Political systems evolve. They take time to mature. The United States of America got independence in 1776. They have been working on their democracy since. African-Americans were granted freedom to vote in the country’s elections in 1965.
It took 189 years for Americans of African descent to exercise the basic right to vote and choose their leaders. The first African-American child to desegregate an all-white school in New Orleans is only 68 years today. Her feat happened in 1960. It took the USA democracy 184 years to mature to the level of accepting that a black child was equal to a white child, for schooling purposes.
Interracial marriage in the United States of America has been fully legal only since 1967. It took 191 years for the USA democracy to fully concede that everyone was free to marry who they chose, irrespective of race. Those who attempted to defy the above undesirable conditions in earlier years met with the rough side state structures.
It is estimated that at independence, 85 per cent of Americans were employed in agriculture. By 1950, less than 20 per cent of American workers were employed in agriculture. Their country had become progressively industrialized, technologically advanced and their energy and infrastructure revolutionized so much so that agriculture that was then heavily mechanized and advanced did not have to employ many people. They did not put their economic transformation programs on hold so that they may first register political perfection and excellence of human rights – simply because no intelligent society does that.
Unless an economic occupation is itself inhuman, such as the case of trading in slaves of years gone by, there is no wisdom in advocating that economic progress should be halted so that political purity is first attained.
The above is why I consider that those who are pushing for Uganda’s oil exploitation to be halted until certain levels of hygiene in politics including human rights are attained are making a mistake.
As a country, we need to ask ourselves what would happen if desired levels of human rights and hygiene in politics as highlighted by the dissenting voices are not attained in the short-term. Realistically, there is no absolute assurance that the implied targets of human rights observance and purity in politics would be attained even by those advocating for stopping the oil exploitation program in the interest of those targets, were they to be in charge of governance of the country.
Suppose they took over governance and did not satisfy everyone regarding the same standards they are setting as conditions for the oil project to commence, which can happen, would we then have to postpone it further on account of new dissenting voices? Sometimes things take long to reach the stage we desire, as seen from examples above, in the USA, because political transformation may demand more than the desires of individuals, even when those individuals are in charge.
Are we not safer pursuing our strategic development programs and projects, even as we wait for what else may be desired in the politics? This is what nations that are ahead of us did. Strategic opportunities are time-bound and the universe is not going to pose for us to resolve political issues and find the opportunities waiting for us. However, if we wish to covenant with poverty as a nation, for our descendants, and ourselves we can continue being unrealistic, tying our economic investment programs to standards of political hygiene.
While in-country contentions about Uganda’s oil project are not new, they have recently registered a spike following the European Parliament’s decision to pronounce itself on the project. It may be useful to reflect briefly about Europe’s own related scenario, from the past.
The industrial revolution commenced in Britain in the 18th century, around 1760. About 40 years later, King George III signed into law an Act for the abolition of slave trade. The use of new energy sources, such as coal, the steam engine, electricity had effectively replaced the slave. Suffice it to say therefore that in the buildup to the industrial revolution, the slave was the horse, the engine, the electricity and any other vitality for physical burden.
Leave alone the possibility of considering to halt the mining of coal until slavery could be abolished, for that would have been glorified consideration, they pushed the slaves into the coalmines to extract it. At least Uganda’s oil project is, as a trade, untainted with inhumanity.
If Britain, and Europe, found it acceptable to carry on with business that ran directly on the immorality of slavery, it is not too much to ask that Uganda’s oil project which carries no immoral stain of its own should not be suffocated by human rights concerns outside of itself.
Raymond Mugisha is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant