In normal times, an economic event with the potential to raise millions out of poverty, and with the opportunity to transform the fortunes of a country, would be considered a minor miracle. This is especially so if such a transformation was happening in Africa.
That is what Uganda’s new oil and gas development is on course to do. When commercial production starts, it will add an estimated $1.8bn to the Treasury while also driving increased taxation, be a boost to local industry and provide jobs for thousands of Ugandans.
Yet it seems we must not be in normal times, or certainly that this project is not being treated normally. For despite the huge impact this development will have on the future prospects of millions of Ugandans, the transformative effect is too often ignored or, worse, belittled.
Many in Western countries have sought to undermine what is happening, even though their reliance on fossil fuel and their own countries’ recent enthusiasm to start new oil and gas extraction projects continues unabated. NGOs have shamelessly called for a cancellation of the entire project.
But none of us should not be surprised by what is happening. Such attitudes are not new. Elements in the West have long felt they know better than Africans what is best for us, and treat us accordingly. What has been made clear, however, is that many think they still do.
I am writing this in Cape Town, overlooking Table Mountain and near Robben Island and the Cape of Good Hope. A few days ago, the city was host to African Energy Week. It means that, with the knowledge of South Africa’s own history, it is hard not to marvel at the irony of the hypocrisy with which those in the West are utilising the same old arguments as they did to justify apartheid in Africa.
Last week’s meeting was an important moment. The message was that Africans need to be given the opportunity to economically develop and, as the continent navigates the realities of social change, be given the opportunity for people’s ambitions to be realised, free of the interference of those outside the continent that – as South Africa knows only too well – often only wants to hold then down.
In Uganda, from the start of production and for the next 25 years, our new oil and gas development will provide a $40bn boost to the country’s economy. This year:
- some $2.8bn is to be invested;
- more than 650km of roads upgraded to asphalt;
- a second international airport nearing completion;
- 10 newly accredited oil and gas training institutes running courses,
- and a further $2.5m already pumped into the local economy.
This will take place as companies from within the districts surrounding the main extraction sites are used to secure goods and services.
In a country where the annual wage is around $1,000 a year, a generational change is occurring. Even before first oil in 2025, the value to be added to the country’s GDP has been calculated at $8.6bn. In total, more than 160,000 jobs are expected to be created across Uganda. So far, of the 12,900 direct jobs created, 94% have gone to Ugandans, with a third of those coming from the communities living in areas surrounding where the new oil and gas facilities are based.
The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which will transport Ugandan crude to the Tanzanian coast, shall be the longest solar heated pipeline in the world. Aided by the government, millions of East Africans shall have the opportunity, before the end of the decade, to stop cutting down forests for wood and move to cleaner natural gas as a result of this development.
The theme of the African Energy Week was ‘The African Energy Renaissance’. There is no better description of what is unfolding in Uganda and in many parts of our continent. Our oil and gas development provides an opportunity for Uganda to transform from a largely low-income agrarian economy to a modern diversified economy: one where no-one will have to rely on wood to feed their families.
We should all therefore ignore the naysayers. Let us be proud of that and how we are boosting people’s livelihoods through our own efforts and our own achievements by helping develop and secure this great continent. We no longer need permission to do what we can for our countries and for a better future for our people. The time when those in the West think they can tell Africans what to do has to come to an end.
Understand Africa’s tomorrow… today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.