The problem is that most of the oil lies underneath land that for centuries belonged to the Bunyoro monarchy, one of Uganda’s oldest and most powerful tribal kingdoms. In the 1890s, the kingdom mounted one of the bloodiest rebellions in colonial east Africa. The uprising was ultimately crushed, but the surviving monarch insisted the British share any profits earned from Bunyoro’s mineral rich land. Two agreements were signed with the colonial government, in 1933 and 1955, guaranteeing the kingdom a cut of any mineral or oil related profits. Today, King Solomon Iguru insists that these treaties are still valid—unsurprisingly, the government does not agree and the kingdom is not mentioned in any of the revenue sharing agreements signed with the oil companies. The king’s private secretary, Yolamu Nsamba, has warned that if the government doesn’t give the monarchy a share of the oil revenue it “will be a breach of trust, and that would be very unfortunate.” The huge riots that gripped Kampala in mid September, which led to 14 deaths dead and 600 arrests, might be an indication of what “unfortunate” just might mean. Although this time the clash involved supporters of a different monarchy, it underlines the fact that, for many Ugandans, tribal allegiance continues to outweigh loyalty to the president or the so-called “national interest.”
Indeed, if Uganda’s oil programme does go ahead, the tribes will not be the only ones up in arms. As one might expect, the government’s decision to allow drilling in protected wildlife reserves has not gone down well with environmental groups.
But the question likely to cause most discord is what Uganda should do with the oil that sits waiting beneath its soil.