Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Black Gold: Who is reaping and who is being ripped off?

For a Ugandan blessed with a piece of land in the Albertine region, the only luck they may ever get in their entire life is to be sitting on a piece of land that has millions of barrels of oil underneath it. Most likely that Ugandan has no knowledge of the law of contract nor are they aware of the rights that may accrue to them as a result of sitting on that precious piece of land. So they have entrusted the government which according to our laws owns all mineral rights to cut a deal which will recognize the interest of the land holder.

I found a very simple version of the process of prospecting for oil in an article entitled: ‘How to Dig for Oil’ on Tru TV. It stated:

1. A geologist decides if the sedimentary rock at the potential drill location possesses good porosity, permeability and possible petroleum accumulation.
2. Prior to any drilling, numerous legal matters must be settled, such as getting a drilling permit, surveying of the drill site and obtaining an oil and gas lease.
3. Financial arrangements are made with the surface owner for access to his property, and he is usually compensated for the use of his acreage while drilling is in progress.
4. If the well does in fact produce oil, the oil company will require access and lease of the land for an extended period of time, possibly several years.
5. Once the site has been selected, a contractor will bring in equipment to prepare the location and set up the large drilling rig.
6. There is no way to estimate the amount of revenue that a well will produce.
7. The costs of the exploration process are high; obtaining the mineral rights and land access, renting drilling rigs, and completing the well through fracture stimulation, among other things, force the companies to spend more than they make during the early drilling process.
8. With oil prices at record highs, companies could be poised to make fortunes. A good well can produce several hundred barrels a day, which at current prices could mean millions of dollars every year and several hundred million over the life of the well. If successful in finding large deposits of oil within a field, small independent oil companies may sell the right to drill the rest of the field to a large oil corporation.

Judging from stories coming out London, it appears that we have already reached step 8 in Uganda but who took care of the surface owners at step 3 and 4?

Now imagine a Ugandan peasant waking up to the news that the company that has had free access to their land and full protection of our military forces—paid by Ugandan tax payer; has struck a deal not in Kampala but far away in Europe. And that their interest in the land that your forefathers tended for generations has just made some Mzungu $80 million dollars.

After the initial shock you start conceding some points: The Mzungu brought equipment that your grandfather could not have imagined and used knowledge that you could not acquire at any school in Buliisa and that is how he found oil on your land. You do not know the market price for the equipment, labor and time of such an investment, nor can you calculate how long the oil will keep coming up so may be indeed the Mzungu does have an interest in your land. But surely if it is worth $80 million for one man who probably has stepped on your land once or twice in his life time, how much do you who sits on the land deserve?

I tried to find out what was happening in other countries and found a compilation of articles from 2007 about oil discovery in Belize. In Belize an American company found the much sought after light sweet stuff not the thick stuff in our Albertine region. Nonetheless, similarities abound about how locals are treated.

One of the Belize articles states that ‘The new Petroleum Law very clearly requires that an oil company must negotiate a contract with the landowner or legal occupier before they can enter private land for oil activities. The purpose of the negotiations are to establish the amount of compensation for landowners for any interference and disturbance of the landowner’s activities, and all actual damages that may occur to crops, structures, roads, fences and the like. The law provides that if the landowner and oil company cannot agree on the compensation, they must go to arbitration and resolve the agreement. Another provision of the Petroleum states that, if a landowner is unreasonable and won’t let the oil company use their land, the Minister can issue an Order forcing the landowner to allow the oil company access. So what has been happening is Cranberg’s companies use very heavy handed tactic by telling the landowners what they are “entitled” to, and if they don’t agree the oil company will just have the Minister claim the landowner is “unreasonable” and order the oil activities to proceed. Period! That is not much of a negotiation. Cranberg has set up his own rules and implies his companies have the Minister in their pocket.’

Okay, so the landlords in Belize were also hustled but at least they had a chance to sit on the ‘negotiating’ table for ‘not much of a negotiation.' I did not hear of the oil explorers in Uganda meeting with anyone outside of State House to negotiate anything for ‘surface owners.’ Now I hear that the government got a raw deal – as usual! Can someone show us some agreements or contracts for evaluation, please!

Anne Mugisha
Secretary, Regional and International Affairs
Forum for Democratic Change.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Political Purpose of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

The current international outrage against bashing the Gay and Lesbian community in Uganda falls into the designs of Ugandan authoritarian ruler Yoweri Museveni by whipping up the very sentiments that it is trying to combat: Homophobia.

In her presentation at a public dialogue on the Anti Homosexuality Bill at Makerere University, Nov. 18th 2009, Dr. Sylvia Tamale points out that ‘Anyone who cares to read history books knows very well that in times of crisis, when people at the locus of power are feeling vulnerable and their power is being threatened, they will turn against the weaker groups in society.’

Uganda is in fact on the verge of a political crisis created by the conflict of an authoritarian police state trying to pass for a quasi modern democracy. This conflict which has been in the making since Uganda’s 1995 Constitution necessitated holding of elections every five years to legitimize the mandate of a government is coming to a climax in 2011. The very government which commissioned the drafting and promulgation of the Constitution has spent the last decade tinkering with it and amending it to ensure that the status quo remains unchanged. This tinkering has included the unabashed amendment of the 1995 Constitution to remove a two term limit on holding the presidency. As a result the incumbent ruler, Yoweri Museveni, remains in power 13 years after the Constitution was promulgated and he has started campaigning for his next term with the amended Constitution wrapping him in some semblance of legitimacy.

Each time we draw close to an election period the incumbent President with the help of well paid sycophants strategically placed in the media, parliament, judiciary, security apparatus right down to the local councils; whips out a subject that will divert attention from his government’s failure to deliver on campaign promises. Each election cycle the incumbent has announced a pet project—from agricultural policy reforms, Entandikwa, Universal Primary Education, to Bonna Bagaggawale [Prosperity for all] and Universal Secondary Education], to sweeten the deal for his re-election. However, at the same time, knowing that the failure of his pet initiatives will compromise his reelection bid he also creates a diversionary subject that whips up deeply rooted, conservative phobias in the people’s culture or subconscious.

Any phobia that has sexual connotations will succeed in creating the desired effect because in Ugandan culture, like in many cultures worldwide; sexual relations of any kind are a tantalizing taboo topic guaranteed to overshadow any real time pressing demand for delivery on promises of public goods and services. Most Ugandans are quasi Christians that conveniently hold onto customary practices that justify permissive lifestyles like extramarital sex or Moslems that prefer the permissive interpretation of Sharia laws relating to multiple marital partners. Moreover there are a good number of agnostics and practitioners of customary beliefs that are not overly concerned with the teachings of Mohammed or Christ on conjugal relations.
So it is not by accident that as 2011 approaches Ugandan politicians led by the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni are suddenly obsessed with homosexuality and appear to be starting a homophobic cult that is being given an aura of legitimacy through a private members Bill that seeks to further criminalize homosexual acts.

The reaction of the international community at this time is anything but focused on the politics behind the president’s homophobic drive. Those against the legislation and those supporting it have chosen a religious approach that is focused on the legislative rather than the political intent of the Anti homosexuality Bill.

Like all legislative attempts at policing the bedrooms of adults the Bill will have no real impact on our private lifestyles. However, the Bill whether it is passed or not will create a lively debate that will serve a very sinister political purpose. Those who follow Ugandan electoral cycles will not be surprised by this diversion because they would have witnessed the same drama around HIV/AIDS in 2001 and rape in 2006. In 2011 the diversion that will whip up our base, conservative and even primitive sexual prejudices will be homosexuality.

Anne Mugisha
Deputy Secretary Regional and International Affairs
Forum for Democratic Change