Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
That old Africa oil chestnut is being discussed again: is it a blessing or a curse?
When it comes to Uganda, nobody really knows which way to bet yet and its people often shrug their shoulders when asked what impact it will have.
One reason for that, and a cause of concern for some, is the secrecy surrounding the deals the government has struck with the foreign firms in the country and a lack of transparency around much of the planning ahead of production next year.
The Pearl of Africa discovered oil reserves, now estimated by some to be 2.5 million barrel’s worth, in its Albertine rift basin near Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006.
Ugandans love to talk. And, unlike in some other African countries, few people are afraid to be heard talking politics. Cafes and bars in Kampala and elsewhere hum to the sound of politicians being loudly verbally skewered.
The politicos themselves are not much different. Rhetoric is being ratcheted up ahead of elections on February 18. And the opposition are not holding back.
“Look at him!” the emcee at celebrations to mark 25 years in power for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shouts into a mic. “Look at him! He is very fit!”
The former rebel decked out in his usual – and fairly unique – floppy hat and suit combo ambles down a grass slope and waves cheerily to his supporters.
The track starts with a soulful “well, well” as a hip-hop beat rises in intensity. “Do you want another rap?” the same deep voice then says in perfect time. “You want another rap?”
But this is no ordinary rapper. This is, believe it or not, 66-year-old Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, previously better known for rebellion than for rhyming.
If the potential success of an election could be judged by the excitement generated by its first day of campaigning, then Uganda is set for an excellent poll.
It can’t, of course, but it was heartening to see both ruling party and opposition supporters whooping it around capital Kampala yesterday ahead of a February 18th voting day that most think will be nothing but a foregone conclusion.
A multinational offensive aimed at wiping out Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels – and planned and equipped with U.S. support during the dying days of the Bush administration - has scattered fighters who have unleashed a wave of massacres on Congolese villages.
LRA fighters have killed nearly 900 people in reprisal attacks in northeast Congo since Ugandan troops, together with Sudanese and Congolese soldiers, launched a military operation in December against fugitive rebel leader Joseph Kony, whose two-decade insurgency has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted 2 million. (See Alertnet briefing for more)
Reuters reported on the U.S. involvement in December. The New York Times said recently that the Pentagon’s new Africa Command (Africom) had contributed intelligence, advice and $1 million in fuel. The Washington Post argues the operation has been so unsuccessful it amounts to little more than “throwing a rock at a hive of bees”.
Foreign Policy magazine said that the LRA, who failed to sign a planned peace deal in April, would be hard to stamp out and that the operation was putting the Pentagon’s reputation at risk.
There are sceptical voices in the blogosphere too.
“One of the first publicly acknowledged Africom operations has turned into a general debacle, resulting in the death of nearly a thousand civilians and sending untold numbers of children into sex slavery and military servitude,” Dave Donelson says on his Heart of Diamonds blog.
Writing in Uganda’s Monitor, Grace Matsiko said the offensive was proving a real test for officers of Uganda’s army (UPDF).
“Uganda should brace itself for a protracted war, should Kony and his top lieutenants continue to evade the UPDF dragnet,” the journalist wrote.
Meanwhile, aid agency MSF has accused the United Nations force in Congo, the world’s biggest, of failing to protect civilians from Ugandan rebel attacks – accusations the world body has rejected as totally unfounded. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has also accused U.N. peacekeepers of inactivity and of living alongside the LRA for three years and doing nothing about the guerrillas.
While expressing his horror at the what he called ‘catastrophic’ consequences for civilians from the offensive, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said the joint force still needs to see the operation through.
Should the offensive continue or is it time to halt it? If so, what should be done about the rebels? How big an impact should the conduct of this operation have for the U.S. Africa Command’s future role?
Despite the extremely tight security at this week’s African Union summit in Ethiopia, one brief lapse gave some journalists covering the meeting a very rare glimpse behind the scenes.
Reporters at the annual meeting in Addis Ababa are normally kept well away from the heads of state, except for the occasional carefully managed press conference, or a brief word thrown in our direction as they sweep past in the middle of a phalanx of sharp-elbowed, scowling bodyguards.
For the last two years, U.N. choppers have dropped mediators and dignitaries here among the small huts and careful vegetable plots to try to bring the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to peace and disarmament.
Covering Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni for four years as the Reuters correspondent in Kampala was seldom dull.
When he was in a good mood, the former rebel would banter with journalists long after his aides wanted him to leave. In a bad mood, he would scowl and growl back answers in return.