Oil have been found in the underground below Lake Albert on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Western companies are working with the Ugandan government to get development under way but a myriad of issues seem to delay the project: Criminal and rebel activity is up and rising, Ugandan democracy is struggling for control with the shady closed door negotiations and now US troops enter the picture. Al Jazeera summed up the situation in less than two minutes, October 14th:
Recipe for an oil war
Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil are guessing the 2.5 billion barrel or larger field is the largest onshore field found in sub-saharan Africa in more than two decades. Production of 150,000 barrels of oil per day by 2015 place Uganda among top 50 oil producing nations is planned. The latter company, Irish Tullow Oil, is now accused of having bribed three Ugandan ministers with 100 million USD in July 2010 in return for concessions. The ministers resigned October 2011. Tullow denies allegations, maintain an anti-bribe image and have funded a lake rescue station which they claim have already saved the lives of more than 70 local fishermen. Also in the deal are French Total and Chinese Cnooc. Those corporations are expected to claim 2/3 of the 3-4 billion USD hoped to be made annually.
A leaked US embassy cable (Wikileaks, #08KAMPALA393) reveals Uganda have been asking for help stepping up security in and around the oil rich area. John Morley of Tullow Oil is quoted for saying that as oil activity on Lake Albert increase a security presence would be vital. The cable mention "several clashes on Lake Albert between oil companies and entities from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) demonstrate that oil production has increased local tensions and exacerbated cross-border hostilities". In 2007 a British drilling platform worker was killed by Congolese soldiers who claimed the barge had strayed into Congolese waters. Although the Ugandan and Congolese governments are talking and are in agreement concerning the precise geography of the border the armed forces on the Congolese side of the border are not always government-related.
An intervention overdue?
Several militias fight in the area and in just recent months thousands have had to fled their homes, hundreds have been kidnapped. Adding to the Congolese militias the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels as well as the infamous Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony add to the insecurity. FDLR is a Hutu group whose two top leaders are held in France and Germany on charges of crimes against humanity yet whose troops raped at least 154 civilians from July 30 to August 3, 2010, in the town of Luvungi. LRA is the Ugandan theocratic militia of self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, who claims to be acting on orders from spirits sent by God, and whose ranks have been inflated by an estimated 66,000 children abducted for soldiering. October 2005 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants on Kony and four other leading members of LRA; the 33 charges include murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and pillaging.
Recently, the Ugandan presiden spent US$780 million on six Russian jet fighters. A decision that raises eyebrows in a country with a GDP of less than 500USD per capita.
Since 2008 the US have donated more than 40 million USD on supporting the Local counter-militia efforts. And now 100 Green Berets have been sent as military advisers for the governments of the region. They are receiving a warm welcome.
Thus, the link between the US troops and the oil is still a "conspiracy theory". Obama and the US is simply making friends while helping the world get rid of monsters. Human Rights Watch has advocated for intervention for years.
The enemy within
A recent report, "Oil Extraction and the Potential for Domestic Instability in Uganda", warns about other dangers than cross-border guerrilla warfare: the possible side-effects of a sudden large scale resource industry entering a developing economy. President Museveni, who first seems to have orchestrated the addition of a third presidential term to the constitution then won a low turnout election disputed by international observers, is already speaking of "his" oil.
"If Museveni gains access to substantial oil revenue, the combination of considerable oil funds and strong presidential powers could increase the ability of his government to remain in power indefinitely. [...] Increases in corrupt behavior would essentially require secrecy in government dealings. A reduction in government transparency in oil and tax revenue management would then incentivize Museveniâ€™s government to become increasingly autocratic in its relationship with the public and political opponents, as has so often been the pattern in other oil producing states."
Also, susceptibility to the Dutch Disease should be considered:
"If the government does not reinvest revenues into public works to soften the blow of economic change, domestic instability may ensue [...] The poor and disaffected youths are the most likely to turn to violence in order to redress socio-political grievances. A young, growing, and increasingly urban population indicates the potential for civil strife in Uganda. The added stress of urban migration associated with oil production may only exacerbate the dynamics behind civil strife. [...] If Museveniâ€™s government makes its decisions public and is held accountable, it is more likely to choose anti-corruption policies that are favorable to the public interest."
The report estimate the risk of civil war in Uganda as 1.96% if the new found resource wealth is handled wisely, 14.05% if not. Dutch Disease effects could be both mitigated and worsened by the fact that multiple industries are likely to boom: in 2010 firms from Russia, China, India, Australia and South Africa started operating in Uganda after finds of copper, iron ore, cobalt, tin, gold and platinum.
We haven't heard much from the hopeful Iraqi politicians who once voiced similar intentions with their oil. However, it does seem Obama is at least trying to do better than his predecessor(s). And if a US president can't even go to war against someone as evil as Joseph Kony he truly can do nothing at all - yet, who knows if the Tea Party will side with Kony and his lunatic army?
Learn more: The Independent (Uganda) / Oil could cause war, Capital News (Kenya) / Uganda welcomes US troops to hunt rebel leaders, Sunday Monitor (Uganda) / Here is what is at stake with Ugandaâ€™s oil, The Atlantic / Why Is Obama Sending Troops Against the Lord's Resistance Army?, allafrica.com / Uganda: Scramble for Minerals Begins.