The article below is out of some work am presently doing on what sort of future Uganda will have as an oil producer and its impact on a variety of issues from domestic politics to regional security. One way to look at Uganda ( which is the conservative option) is through the lens of other oil producers on the African continent. However the oil curse is really old. Uganda presents a unique chance to look not retrospectively at the issues the oil curse raises but introspectively at how they do.
A child who washes his hands clean enough gets to eat with the elders- African proverb
One of the peculiarities of African governments with long-serving leaders is that whereas they are led by aging men and women, their public institutions are pubescent. Like minors everywhere these institutions tend to be easy to abuse and harder to control as the spell of paternalism wears off. Not surprisingly where such tensions exist the fear that leaders may die intestate or depart without setting their affairs in order are real. Without the political equivalent of a will or succession plan the prospect of chaos is as real as the evening sun.
The Ugandan political class is undergoing some handwringing over similar concerns. The charismatic leader of the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, Yoweri Museveni will have been 30 years in power- more than half the period that Uganda has been independent, when the next elections are scheduled in 2016. Asked recently at a party conference if he would be partial to the discussing his own succession Yoweri Museveni reportedly left the room for a bathroom break.
Party conferences like the one in Kyankwanzi in January have become necessary to keep the ruling NRM from tearing itself apart. This one the fourth in a series since the last half of 2011- when just months after winning re-election, a season of dissent descended on the NRM.
And it is fair to say that pressures from the uncertainty about a future after Mr. Museveni and inheritance of the family jewels- Uganda’s newly discovered oil wealth are driving some of the bickering.
Outside its tea and coffee, and roast meat bonding jamborees street protests, protests from organized groups including teachers, health workers, traders and students rage at the door of change. Inside, finger pointing over allegations of corruption centered mainly around bribery claims in Uganda’s oil sector have led to calls for theresignation of the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, the Foreign Minister and brother-in-law of the President, Sam Kutesa, and former energy Minister now head of Internal Security Hilary Onek. Besides being ultimate insiders, the two men, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have all been associated with the succession “queue”.
If successful these family quarrels are obviously meant to re-arrange the so-called succession queue or impose a different form of succession within the party.
Last year parliament, packed with a majority of young Mps many of them fresh to the gallery surprised the President by convening a special session at which they sought to stop the government from signing any new oil deals and launching an all out reform package in the extractives sector. They also picketed government Ministers over other cases of corruption, which in Uganda is like closing your eyes and pointing at any member of cabinet to jail. Each may yet have their turn. A Minister for the Presidency Princess Kabakumba Matsiko was forced to resignafter allegations her radio station was using broadcast services of the national broadcaster for free. Waiting in line are three or more others.
It is anticipated that unless the President manages to reign in his Mps through the “re-education camps” where he has met them with lectures on ideology with an emphasis on party unity things may well and truly fall apart.
Many analysts have weighed in about on relationship between oil and corruption, which makes sense perhaps for a country with a history of graft parodied elsewhere as a bad episode of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
However perhaps emphasis should lie on what state the politics of succession or if one would put it beyond the NRM, political transition, will leave Uganda’s public institutions?
Firstly it is to recognize that the present chaos within the ruling party is maturing not because of oil but in spite of it. The seeds of the present crisis were sown at the 2006 NRM party primaries- the first elections in which what was previously a no-party system in Uganda was became a competitive multi-party system. These elections produced the first set of “independents” or candidates who failing to win the party ticket, ran anyway and won the election on their own individual merit. Resentful that the old authority structures that persisted within the new “party” these Mps and their supporters formed the nucleus of the new reform movement within the NRM.
In the 2011 elections independent candidates mostly NRM leaning outnumber the official political opposition and could, some fear, form the second largest party within the parliament if they had a leader. In effect the oil debate, seen as the vanguard for democratizing the state, was no less than a parliamentary coup whose aim is the uprooting the old order.
Secondly, the very same institutions currently arbitrating Uganda’s political transition (or succession) are the same ones that will usher Uganda into its oil-producing era. And it could be messy.
When the oil debate revealed allegations of corrupt payments- it put on hold a 2.9 billion deal for oil production by a consortium led by UK’s Tullow Oil, Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Since then the government has sought better terms from the companies and fast tracked oil laws to be debated next month- in part due to the public outcry related to the scandal. But these are some of the better outcomes.
Mps have also dangerously sought to approve all contracts. Its possible that a Parliament (close to 400 members) with an elevated role in the extractives sector in a country where elections are a vote-buying exercise may be no-worse when oil comes than an Executive that may well seek to bond them in a common enterprise of emptying the treasury. It may deliver party unity but augur badly too.
What is important to observe now is that NRM’s inchoate transition as well as Uganda’s incomplete transition to oil producer are occurring within the same time frame and applying pressures on the very same institutions. Uganda is to policy makers and analysts the new Mecca to study the effect of natural resources on hybrid regimes.
Perhaps finally for now, the point above is important because Uganda sits at the fault lines of a fragile region which is equally resource endowed. Its public institutions are therefore not merely matters of internal concern alone. The oil fields it intends to exploit are shared with Democratic Republic of Congo while it is the direct neighbor of South Sudan. Internal political reform is thus a matter of regional policy and international security- where Uganda an ally of the West will face increased scrutiny. If its institutions do not survive its leaders or if the pressures from oil prove too much- the consequences will be felt in the next homestead.