An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Qadhafi and Uganda

In the five weeks since Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi was killed by the National Liberation Army in his home town of Sirte, both scholars and media commentators have examined the legacy of his 42-year long reign. Across the many acres of print that have resulted, a key theme which has emerged has been the complex nature of the Colonel's foreign policy, especially in Africa. And nowhere, it would seem, are these complexities more obvious than in the history of Qadhafi's engagements with Uganda. Indeed, this helps to explain why the Libyan leader's recent demise has been greeted with such mixed reactions both from the Ugandan government, and from the Uganda public.

Thus, on the one hand, there are those mostly older Ugandans, especially those from the Central and Western regions, who still keenly recall the significant military support that Qadhafi provided to the Idi Amin regime during the 1970s. Following Amin's rise to power in 1971, Qadhafi quickly recognized that as a fellow Islamic regime - and moreover, as one that was explicitly anti-Israeli in orientation - Amin's Uganda would not only be a useful ally, but might even as a 'bridgehead' for the expansion of Libyan influence throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. It was for this reason that less than 12 months after Amin came to power, the Libyan leader sent 400 soldiers to bolster the Ugandan Army, and why he later replaced the 11 military jets that were destroyed by the Israelis during the famous Entebbe raid of 1976.

However, it was following Tanzania's invasion of Uganda in January 1979 that Qadhafi played his most decisive role in Uganda. With the Amin's army on the brink of collapse, in mid-February, the Libyan leader airlifted a major force of 2500 troops (consisting of regular soldiers, as well as members of Libya's People's Militia and its Islamic Pan-African Legion), along with tanks, armoured-personnel carriers (APCs), multiple-rocket launchers, artillery, and even a number of warplanes. The Libyan force finally met the Tanzanian advance at Lukuya swamp (about 70 miles southwest of Kampala, on the main Kampala-Masaka road) and a major engagement ensued. Even today, a number of burned-out vehicles from the battle are still easily visible from the Kampala-Masaka road.

The Battle of Lukuya (as it became known) initially went very well for the Libyans, and on the morning of 10th March, they routed the Tanzanian 201st Brigade, and took Lukuya Town. However, they then failed to press home their advantage, by not continuing on to the major urban centre of Masaka. One of the key mistakes the Libyans made was to not send out any reconnaissance south of Lukuya - which would have revealed that at that time, practically no opposition stood between them and Masaka. In addition, the Libyans failed to build proper defensive positions in and around Lukuya. In consequence, the Tanzanians were able to regroup, and on the night of 11th-12th March, launch a major counter-offensive against the town. Using a pincer-movement of the 201st Brigade and the more elite 208th, the Tanzanians caught the Libyans by surprise, and cut them to pieces. In one rather macabre detail, one Ugandan exile who had fought alongside the Tanzanians at Lukuya later recounted to me that many of the Libyan militiamen were unluckily dressed in desert fatigues. In the bright moonlight, and against the background of Lukuya's dark papyrus swamp, this attire resulted in their being 'lit up like Christmas trees', and eventually turned the whole thing into (what the Ugandan exile described to me as) a 'duck shoot'.  

Lukuya was the last major engagement between the Libyans and the Tanzanians, although there were some further skirmishes in and around Entebbe - and one amusing episode in which the Libyans tried to retaliate by bombing Arusha. On that occasion the Libyan pilot famously got lost, missed his target, and ended up blowing up a herd of antelope near the Ngorongoro Crater. Finally, on 11th April that year, the Libyans secured Amin safe passage out of Uganda, and he spent almost a year in Tripoli before finally settling in Saudi Arabia. But the point is that because of this extensive military support to the Amin regime, Qadhafi became an especially despised figure in those Western and Central regions that had seen the bulk of the fighting. In addition, he remained persona non grata in administrative circles throughout the years of Obote II.

However, following the rise to power of Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) in 1986, Qadhafi once again became an influential figure on the Ugandan political scene. Yet from the beginning, the Libyan leader's relationship with Museveni was much more complicated than it ever had been with Amin. This stemmed from the fact that although Qadhafi provided the NRM with significant funding, arms and training during the bush war, Museveni - who had, after all, fought alongside the Tanzanians in 1979, as a senior member of the then Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) - always remained deeply suspicious of the Colonel's motivations, and especially his plan to use Uganda as a 'bridgehead' for Libyan influence into the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa (an aim that never really diminished, even after the fall of Amin). Moreover, the relationship between the two men became even more complicated still, following Qadhafi's turn away from Arab nationalism, and towards African integration, as his major foreign policy objective, from the late 1990s onwards.

Following Qadhafi's move towards African integration - which eventually resulted in his being elected chair of the African Union (AU) in 2009 (amidst talk of a Libyan-sponsored unified African currency, a future 'United States of Africa', and so on) - Museveni continued to do very well financially out of Libya. Thus, it is widely rumoured that Qadhafi donated US$4 million to Museveni's 2000 referendum, and a further US$5 million towards his 2001 election campaign. Either way, the period since the 1999 has certainly seen Libyan companies invest US$375 million in Uganda. For example, Libya now owns a 60% stake in Tristar (which exports textiles from Uganda to the US), a 49% share of the National Housing and Construction Corporation (Uganda's largest real-estate developer), and a number of Uganda's largest hotels, including the iconic Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe. In addition, prior to Qadhafi's downfall, it was widely anticipated that Libya would also invest heavily in Uganda's nascent oil infrastructure, especially in the proposed US$300 million pipeline from Kampala to Mombasa. Yet against all this, over this same period Qadhafi also became increasingly suspicious of Museveni's deepening ties with Britain, Israel and (especially) the US, whilst for his part, the Ugandan president saw the Qadhafi's integrationist project as a threat to his own plans for a more integrated East African Community (EAC, which - according to current rumours - he one day hopes to lead).

In addition, it is my surmise that Museveni was also deeply suspicious of the popular effect that the Libyan leader's vision had upon the Ugandan public. Whilst much has been written both about the history of, and the reasoning behind, Qadhafi's drive towards an integrated Africa, existing commentary has (to my mind, at least) failed to capture the sheer pizzazz of the Colonel's enterprise, or the at times electrifying effect that it had upon ordinary Africans. And nowhere was this more obvious than in Kampala. Thus, I remember being in the city during Qadhafi's visit in 2001, on which occasion he behaved with such panache - in addition to his convoy of Mercedes-Benz, and his striking female bodyguards, on his first day in town the Libyan leader bought the entire stock of a local jewellers, and then proceeded to toss all of the jewellry, along with a load of cash, into the waiting crowds - that it couldn't fail but to galvanize public opinion. In these and other ways, he seemed to embody the very best of 'Afro-optimism', something that is deeply seductive in many African contexts. Thus, for months after his visit, images of Qadhafi remained a best seller for Ugandan photograph dealers, as people came to regard these as a 'must have' item in their personal photograph albums. Indeed, for a period, at least, Qadhafi may have even achieved greater popularity in Uganda than that enjoyed by Museveni himself. Moreover, the Libyan leader later erected a grand symbol of his authority in the Ugandan capital, in the form of the magnificent Qadhafi National Mosque which, sitting atop Old Kampala Hill, now dominates the city's skyline, especially at night (see my recent - albeit not very good quality - view from Kampala Road). Qadhafi took up the project in 2003, reviving an older plan for a 'grand mosque' in the city which had first been floated by Amin in the early 70s.

For these reasons, the relationship between Qadhafi and the current Ugandan president was always somewhat ambiguous, and this continued up until the end. Thus, following the start of the NATO bombing of Libya, in March 2011, Museveni embarked on a major round of 'shuttle-diplomacy' across Africa, in an attempt to secure an AU resolution against the airstrikes (an extraordinary meeting of the AU held in late May in Addis Ababa later called for an immediate cessation of the attacks). Yet at the very same time, we now know (thanks to the wikileaks cables) Museveni was privately concerned that the Libyan leader might even try to assassinate him, as a result of which he applied to the Americans for additional air radar information on his flights over international airspace. Finally, following the beginning of the NATO campaign, Museveni published a long (and somewhat rambling) treatise on Qadhafi in the journal Foreign Policy, in which he developed 11 reasons why NATO should desist, alongside 5 'positive points' about the Colonel, yet in which he notably also went on to expand 4 reasons why Qadhafi was 'no saint'. Moreover, it would appear that it was not only Museveni who picked up on the complexities of Qadhafi's approach to Uganda. Thus, I leave the final word here to Godfrey Ahabwe, former MP for Rubanda East, who finishes his own recent eulogy to Qadhafi in the Independent with the words:

"Fare thee well, the Great Leader of Libya and Africa, certain weaknesses notwithstanding."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More problems with oil

In mid-September, shadow attorney general Abdul Katuntu, and government MP Theodore Ssekikubo, announced that they had gathered enough support for a petition on oil tax payments to force a special sitting of parliament (in the end, they gathered the names of at least 166 sitting MPs, significantly more than the 125 that are required to force an emergency debate. The signatories included a large number of members from the ruling National Resistance Movement, NRM). The MPs’ petition related to an ongoing dispute between the Ugandan government and Canadian oil firm Heritage Oil, over the latter’s sale of its exploration rights in the Lake Albert basin to UK-based Tullow Oil in July 2010 (Heritage is claiming back the US$405 million that was paid in capital gains tax on the US$1.5 billion deal). After several months of legal wrangling in Uganda itself, in late August, the government agreed that the case be shifted to an arbitration tribunal in London. However, MPs remained unhappy that important details of the dispute – including key documents (not least Heritage’s original Production Sharing Agreements, PSAs), as well as the government’s reasons for agreeing to take the case to London – remained classified. They are therefore attempting to now use parliamentary privilege to force further disclosures. 

Then, in early October, another government MP, Gerald Karuhanga (MP for Youth, Western Uganda), tabled documents which purported to show that Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa had received a £16.5 million bribe from Tullow Oil. The claim led to older allegations against Internal Affairs Minister Hilary Onek and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi resurfacing in the press - allegations that they had received bribes from Tullow and ENI, respectively. Interestingly, the documents relating to both the Kutesa and the Onek allegations have long been proved to be fake (even before the former were tabled in parliament). As early as mid-2010, the Maltese Police had dismissed the documents relating to Onek as forgeries (they involved a Maltese bank account). And the evidence against Mbabazi is equally thin, being based only on one of the US Embassy cables that were released by Wikileaks. Nevertheless, the allegations have had a major political impact. Just two days after Karuhanga's portfolio was presented to parliament, Kutesa resigned, and in the subsequent debate over the documents, Onek announced that he too would be stepping down - although it is not clear whether or not he has actually done so. (Kutesa's resignation also coincided with the start of his court case concerning another set of bribery allegations, related to the CHOGM meeting of 2007). Following Karuhanga's disclosures, Mbabazi has also come under increasing pressure - with growing calls for him to resign as well - although he has so far managed to remain aloof. 

The current anger over the Heritage dispute, and the corruption allegations, reflects wider concerns amongst legislators over the way in which President Museveni and his inner-circle have handled oil issues, and the secrecy with which they have surrounded these dealings, from the time of Heritage and Tullow’s initial explorations in the Lake Albert basin, in 2007, onwards. In particular, recent months has also seen growing criticism of Museveni’s decision of early-2010 to place all of the western oil fields under the control of the Special Forces group, which is commanded by his son Lt. Col. Kainerugaba Muhoozi. Ostensibly done for reasons of security – following an earlier series of cross-border skirmishes between the Ugandan Army (UPDF) and their Congolese counterparts (the FARDC) – many now argue that the Special Forces’ deployment is in fact being used to control all access to the oil fields, and also to surrounding areas and populations. Thus, for example, the Special Forces group is also now policing the special permits which, issued by the executive, are required for anyone wishing to interview local authorities in the oil districts, to conduct research amongst local farmers and herders, and/or to take photographs in the region. (In addition, throughout 2011, a growing number of MPs, NGOs and journalists have found the permits themselves increasingly difficult to secure).

Opposition MPs, along with various Ugandan academics, NGOs, and the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Oil (CSCO), have also voiced growing concerns over the new legislative framework that the president and his senior ministers have begun to develop around the oil finds. In February 2008, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) published a National Oil and Gas Policy (NOGP), which paved the way for new legislation related to revenue management and administration, revenue management, and environmental management. However, when Museveni released advanced copies of the first of these bills – the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, Production and Value Addition) Bill – in May 2010, it came in for immediate criticism. In particular, the draft legislation was once again seen as too secretive (for example, if passed, the new law would not even require mining companies to declare quantities of oil being extracted), but also as granting the Energy Minister too much power (amongst other things, he would have full discretion over all licencing issues), yet without providing adequate provision for an independent Petroleum Authority. In response, Museveni quietly dropped the bill in the run-up to the February elections. However, cross-party legislators are now gearing-up for further battles, following Energy Minister Irene Muloni's recent claim that she plans to have all three of new laws passed by the year's end. It is in this context, then, that a British-based NGO, International Alert, has recently published an overview of existing oil and gas laws in Uganda, as a guide for MPs in their upcoming debates over future oil legislation.

Moreover, it is not only at the national level that Museveni faces growing pressure over his handling of oil issues. In addition, in recent months local bodies such as the Kingdom of Bunyoro have also become increasingly vociferous in their complaints against the president (the majority of the newly-discovered reserves lie within the Bunyoro region). Bunyoro’s current grievances trace to the 2008 NOGP, which requires that 20% of all state oil revenues be returned to the region the oil came from, yet which effectively bars the Kingdom itself from receiving any of these monies (given that the institution is a purely ‘cultural’ organization). However, during 2011, this antagonism has been further exacerbated by a series of land disputes, including one in January during which a group of pastoralists known as the Balaalo were evicted from lands adjacent to the oil fields in Buliisa District. It has also occurred in a context in which Banyoro have become increasingly emboldened in their dealings with the central government, not least as a result of a growing ‘cultural pride’ that has been generated by a project to create a new US$1.5 million cultural centre in Hoima Town (the project is itself being partly funded by Tullow Oil). As a result, recent months have seen a growing number of localized protests against the police and the oil companies, including one in late August during which villagers in Buliisa blocked a road between the Kigogole oil well and Tullow’s nearby workers’ camp (the protest resulted in 10 arrests). In early September, Kingdom officials announced that they were joining up with regional MPs (of the Bunyoro Parliamentary Caucus) to lobby for a greater share of future oil revenues. Amongst the various initiatives already announced by the partnership are a planned land committee, to  investigate disputes such as that involving the Balaalo, and a development group which will lobby for projects such as the proposed tarmacking of the Kihumba-Hoima-Kyenjojo road, and the mooted upgrades of several regional hospitals.

Nevertheless, the president himself may yet come to regard all of these developments as but minor inconveniences, given the enormous political capital that he stands to gain from forthcoming oil revenues. In April, Tullow Oil paid into the Bank of Uganda US$313 million, against the outstanding tax bill from the Heritage purchase. This payment is also now a source of legal action, again in London, with Tullow claiming that the money was actually part of Heritage's tax liability (they are now trying to recover it from the Canadian firm). Nevertheless, the payment removes the final hurdle in Uganda for Tullow’s proposed US$2.9 billion farm-out deal with France’s Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and as a result, that deal should now be completed soon (indeed, it was cleared by the Ugandan regulators on 12th September). As a result production may begin as early as mid-2012. Whilst it is difficult to separate out fact from rumour in the current talk over oil, it is highly likely that at least some of the president’s inner-circle will make vast personal fortunes once production starts. More importantly, though, once oil exports begin, Uganda will be much better placed to service its huge foreign debts, and to bolster its meagre foreign currency holdings (which have dwindled in recent months, not least as a result of the Museveni’s decision to purchase US$740 million-worth of Russian fighter jets). Once production starts, oil is expected to generate US$2 billion a year; the current national budget is US$3 billion pa. These factors will in turn greatly improve Uganda’s trade volumes, especially with its partners in the East African Community (EAC). Moreover, given how astute Museveni has always been at turning any economic success into political gain – and given that he has recently faced popular protests over rising food and fuel prices – it is almost inconceivable that the president will not turn all of this to his significant advantage with the electorate. 

These same developments are also likely to have positive effects upon Uganda’s foreign relations, and especially upon its relations with other EAC states. These relations will be further improved by Uganda’s recent decision to build a US$2 billion public-private oil refinery near Hoima, which when complete, will have a capacity to refine 150,000 barrels per day (bpd). Given that Uganda’s domestic market currently uses only about 12,000 bpd, it is highly likely that the refinery will soon be flooding regional markets with cheap petrol. Indeed, it is with this in mind that in April, the MEMD applied to parliament for a US$13.5 million loan to buy land for an extension of Kenya’s existing Mombasa-Eldoret pipeline into Kampala. The idea of extending the pipeline was first been mooted in the mid-2000s, as a means for more easily importing petrol into Uganda. However, in the current context the plan has gained even greater urgency, as a potential infrastructure for exporting petrol as well (the updated plan almost triples the original estimate for the project, not least because it now includes a reverse flow on the pipeline). In addition, the EAC recently secured a US$600,000 grant from the African Development Bank to conduct a feasibility study on developing the pipeline into a pan-regional facility, which when complete, could extend as far as Kigali and Bujumbura. Finally, Nairobi is also hoping to gain from additional Ugandan crude oil that may be transported across its territory. With current estimates suggesting that the Lake Albert oil fields may eventually produce up to 350,000 bpd, it is clear that even when it is fully operational, the Hoima refinery will be able to process only part of Uganda’s output. The remainder, then, will have to be transported to the coast for shipping via Kenya.

However, in the meantime, Museveni will continue to face opposition from MPs over his handling of oil, and especially from the 'young turks' within his own parliamentary party. Whilst these challenges are unlikely to become significant enough to ultimately threaten his position as president, they are likely to become a growing 'thorn in his side'. Museveni has already suffered some significant setbacks at the hands of the new (9th) parliament, and he may well have to make further concessions (including some major concessions?) before it is completed. However, his own personal standing with the electorate is unlikely to be significantly effected by these wrangles. In the meantime, local disputes in Bunyoro - especially those involving land - will rumble on, and may well intensify in the months and years ahead. Moreover, whilst these issues remain relatively localized at present, they could potentially escalate further, especially if they were to take on an ethnic-hue - for example, by becoming articulated as difficulties between the region's ethnic Banyoro, and Bakiga, populations - or more significantly, if a foreign power were to meddle in the region's affairs. 

Whatever happens, it is unlikely that Uganda's problems with oil are over yet.