Thursday, May 3, 2007

Letters & Opinions: issue 1

[Nairobi, Kenya]
I MENTIONED the oil boom in East Africa here. Can this reader, Tom, see into the future? Maybe. But let's see what transpires in Uganda. Read my thoughts below.
Title: Watch out for the Curse of Oil
Source: The East African (April 2-8, pg. 13)
Tom Ole Sikar (Arusha, Tanzania)
Karl Lyimo's recent article ('As if gold weren't bad enough, now they have found oil' The East African, March 26-April 1) served as a warning that before we rejoice about oil and gas discoveries in our countries, we should learn from countries that have discovered oil and gas. It brought to mind a passage from Thomas Friedman's bestseller, The World is Flat:
"Nothing has contributed more to retarding the emergence of a democratic context in places like Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran than the curse of oil. As long as the monarchs and dictators who run these oil states can get rich by drilling their natural resources as opposed to drilling the natural talents and energy of their people they can stay in office forever. They can use oil money to monopolise all the instruments of power army, police, and the intelligence and never have to introduce real transparency and power sharing. All they have to do is capture and hold the oil tap. They never have to tax their people, so the relationships between ruler and ruled is highly distorted. Without taxation, there is no representation. The rulers don't really have to pay attention to the people or explain how they are spending their money through taxed. That is why countries focused on tapping their oil wells always have weak or nonexistent institutions, property rights, rule of law, independent courts, modern education, foreign trade, foreign investment, freedom of thought, and scientific enquiry to get the most out of their men and women."

With oil around, things could worsen unless we take note to do something.

My Thoughts
I agree 100% with Tom’s observation. However I don’t think the author (Mr. Friedman) he quoted above should’ve included Venezuela in that list. Perhaps he was referring to the “state of democracy” before Hugo Chavez was democratically elected (3 times) by his people - unanimously. You’ll note that Chavez has re-allocated most of his country’s oil revenues to benefit the poor - unlike his predecessors who only catered to Venezuela’s elite.

In addition, Chavez is a very popular figure in Latin American politics, so obviously he’s doing something right, or has struck a chord with the masses over the general dissatisfaction of politicians who cater to the few. With regards to how the comment relates to Uganda, I do hope that their politicians don’t allow this newly found oil wealth to hinder their democratic institutions. I read somewhere in the same paper that MPs were annoyed with the Energy minister because they were not told what percentage of the revenues from the people’s oil wells would go to the government. Bad mistake. That sort of nonsense would not work in places like Canada, Germany, or Sweden.

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