Uganda’s oil: Progress over perfection

Elison Karuhanga

What you need to know:

  • There has been an attempt to develop the project in the most responsible manner.     

This week has been a significant one in the oil industry. The Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) signed a production sharing agreement with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to explore for oil in the Kasuruban oil fields. This is a milestone for the national oil company.

In the same week, Eacop concluded agreements and purchased land for the main camp and pipe yard in Kakumiro District. 

The project affected persons received their compensation and handed over the project land. This will see many of them moved into their new houses developed by the Eacop project by Easter.

We also saw a team led by the Petroleum Authority visit the Port of Tanga in Tanzania where the marine storage terminal for Ugandan oil is under construction. The brotherly government of Tanzania gave Uganda 15 acres near the Port at Tanga for Uganda to develop whatever facility we see fit.

Also this week, EU missions in Uganda are touring the Albertine Graben and the Ugandan oil fields, meeting project affected persons and seeing the progress on our oil projects. This tour is certainly being done with the highest form of mutual respect and will contribute to a better understanding of the project. 

Excellencies will certainly not find graders tearing through people’s houses as some want the world to believe. They will also see that Hoima isn’t a war zone and the people living there are not “front line” communities as some like to claim. This visit is significant because Europe remains an important partner in Uganda. There shouldn’t be any suspicion between us and the EU missions. It is to the credit of our European friends that they have decided to go into the field and have a deep interaction with all sides of the Ugandan oil story. I am sure their exercise will help improve the project substantially.

A week in oil would not be complete without those seeking to stop the oil project making their usual and discredited arguments. They make arguments about emissions, climate change and the impact of the project on Ugandan eco systems.

The project is certainly not perfect. There are things that can be improved. However, there has been a significant and substantial attempt to develop the project in the most responsible manner. 

It will be a low emitting project and is estimated to emit 13kgs of carbon dioxide for every barrel of oil extracted. This is way below the global average of 33kgs of carbon dioxide for every barrel of oil extracted. 
We have seen almost 1,000kms of roads constructed in the oil area. We have seen the mushrooming of local businesses in the area. 

We have seen a fair resettlement process and a net gain for biodiversity. There still remains a lot to be done. We need to see more national content and a delivery of more value to Ugandan businesses. More than we need to see more Ugandan contractors, we want fair contractual terms. Those in charge of the project must certainly continue to listen even to the harshest and most unfair critics.

Be that as it may, it is also worth saluting some of the incredible leaders who have been at the forefront of the progress thus far made. Energy minister Ruth Nankabirwa takes our salute of the week. 

Under her stewardship, we have seen her steadily fight for the project against those trying to block it. We have seen her deliver the final investment decision, the drilling of the oil wells, the successful, open and non-controversial licensing of oil blocks, the passing even with the support of the Opposition of the laws governing the sector and we have observed her eloquent defence of the project on the world scene with grace and gravitas. 

Time and space won’t permit us to list the attributes of the incredible Energy PS Irene Batebe or of the UNOC CEO Proscovia Nabbanja - the women bringing first oil closer and doing so with incredible skill and ingenuity. We also have previously saluted the incredible team led by Ernest Rubondo at PAU.

So yes, the project isn’t perfect but we thank God for our leaders; men and women who have kept a pace of steady progress as we work towards perfection. 

Elison Karuhanga is an advocate and partner at Kampala Associated Advocates 
[email protected]


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