PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA
Dear Mr. President Yoweri Museveni, if you have not yet read it, I would like to recommend the book: The Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta by New York- based photojournalist Ed Kashi.
Using his camera lenses and crisp writing, Kashi chronicles the shocking impoverished lives of Nigerians living in the oil rich states, the incredible environmental degradation due to pollution from oil spills, the violence that awaits those attempting to change things peacefully, and the utter hopelessness amidst plenty.
The book provides a glimpse of what can go wrong when ruthless international interests teams up with local corruption to exploit a natural resource like oil without considering the welfare of the people or the condition of the environment.
As Uganda continues to be blessed with discoveries of potentially lucrative oil resources, the time is now, not later, for a very transparent discussion on how these resources will benefit the local people who live in the vicinities of the finds, the regional level and national level.
Secondly, there is need to spell out in clear unambiguous terms who is getting what and how much of the revenue that will someday start flowing from oil export. Finally, what are the environmental protection plans that are being designed to guard against oil spills, toxic fumes and other ills that come with big industrial production of oil?
Nigeria is a case study of what can go awfully wrong even amidst plenty. Currently, this populous country produces 1.6 million barrels of crude oil per day bringing in as much as $61m per day in revenue. In the past 50 years since it began producing commercial oil, Nigeria has garnered close to one trillion dollars in total oil revenue. Yet, in spite of this incredible fortune, the average Nigerian lives on less than a dollar a day. This unspeakable poverty is even more pronounced in those oil producing states in the Delta region. A 2006 World Wild Life report cited the Niger Delta areas among the worst polluted on the planet.
The crisis of equitable sharing of oil revenues between the local citizens who live within a stone-throw of the oil wells and the rapacious international oil companies that are supported by corrupt local and national governments have led to extreme violence in Nigeria. On November 10, 1995, the plight of the Ogoni people gained international attention with the hanging of the Ogoni 9, including writer Ken Saro Wiwa, whose only crimes were to peacefully ask that the environment and the health of the Ogoni be protected.
On May 28, 1998, three years after the hanging of Saro Wiwa, helicopters owned by American oil giant Chevron ferried the deadly Nigerian Navy forces to the Niger Delta state, where protesters had occupied one of Chevronâ€™s platform at Parabe. The troops opened fire on unarmed civilians killing several and wounding scores more. Last year, a San Francisco court began hearing the case brought by Nigerian plaintiffs against Chevron. Four years ago, on February 4, 2005, a protest at Chevronâ€™s Escravos oil terminal on the coast of the western Niger Delta turned deadly when soldiers fired on protesters killing one and wounding many. Two weeks later, on February 19, 2005, 17 people were killed by troops in the town of Odioma on the coast of Bayelsa State in the centre of the Niger Delta region. Trouble began brewing in Odioma when a piece of land bought by Shell Oil became disputed by neighbouring communities. There were some killings, and the suspects escaped. The shooting by troops was apparently in retaliation for the death of four local councillors who were seen as supporting the oil company. In a couple of days, almost all the homes in Odioma were razed to the ground. Odioma became a ghost town.
Mr. President, the above catalogue of woes from Nigeriaâ€™s oil producing states is not meant to alarm you, but to suggest an alternative way of dealing with the oil resources that are being discovered in Uganda.
For instance, there has been no new official information in the wake of recent news of oil discovery in Amuru district. The residents do not know how much was discovered, what is happening to it, who will gain from it, and what will happen when the oil begins flowing. Naturally, in the absence of accurate information from officials, and a transparent dialogue with locals, rumours are flying fast and furious. â€˜The Government is about to start taking our oil. Most of the land where oil was discovered has been bought off by one person. More oil has been discovered, but the Government is sitting on the information. An underground pipeline is being built to siphon off the oil without anyone knowing.â€ These rumours are all over the internet and on the streets in Amuru and elsewhere in Uganda.
Mr. President, I cannot emphasise enough that Uganda has the opportunity to utilise these new riches for development of the health, education and agriculture infrastructure. However, a genuine step toward developing them into viable commercial products must begin with utmost transparencyâ€”let people see and know what exactly is going on, involve local leaders in the planning on environmental assessments, environmental protection, oil-revenue sharing, and attendant development for locals when the project begin to yield oil.
At all times, I encourage you to be mindful of the real potential for violence where people feel used, cheated and unfairly treated. The case of Nigeriaâ€™s oil-rich Delta region is ample proof of what can go wrong when people are marginalised from being part of the process of utilising a natural resource like oil.
Use new oil resources to improve lives of Ugandans