For many years, East Africa, characterized as a “risky” frontier because of the volatile character of its politics and difficult nature of the region's geology as well, was considered "the poorest continent's relative". Taking into consideration that until just a few years ago, scientists believed that oil reserves in the region did not exceed 6 billion barrels, while as one third of East Africa's imports were related to oil and its derivatives, the region was particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations and crises in the Middle East. However, the successful discovery of large oil deposits at the Albertine Rift (western branch of the East African Rift which is the result of tectonic movements gradually splitting the Somali Plate away from the rest of the African continent, covering parts of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo , Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania and extending from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika), altered the prospects for successful commercial development to exist in the region.

Energy El Dorado of Africa

Uganda has been described by the oil industry press as Africa’s "hottest inland exploration frontier". The recent findings, especially optimistic concerning the Lake Albert region of Uganda (previously known as “Mwitanzige” by the Banyoro (people of Bunyoro) and in 1864 renamed after the consort of Queen Victoria), where the multi-billion barrel field will prove to be the largest onshore field found in sub-Saharan Africa for more than twenty years, encouraged the industry to view the region more positively, bringing an influx of new and established companies to tender for exploration rights. The country has largely untapped reserves of both crude oil and natural gas, while current estimates of the country’s oil potential would put Uganda among the foremost of African oil producers. Additional exploitable oil fields may yet be discovered, but if only the Uganda fields are developed this is likely to have a considerable impact of the regional economy and upon relations between neighboring states. Given the fluctuation of oil prices, it is difficult to estimate Uganda’s possible oil revenues. But independently of market situation, if production goes ahead without difficulties, the country’s budget looks likely to receive a major windfall. Such a boost to national income offers Uganda a unique chance to create broad-based development and improved standards of living across the country. Although the international experience points to certain challenges, so called "resource curse", often faced by resource-rich developing countries in translating mineral wealth into peace and prosperity, it seems that Uganda has in fact already made good use of such an experience. The arrival of oil provided a wake-up call to certain leaders, thus reminding that commitment to the public good and the long-term developmental interests of Uganda is essential!

Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom

Parallel with the state administration division, five traditional Bantu kingdoms, enjoying some degrees of mainly cultural autonomy have remained in Uganda. The Empire of Kitara (also known as Bachwezi, Bacwezi, or Chwezi Empire) is a strong part of oral tradition in the area of the Great Lakes of Africa, including the modern countries of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, Uganda, northern Tanzania, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. According to the story, the Kitara Empire lasted until the 16th century, when it was invaded by Luo people, who came from the South of the present-day Sudan and established the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. Once the most powerful in East Africa and one of the oldest on the continent, Bunyoro rose to power and controlled a number of the holiest shrines in the region, as well as the lucrative Kibiro saltworks of Lake Albert. Having the highest quality of metallurgy in the region made it the strongest military and economic power in the Great Lakes region. But besides the inspiring history and a rich culture, this Kingdom has also a bright future. His Majesty, the Omukama (King in traditional language) of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom and the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom were restored by the Amendment of 1993 enacted by the Parliament of Uganda and officially recognized and protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. In addition, HM Rukirabasaija Agutamba King Solomon Gafabusa Iguru the First, as the forty-ninth Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara and the twenty-seventh King of his dynasty, which is the royal Babiito dynasty, was specifically recognized as the rightful King of Bunyoro-Kitara by the Supreme Court of Uganda. Similar to other reigning monarchs, the traditional kings currently serve as "cultural figures" or "traditional leaders" and are barred from engaging in politics. These "living symbols" which are now regional heads, are an inspiration in remembrance of the greatness of the past, reigning and serving accordingly. However, HM King Solomon Iguru I is more! Because his ancestors never renounced their rights, never abdicated the kingdom, never ceded sovereignty, suffered exile rather than capitulate and concede anything, they maintained their original royal status and sovereign rights under the rules of "prescription." This is very significant as King Solomon is not simply a constitutional king. He is also the heir to a dynasty that has kept all its ancient rights intact. Moreover, the Grandfather of the current Omukama, His Majesty The Omukama Kabalega Chwa II, is the only National Hero of the Republic of Uganda.

Oil findings to restore the Bunyoro’s glory

In the past, the traditional economy revolved around big game hunting of elephants, lions, leopards, and crocodiles. Today, the Bunyoro people are agriculturalists who cultivate bananas, millet, cassava, yams, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and rice. Moreover, the Bunyoro Kingdom is also blessed with mineral wealth, including oil at the Lake Albert rift valley, gemstones: tourmaline, ruby, red and green garnet, and other minerals, titanium, tin and gold, as well as iron. The oil in Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom as a natural resource was known to exist as early as the kingdom existed. People used to see signs of oil seepages in their lands until the colonialists attempted to tap it in 1923. Both the 1st and 2nd World Wars as well as post-independence political turmoil in Uganda interrupted further drilling until 2006 when a United Kingdom listed Company -Tullow Oils Plc discovered 12 oil locations in the Kaiso Tonya area. Since then, other oil companies have also entered the industry. With the discovery of commercially viable oil and gas deposits in the Albertine basin in Bunyoro Sub-region of Uganda (estimated 6.5 billion barrels of crude oil have been confirmed, with revenue production capacity of $2 billion to $3 billion per year), preparations are underway and commercial production was originally slated to begin in 2020.

However, a series of oil drilling and development activities have simultaneously raised a lot of expectations, worries and joys. People from both the local communities and urban centers expect that the discovered oil resource will spur sustainable growth and development while others are already anticipating an imminent oil curse. Their worries that oil production sharing agreements were signed without participation of key institutions such as Bunyoro Kingdom that hosts the oil resource on its lands are coupled with concerns that the emerging oil industry will deplete most of the ecosystem resources since oil wells discovered are located in fragile ecosystems such as lakes, rivers and wildlife reserves as well as crop husbandry and cattle. The fact is that people are scared of likely future oil spills that may result to, internal and cross boarder conflicts over resource use and control, ethnic tensions and above all erosion of the long time-tested cultural heritage of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom. This is because the entire Albertine Rift right away from the borders of Southern Sudan down to the southern border with Rwanda has been divided into eight oil blocks moreover, almost 96% of these appearing in protected, environmentally sensitive areas.

The attempts to restore Bunyoro’s former glory have been given a huge boost by oil discoveries in the region. Nevertheless, MPs and representatives of the Bunyoro Kingdom itself, completely aware of the challenges ahead, have all played a significant role in managing these expectations and opinions which required particular attention. In the light of the view that for Uganda to take full advantage of its oil resources and become one of Africa's oil success stories it must strengthen its oil governance institutions and become more transparent and accountable in the way it manages its emerging oil industry, the recent appointment of an oil expert at the Prime minister position in Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom could be considered as visionary and very important! Although it is suggested that oil states have little interest in developing sound institutions because stronger institutions demand higher accountability, as well that weak institutions are chiefly responsible for the lack of development and growth in many rich oil countries in the global south, the case of Uganda shows that attempts have been made to develop sound institutions to manage oil sector. Moreover, during the preparations for the exploration of oil in Uganda, the government has embarked on key infrastructural development projects among them major roads from Hoima to Buliisa, Kigumba to Kyenjojo and an international airport in Kabaale, which is expected to facilitate movement of heavy, bulk and sensitive cargo. These projects bring in multitudes of people, in search for jobs and opportunities every day. Government and joint venture partners - Total E&P Uganda, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Ltd and Tullow Operations Pty Ltd have also lined up a number of infrastructure projects needed in the oil production phase. These projects are expected to employ as many as 100,000 people in the construction phase and up to 2,000 in full-time jobs. “It is our hope and desire that the infrastructural developments, which are being implemented in Bunyoro Sub-region, will improve on the welfare of our people. As a Kingdom, we are mobilizing our people to tap the social-economic opportunities of these infrastructural projects,” – Mr. Andrew Byakutaga, the Bunyoro Kingdom Prime Minister said.

The Omukama as the catalyst in the development process

The major impact visible in all communities where prospecting is taking place is the tremendous improvement in public infrastructure and social services undertaken by central and local government, as well as by the oil companies themselves, in support of oil-prospecting activities. Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom is blessed with vast oil deposits. However, it is also aware of the implications of the activity on the social, cultural, and economic and environment. In order to overcome the development challenges, the Kingdom faces there is a wide range of initiatives with regard to the implementation of appropriate and advanced methods. It is important to say that Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom Parliament has on the 30th November 2019 unveiled the Annual Budget (Embalirra) for the financial year 2019/2020. The budget, under the theme: “improving governance for a prosperous Bunyoro” was read by the Finance Minister – Owek. Owagonza Robert Abwooli. A total of 10 Billion shillings is budgeted for the financial year 2019/2020. The King is in general doing a lot of work to improve the living standards of the people. Relations are maintained with the European community via the development organization Association of the Representatives of Bunyoro-Kitara. In spite of the fact that many Western cultural elements have been assimilated, the Banyoro has maintained their rich cultural heritage and many Banyoro proudly uphold the ancient traditions of their ancestors. Under the leadership of HM the Omukama Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, great efforts are underway to revive many of their cultural traditions, and document them for posterity. Schools are encouraged to include traditional Kinyoro (adjective) culture in the curriculum. Unlike the pre 1967 Omukama who was a titular head of the local government of Bunyoro, the Omukama, today, is a cultural leader with no governmental functions. His mission is to give his subjects cultural leadership, and to be a catalyst in the development process. The overall welfare, cultural and economic well-being of the people of Bunyoro-Kitara is priority number one on the Omukama's agenda. To this end, he has created The Bunyoro Kitara Cultural Trust and initiated a number of humanitarian, cultural and economic development projects.

A profound social effect of oil prospecting has been the opening up of communities that were previously closed to external influences. Bearing in mind that modernization has led to the breakdown of the traditional setup, which used to impart some knowledge and values to the young generation, the activities of Kabalega Foundation and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Education Fund through the programs focused on civic advocacy and engagement, cultural research and development, environment protection, education and life skills development, health and sanitation, as well as community social-economic empowerment supporting this cause, while also preserving and promoting the legacy of the ruler of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom from 1870 to 1899, and a celebrated hero, could be characterized as the ones of immense importance.

Community based initiatives of the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom

Although the cultural leaders of Uganda's Bunyoro kingdom and Bunyoro itself are prohibited from engaging in national politics they remain very influential in Uganda. According to the 1955 agreement signed between the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and the U.K. protectorate government, which provides that Bunyoro is entitled to substantial amounts of revenue from mineral exploration in its kingdom, it is stipulated that in the event of mineral development taking place in Bunyoro, a substantial part of the mineral royalties and revenue from mining leases would be paid to the native government of Bunyoro Kitara. As the Restitution Statute reinstated the Omukama as a Traditional Ruler with all his Privileges, the Omukama regards the provisions of the 1955 Bunyoro Agreement still valid and binding. It is essential to note that is not adequate to have agreements signed between the Oil Companies and the Government of Uganda without acceptance of His Majesty -the Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara. Thus, the responsibility is on the Oil companies to secure user rights from the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara otherwise they are acting in breach of the constitution of the Omukama deems the Oil Companies liable.

Proving that the Omukama's exclusive rights primarily serve to Bunyoro`s community development purposes and emphasizing the need for transparency on how companies are operating in Bunyoro Kingdom region, Rt Hon Byakutaga said the Kingdom has been reaching out to several companies operating in Bunyoro to ensure that the King’s subjects benefit from the ongoing developments in terms of jobs, employment and businesses in the oil sector. It is important to note that in marginalized areas, local people are usually more dependent on local resources – most obviously relating to land availability, but also soil fertility and the ability of that land to support crops and livestock, access to water and fuel, fish stocks and other “ecosystem goods and services”. Since commercially viable oil deposits were discovered on the shores of Lake Albert in mid-western Uganda, multi-billion dollar infrastructural projects have sprung up in Bunyoro Sub-region. In order to avert any existing or possible threat to his Kingdom, the Omukama demands that contracting parties must appropriately compensate all people whose properties have been destroyed by the oil and gas exploration and drilling activities, insisting on the need to protect cultural resources being destroyed by ongoing oil drilling activities without permission from the King and many more that shall be endangered by future developments in the oil industry due to the laying of oil pipelines, construction of refineries and the imminent oil spills and fires.

Need for corporate social responsibility as an imperative

Prior engagement of communities can possibly lead to better understanding and supportive relationships between companies and communities, helping to prepare the community for the eventual transformations that will take place. In Uganda, Tullow and its partners (CNOCC and Total) continues to work with the government of Uganda on the development plan for Lake Albert which is to include a local refinery and international pipeline. Simultaneously, under the theme, "Creating shared prosperity", Tullow has made some contributions to the economic and social sectors of the countries within which they operate. This includes educational scholarships, water supply projects, health program, and wildlife conservation. Tullow has demonstrated the greatest seriousness towards managing its social and environmental footprint in the interests of peace and development and company representatives generally seem committed to the idea of transparency and openness regarding their own operations with stakeholders. As to Total Uganda which has been operating in Uganda since 1955, in line with its' vision, the image of its service stations has been improved into a more contemporary and environmentally friendly look. Moreover, in accordance with the Kingdom`s intentions to outreach to development partners and companies operating in Bunyoro region, the Prime Minister of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom after his visit to CNOOC Uganda appreciated the scholarships and the best performer awards that were offered by CNOOC Uganda to pupils and students from Bunyoro annually, revealing the CNOOC’s commitment to continue supporting some of the activities of Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara.

What’s Next for Oil in Uganda?

Until recently considered one of the hot spots for new oil developments in Africa, Uganda has pushed first oil to no sooner than 2022, later than a previous target for 2021, because of lack of infrastructure and disagreements over taxes and plans with operators. In September 2019, reports had it that all activities on the oil pipeline planned to export crude from Uganda had been suspended, following the collapse of a stake acquisition deal in the key Ugandan oil project. The East-African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is planned to be a 1,443-kilometer-long pipeline worth US$3.5 billion and expected to transport oil from Uganda to the Tanga port in Tanzania. In confirmation of these tendencies former Energy Minister of Uganda and current senior presidential advisor, Irene Muloni, explained in an interview, that Uganda canceled a plan in 2016 to jointly develop an export pipeline to Kenya’s coast in favor of a southern route through Tanzania. Although the final investment decisions with Total, CNOOC and Tullow have been delayed, the government now expects them by the first quarter of 2020, said Muloni, adding that Uganda also wants to improve electricity supply and distribution in its region. Moreover, Uganda plans to spend at least $5 billion on the development of the Kingfisher and Tilega oil fields, which are currently the subject of a tax dispute between the government and the aforementioned three oil companies. Total, CNOOC and Tullow Oil jointly own the two fields and the Ugandan government is in negotiations with Tullow to reduce its stake in the projects and allow final investment decisions to be concluded. The challenges are both profound and complex, but nevertheless go to the heart of ensuring oil contributes to peace and development in Uganda. Emphasizing the need of developing the durable capacity for economy, the Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has said proceeds from the oil, if invested well (to be used for the key sectors such as electricity, agriculture, education, science and innovation), will pave the way for the next phase of Uganda`s development.

The new scramble for Africa

USA, Russia, China - and not only - are once again competing for control of Africa's rich natural resources. International analysts refer to the situation as the "new scramble for Africa", thus recalling the first major "war" that took place between 1881 and 1914 and resulted in the division of the continent by superpowers. The emerging importance of the continent is justified not just because of its growing share of the global population (by 2025 predicts are that there will be more Africans than Chinese people). Vast oil opportunities represent the important motive for the governments and businesses from all around the world rushing to strengthen diplomatic, strategic and commercial ties. This prospect of energy wealth is, however, accompanied by risks. Rather than bringing wealth, oil extraction in Africa has too often been associated with the “resource curse” and extreme poverty. Few governments have the ability to conclude fair deals with major oil companies. In addition Eastern Africa is plagued by border litigations and shared oil or gas reserves might create new ones in the near future. But if Africa handles the new challenges wisely, the main winners could be Africans themselves. Perhaps the solution lies in developing a coherent, unified strategy aimed at the commitment of interested parties to mutual understanding and collaboration rather than exploitation. Through economic interdependency, shared oil and gas reserves might also start a new era of cooperation, a new journey on which, as it seems, in spite of all the difficulties, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, thanks to the dedication of its leaders, has successfully embarked.


Action Oriented Research to Strengthen Bunyoro Kingdom to Defend Her Cultural Heritage From Negative Impacts of Oil and Gas Industry Development in Uganda.
Around Uganda: From Hoima, Bunyoro King Appoints Oil Expert As Premier.
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Eastern Africa: a New Oil and Gas Frontier.
Financing the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Is a Big Mistake.
Harnessing Oil for Peace and Development in Uganda.
Οι μεγάλες δυνάμεις μοιράζουν ξανά την Αφρική.
Oil Discovery Changes Bunyoro's Real Estate Sector.
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Το ενεργειακό Ελ Ντοράντο της Αφρικής.
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Uganda to Develop Oilfields Worth $5 Billion.
Uganda to Pick Investors for Five New Blocks, Start Oil Export Plans.