush War and post-conflict pains because an NRA victory was expected to bring a spirit that championed democracy and human rights. The victors did not say that in cases that involved big State economic stakes, the people’s rights would be suspended.
On the contrary, when the NRA was fighting for those rights, it disregarded – nay, it sabotaged – the economic interests of the State and of millions of individuals.
Forty years on, people want even more rights, not less.
The EU and many Ugandans are, therefore, being reasonable when they ask our rulers to meet their 1986 pledges as a condition for serious economic cooperation, even if it is over an oil pipeline.
Finally, President Museveni has lectured his country so many times against ‘donating’, or selling unprocessed goods cheaply, to foreign markets, where the goods are processed or transformed and returned to us at very high prices.
Now, if unprocessed things have a star, it is crude oil. The President has led us to believe that he has approached the matter of Uganda’s crude with such dedication, caution and patience that he very deliberately delayed commercial oil extraction until his government had trained enough experts in different areas of the industry to maximise Uganda’s leverage and benefit. Lawyers, geologists, engineers, and so on. But almost by stealth, the crude oil pipeline seems to have overtaken the refinery and all the other industrial possibilities.
Even if unintentionally, the EU position very kindly wakes Ugandans up to follow the text in the President’s ‘value addition’ songbook.
The real world can be much harsher than the one we want. A hundred years ago, a rich Texan could arrogantly refer to ‘his’ oil. Today, small people say it is ‘our’ oil. Then voices like Thunberg’s remind us that we can only exploit ‘our’ oil on a planet that belongs to ‘all’ mankind and other living things.
Moreover, as we can see from the crisis Vladimir Putin’s primitive barbarism has created in Europe, pipelines are not sacred. Ugly politics, sanctions and conflict can render a very costly pipeline redundant.
A wiser Uganda would search its sovereign soul and find the humility to address the set of legitimate concerns instead of recklessly firing off with the emotions of fake patriotism.
Mr Alan Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.