Under pressure from aid cuts that are threatening 25 per cent of the annual budget, accusations by key backers of involvement in the unrest rocking the eastern DR Congo and increased scrutiny of a largely opaque oil industry by civil society, President Yoweri Museveni is fighting to lift the general atmosphere of siege.
In one week, the president bulldozed a contentious oil law through parliament, made a highly publicised visit to Moscow and, returning in a combative mood, went on to address parliament seeking legitimacy for the law, which was passed with more than half the House staying away from the session.
He sought to enlist popular support for his position on oil by enumerating the protracted struggle he has had with Western interests whom he accuses of wanting to control Uganda’s oil affairs for their own benefit.
However, the address, in which he accused critical legislators, members of the clergy and civil society of being proxies for foreign interests, fell short on transparency.
Museveni’s falling out with a large section of parliament revolved around clause 9 in the Upstream Oil Bill that sought to give the minister in charge of the sector unchecked powers to issue or revoke licenses.
“Museveni thinks we are fools. He has fallen out with the donors at the wrong time when we cannot fund the budget deficit. So instead of addressing corruption in his government, he came to show the country that he is in control of parliament,” said Sam Otada, an independent legislator.
Over the past month, corruption involving government officials at all levels has dominated the news, resulting in suspension of $300 million in budgetary support by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the World Bank and Australia.
Before he set off for Moscow, Museveni had finally managed to muster the numbers to break the deadlock in parliament. But with 198 of a 375-member House staying away from the vote, his victory was seen as lacking popular support.
On Thursday, Museveni was on the defensive, detailing the battles he had with Western oil interests who had wanted to short-change Uganda, singling out a company he did not name as having claimed that only seven per cent of the now 3.5 billion barrels was recoverable.
Latest data, however, show that up to 2.2 billion barrels are recoverable and that figure is expected to rise as more appraisals are made in the already existing wells.
Additional drilling is expected next year to cover the remaining 60 per cent of the Albertine Rift system, where seismic studies have shown hydrocarbon potential.
Museveni alleged that some parliamentarians and NGOs had become internal saboteurs, acting on behalf of foreign interests to cripple development in the oil and gas sector.
“The resistance to Article 9 is not about the minister, the minister does not work alone. She works with the scientists. It is about our scientists because they have locked up all the schemes… this is the battle we are engaging in. Foreign interests do not want us to succeed, to be independent,” said Museveni.
Parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations, however, argue that Museveni is only trying to divert attention from pertinent issues of corruption, economic meltdown and soured donor relations.
Those are the issues, they argue, that Museveni should have addressed when he called for a special meeting with them.
Museveni had other things to talk about too — the foreign powers acting behind non-governmental organisations like Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), which he said spent $1 million to conduct a two-day seminar for parliamentarians prior to the passing of the Oil Exploration, Development and Production Bill 2012.
However, the NGOs say Museveni is attempting to shut them down for sensitising the public about public sector management, which has raised questions of accountability.
“Museveni is facing pressure from the public and the donors who have threatened to withdraw aid, and he thinks NGOs are behind it. So if he can stop the NGOs from getting resources, he would be stopping us from creating awareness on public affairs. So people will remain ignorant and will stop demanding accountability,” said Dickens Kemigisha, chief executive officer at AFIEGO.