Uganda’s Oil Might Anoint Future Dictators

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
Kampala Uganda

Students Must Have Resilience To Overcome Learning Obstacles – KISU

An education expert at Kampala International School Uganda (KISU) has advised that students must be resilient when tackling obstacles that stand in their way of education.

Steve Lang, the school director at KISU while addressing the school’s open day gathering explained that young learners are faced with many challenges, which, together with teachers, must be able to solve.

Sudhir Ruparelia the proprietor of the school admiring one of the art pieces made by students

He further explained that KISU is working towards producing self-reliant and self-motivated students so that they are competitive in the employment sphere. “We want them to be thoughtful and analytical. We want them to understand issues by asking their teachers why and how other than just what.” Lang explained.

He stated that KISU, a leading international school strives to ensure that students are active learners, self-motivated and that they engage themselves in their own learning process. “We must do all that we can to ensure they have the best chance of succeeding in this context.” Lang said.

Sudhir Ruparelia the proprietor of KISU attended the event

At the school’s open day, students exhibited their school work, finished art and crafts pieces, paintings, fabrics, music and dance while parents and other guests were treated to a sumptuous meal and a variety of drinks.

The school is owned by the Ruparelia Group headed by businessman Sudhir Ruparelia. The group has other schools including Delhi International Public School, Kampala Parents School and Victoria University Kampala. Kampala International School is home to about 600 students from 60 nationalities.

It was established in 1993 with a population of 67 students. It has sections of pre-primary, primary and secondary. It offers international curriculums including the National Curriculum of England and Wales.

Uganda’s Emerging Fossil-Fuel Industry At Cross-Roads

Uganda doesn't spring to mind for most people when coming up with a list of the world's oil-producing nations. But, in fact, 10 years ago more than two billions of barrels worth of oil were discovered in the landlocked nation, where nearly 40% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.

Since the oil discovery, many Ugandans have made the connection between oil, government revenues and how it has the potential to improve their lives, and that of the poor service delivery in much of rural Uganda. To them, oil is seen as a cash cow to save Uganda from its worst demons.

But it’s a connection that is over rated. Reports on ground indicate complete absence of corporate social responsibility on the part of contracted oil companies drilling the resource. The locals, and in particular those whose existence depends on local lakes and rivers, have suffered a lot.

Many local residents have been displaced from their land with little or no compensation. Most of them have been deriving their livelihood from fishing and farming. They are poor, but rather than benefitting from the discovery of oil near their homes, their source of survival hangs in balance. Where others see business opportunities, these locals see themselves as losers.

With countries like Tanzania and Mozambique home to major new oil and gas reserves, the prospect of massive new investments in Uganda's energy sector has sparked debate between those who say the country has a right to use whatever resources it has and those who are pushing it to avoid high emissions growth for the sake of the planet.

Climate change should caution us about the dangers of the conventional economic idea that any kind of economic growth is good. It is ironic that, as the developed world rings in the end of fossil fuel era, Uganda is poised to begin it. It is, of course, about economic growth, development and money.

The author of this article Henry Otafiire is passionate about writing on climate change. He has participated in a global writing movement of young people calling for an end to fossil fuels under the campaign break free from fossil fuels.

Uganda, like many African oil producing countries has been given a pass when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. In international climate talks, the “politically correct” stance has been that, first developing countries did not cause this mess; second, they need to focus on building out energy access to their populations; and third, their poor are most vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change. So, as the ‘’victim’’, Uganda just like other African countries should be given free rein to grow carbon use.

Uganda is looking to build an oil refinery and huge oil pipeline from albertine region to Indian Ocean coast. This appetite to extract oil is driven by deeply entrenched local and international business entities with little regard for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), global carbon budgets and most importantly recently adopted COP 21 Paris agreement which calls for transition from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy. Of course one has to wonder as this seems to be a dangerous energy path for the country.

So like many developing countries, Uganda faces two possible development pathways: one driven principally by renewable energy, or one pulled by the temptation of fossil fuels: oil and gas. The idea of infinite economic growth, which proves so attractive to economists, investors and financiers. It is premised on the assumption that there is an infinite supply of earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being exploited beyond the point it can replenish itself.

On the other hand, the shift to renewable energy resonates with a sustainable mode of economic thinking. It should teach Uganda a lesson that oil and gas reserves will create short-term booms, but these can collapse as many oil-producing countries are discovering in the face of plummeting oil prices.

Of course, if we consider how developed countries have attained their development through the use of fossil fuels, oil and gas development may seem an automatic path to go for Uganda too. However, this assumption teaches a simple lesson but which is fundamental. We need to debunk the myth Ugandans are holding that becoming an oil producing nation guarantees a rocket ride to a modern future.

Our country must commit itself to international legally binding Paris accord which calls for real action to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and transition to clean and renewable energy by 2050.

This article was written by 

Modernizing Agriculture Is A Big Challenge – Bank of Uganda

Uganda is largely an agricultural country however modernisation of agriculture is probably the most important developmental challenge facing Uganda, Bank of Uganda reveals. The central bank also warns that without agricultural modernisation it is very difficult to envisage how Uganda’s economy will ever be able to achieve middle income status.

The revelation was made by Dr Louis Kasekende, Deputy Governor Bank of Uganda at the High-Level Meeting on Developing Approaches for Financing Smallholder households in Uganda organised by Uganda Agribusiness Alliance.

The meeting discussed the Topic: Shaping the Future of Smallholder financing in Uganda. Below is the speech made by the deputy governor at the meeting which took place at Protea Hotel in Kampala on Wednesday April 20, 2016.

The vast majority of farmers in Uganda are smallholders and produce almost all of the country’s agricultural output. “Ninety six percent of total farm output in Uganda is produced on farms of five hectares or less in size. There is no feasible route to agricultural modernisation which does not place the smallholder at its centre. 

Although Ugandans often perceive themselves as “blessed by nature”, our agricultural performance has been poor for several decades. Aggregate output growth has been weak and the growth that has occurred has largely been the result of increases in land acreage under cultivation and increases in the agricultural labour force.

Dr Louis Kasekende, Deputy Governor Bank of Uganda

Both average land and labour productivity have been stagnant for decades. The 2012/13 Uganda National Household Survey indicated that two thirds of farmers are classified as subsistence farmers. An earlier survey found that even the most commercialised quintile of farmers marketed only fifty percent of their output.

Modernising smallholder agriculture in Uganda will require helping farmers to improve their farm practises, utilise more modern farm inputs, especially high yield variety (HYV) seeds and produce more output for the market, thereby raising yields per acre and labour productivity.

We know, from the work done on demonstration plots supported by development agencies that farmers can, in principle, achieve large increases in their crop yields even with relatively low input technologies combined with the adoption of good agricultural practises. Ugandan smallholder farming has the potential for transformation but the constraints to this transformation are both large and multifaceted.

A lack of access to finance by smallholders is one of these constraints, although not necessarily the most binding constraint for the majority of smallholder farmers at this early stage of agricultural development. To tackle the multiple constraints to the modernisation of smallholder agriculture, we need to adopt, and persevere with, a holistic long term approach. Such an approach should have four key components.

The first, and probably most important in the early stages of agricultural development, is to provide agricultural extension services which can reach the majority of smallholders throughout the countryside and provide advice on the adoption of good agricultural practises and the optimal crops to be grown, given the characteristics of their farms, as well as post harvest handling and storage.

Agricultural extension services must be supported by good agricultural research. Both agricultural extension and agricultural research have the characteristics of public goods, because the dissemination of agricultural knowledge from one farmer to another means that social benefits exceed private benefits. Hence they should be subsidised through the Government budget.

The second component of a holistic agricultural strategy should be to strengthen land rights. As in many African countries, land tenure systems in Uganda are often complex and the ownership or usufruct rights of farmers are often unclear and insecure.

This deters farmers from making long term investments in land improvements and it is also an impediment to access to formal sector credit, because land with unclear ownership is not suitable for loan collateral.

The third component is better rural infrastructure, especially rural feeder roads. The commercialization of farming is impeded by the high costs of transporting farm inputs and outputs, from farm gate to and from the market, because of poor roads.

High transport costs drive down farm gate prices of farm output and drive up input prices, which undermine the commercial viability of farming. More public investment in the construction and proper maintenance of rural feeder roads is essential to support the modernisation of smallholder agriculture.

The fourth component is improved access to finance. As I noted earlier, this may not be the binding constraint for many smallholders, especially subsistence farmers. Access to finance will only benefit those farmers who have the knowledge and capacity to use purchased farm inputs to raise their productivity in a manner which generates profits and which does not expose them to a potentially ruinous level of risk.

This probably currently applies to only a minority of smallholders in the country, although the number of smallholders who could benefit from finance should rise substantially if the other constraints to agricultural modernization are effectively tackled.

In formulating policies for the development of agricultural finance best suited to support the modernisation of smallholder farming, it is necessary to address two important questions: what specific type of financial services do smallholder farmers need? And what types of financial institutions are most appropriate for delivering these services? A third important question is whether the provision of finance to smallholders warrants any form of public subsidy. I will not attempt to provide comprehensive answers to these questions but I will offer some thoughts on them.   

Smallholder farmers will probably need a range of financial services, beyond the provision of credit, to support their efforts to modernise. These services will include savings and probably insurance products. The latter are especially important to mitigate the risks that arise from possible crop failures and the volatility of farm gate prices, which are a deterrent to commercialisation.  

I don’t think it is likely that commercial banks will be the main vehicle for providing financial services to smallholder farmers, because the banks’ business models entail transactions costs which are too high to make serving customers with micro-savings and micro-loans commercially viable.

Instead other types of financial institutions which can access customers at lower cost and develop lending models which can mitigate the risks of lending to customers with little formal collateral are more suited to providing financial services to the smallholder sector. These institutions include microfinance institutions, including those which take deposits, and savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs).

There may be a case in principle for subsidising the provision of financial services for smallholders, because rural financial markets are undoubtedly afflicted with market imperfections, but I don’t think it is a very compelling one in practice.

Clearly the public resources available for supporting agricultural modernisation are highly constrained and it would be a more efficient use of these scarce resources to focus them on providing public goods such as agricultural extension services rather than in reducing the cost of credit.

Furthermore, the availability of subsidised credit creates incentives for its misallocation; it is very difficult to target subsidised credit effectively at those borrowers who need it the most and prevent it being diverted to richer farmers instead.

Finally I want to stress the importance of more research into all aspects of agricultural finance and its efficacy for agricultural modernisation. The characteristics of smallholder farming in Uganda are very heterogeneous.

What types of agricultural finance work best in different circumstances (different crops, different land tenure systems, etc) is mainly an empirical question for which economic principles can only take us so far.

There is no substitute for detailed empirical research, for example research involving randomised controlled trails. I hope that Ugandan researchers will take up this challenge and help to guide us in charting the way forward for agricultural modernisation in Uganda. On that note I will conclude. Thank you for listening.  

Victoria University Students Discuss Role Of Religion In Politics

 

Victoria University students heard that religious leaders are not doing what is enough to shape the political agenda of Uganda. The critical observation was reached at during a public dialogue which took place at Victoria University campus on Jinja Road in Kampala.

The public dialogue was organized together with Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) under the theme “Religion, Politics and National Identity: A Look at the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.” Former presidential candidate Maj Gen Benon Biraaro was chief guest and speaker.

Speaking at the dialogue, Maj Gen Biraaro said religious leader have not put democracy high on their agenda adding that churches and mosques are not democratic enough internally and lack the moral standards to guide this country.

Angelo Izama, a journalist while giving a key note address to students said religion has lost its influence on setting political agenda unlike in the past. “The religious institutions lost their moral power to have an influence in politics because bent low for politics,” Izama stated.

Maj Gen Biraaro who became a people’s darling because of his articulation of issues and having a good political plan for this country during the last two presidential debates speaking at Victoria University said morality has taken a back seat in politics. Morality is the loser, he emphasized.

“We need to go back to the drawing board. Let’s say we want to create a path were a loser will congratulate the winner. Let’s agree to a position when you lose and congratulate the winner,” Maj Gen Biraaro said in reference to the continued impasse between President Museveni and opposition leaders.

The retired soldier and a bush war hero, who also believes that democracy in Uganda has not failed but rather needs  to be given a chance to start, says he is looking at a national dialogue that will bring together Ugandans to find a political solution to the situation the country has found itself in.

“We need to give dialogue maximum time. If I go at it alone it won’t work. I am looking for men and women of integrity. The problem is that when I contact some of them, they ask me - do you think president Museveni will like it – I feel bad.” Maj Gen Biraaro says of his effort to put in place a national dialogue to make Uganda better politically.

While Maj Gen Biraaro and Izama would love to see religious leaders play a part in the politics of the country some students explained that this is not right citing the constitution which bars religious leaders from directly getting involved in the country’s politics.

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