After a season of bleak news coming out of the Great Lakes region, mainly as a result of incidents of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, a bright spot emerged with Rwanda and the DR Congo signing a joint oil exploration agreement last week.
Although the agreement is specific to activity by Rwanda’s Ngali Energy on Lake Kivu, which straddles the border shared by the two countries, it nevertheless brings much relief and sets an important precedent for a continent whose haphazard borders have long been a source of contention between nations.
Unresolved tensions between Tanzania and Malawi speak to the significance of this agreement and the need for pragmatism even amid our differences.
There are many points of departure on issues involving Rwanda and the DR Congo and yet they have managed to put them aside to allow progress on a matter whose outcome promises long-term economic benefits for both.
Anticipating a positive outcome, the agreement also covers the joint exploitation of oil should any be discovered. The two parties agreed that all the technical and geological data that Ngali Energy will gather belong to them both.
This agreement comes at an interesting time for the African petroleum industry.
At a time of low global prices, potential such as that under Lake Kivu is seen as marginal by the major oil companies and was therefore unlikely to attract investor interest, which would bring forward rather than push back exploration. By taking ownership of its oil exploration programme through the deal with Ngali Energy, Rwanda has killed two birds with one stone.
For one it allows a priority programme to proceed while on the other it minimises leakage of value to external economies. Other benefits come in the form of development of domestic engineering capacity.
By this alone, Rwanda is de-risking the programme and when partners finally come on board as they are bound to, this will be more on Rwanda’s terms that on the terms of that sacred cow called the investor.
One hopes that the convergence of interests between Kigali and Kinshasa over Lake Kivu’s potential provides a template for shared prosperity will inspire a negotiated resolution of outstanding issues such as the menace of negative forces that still roam the vast wilderness of the DR Congo with impunity.