A global wave of actions to keep fossil fuels in the ground has been gathering momentum all over the world. Already seen in countries such as UK, over 300 people shut down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine for a day. Hours later, 10,000 people from all over the Philippines gathered in Batangas City to demand an end to coal.
All these huge actions are in the name of ending the dark activities of fossil fuel companies. As such, the potential harms of Uganda’s budding oil well as well as the building of pipelines towards Tanzania should never be overlooked. With economic specs on, oil and gas looks like a worthy undertaking. But zooming towards the real world infested by climate change syndromes, you are instantly shocked by the obvious contributions of burning fossil fuels to climate change.
While “Phasing out fossil fuels,” is a decision already reached by 195 countries including Uganda during the 2015 United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Paris, the land locked country is embarking on gigantic fossil fuel investment. Anyone with a reasoning mind can hesitate here.
The fossil fuel industry, with its companies and lobbies, not only harm our planet by producing greenhouse gas emissions that create climate change. They also breed bad blood infecting democratic systems by using corrupt practises, bribery and tax evasion to accomplish their goals, ultimately affecting our governments.
Across Africa, the impact these damaging lobbies are as abysmal as coal pits. From South Africa to Libya and from Nigeria to Uganda, there are rising worries that African heads of states’ tough grips on power is akin to the prospects about the mineral wealth in their respective countries, a feeling that has not spared Uganda as regarding President Yoweri Museveni’s 30 year old regime.
Newspapers recently quoted the president say: “You hear people say ‘Museveni should go’, but go and leave oil money,” at a campaign rally in eastern Uganda. The same source says Museveni’s obsession with the country’s largely untapped oil reserves will either prove a benefit or a curse to Uganda. But experience shows that a curse is inevitable.
Talk of the devil, to start with, already there has been perilous court turmoil over oil firm contracts and negotiations on building a refinery. Oil and gas was discovered way back in 2006, around the same time as Ghana, which started production in 2010. Uganda is expected to start its pumping hers in 2018.
Even darker, these resource agreements are shrouded in secrecy, keeping millions of Ugandans in the dark about events in the sector.
A group of civil society organisations – including ActionAid Uganda, Global Rights Alert, Seatini, Advocates coalition for development and Environmental Transparency International Uganda – has launched an online petition urging president Museveni to make the extractives sector more transparent but the outcomes are still disappointing.
“Winfred Ngambiirwe, the executive director of Global Rights Alert told journalists in Kampala: “We would also like government to make a binding commitment by agreeing to take tangible steps to better involve the citizens in the development of oil and gas sector.”
While many Ugandans are pinning their hopes for a better life on the fledgling industry and oil is expected to earn the country more than $3bn annually for close to two decades once production begins, our hopes may be a waste. But damages including climate change, health hazards, corruption and possibilities of wars in the oil rich region are even heavier and disheartening than the expected revenues by all measures.
The climax of such a “tragedy of endowment” – as development economists of Makerere University call will be reached when truths begins to unfold as trickling oil money is diverted by the further military ambitions of the future leader and strengthening their arsenals rather than focusing on pursing the economic and social welfare of the public.
Again, everyone should be wary because fossil lobby has known for years of the existence and potential damage of climate change and has never acted accordingly. An investigation from last year showed how Exxon Mobil knew about climate change as early as 1977, but this did not prevent the company from spending decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoting climate misinformation.
Furthermore, they fund climate change denial through big foundations and organisations, and promote solutions that are in line with their corporate interests, but many times not enough to preserve the planet.
In 2015, a study proved that ExxonMobil and Kochs family are the key actors who funded the creation of climate disinformation think tanks and ensured the prolific spread of their doubt products throughout mainstream media and public discourse. For many years, anonymous billionaires donated lumpsum valued at $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science.
Thus, for a developing country neither free from the dangers of climate change nor safe from kleptomaniac political systems as Uganda, the people should demand accountability now and during production. Doing so, we are clearing the path of development off unaccountable governments, but above all, protecting our ecosystems against the harms of fossil fuel industry and block the rise of oil-greedy governments.
This article has been written by Boaz Opio, Climate Change Campaigner