By Kungu Al-mahadi Adam
The current stand-off between the government of Uganda and the European Union Parliament on the latter’s resolutions condemning Uganda’s oil development processes has exposed the country’s ineptness to handle diplomatic concerns.
The President, the Vice President and the Parliament of Uganda, have all failed to pass the diplomatic test, at least for now. The trio has since behaved in a way not designed to convey respect or de-escalate a standoff, but instead, embarked on name-calling, belittling, intimidating and projecting a lack of self-confidence.
When the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling on Uganda and Tanzania to halt the oil project and in particular, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), a couple of days back, citing human rights violations and the negative environmental effects of the project in both in countries, my anticipation was that the two parties would engage and reach an amicable compromise with ease. But alas, Uganda has exhibited an unprecedented lack of diplomatic decorum.
It all started with Parliament on September 15. Populist as it is, the legislators through the Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa, condemned Members of the European Union Parliament, accusing them of economic sabotage, racism and interference.
Tayebwa said the motion by the European Union Parliament seeks to curtail the progress of Uganda’s Oil and Gas developments and by extension, the country’s socio-economic growth and development, and that the resolution represents the highest level of neo-colonialism and imperialism against the sovereignty of Uganda and Tanzania.
Although the response by Uganda’s Parliament was below the belt indeed, it was not shocking, after all, the country is used to the excitement lawmakers always act with every time salient issues of national importance arise.
Look, the EU Parliament did not stop the project, but instead advised member countries not to render any diplomatic and financial support for it until the raised concerns are addressed.
Uganda’s Parliament ought to have acted diplomatically in several ways including but not limited to setting up and dispatching a team of legislators to the EU Parliament to, first of all, listen to their concerns and also present Uganda Parliament’s position on the matter.
It should have been a Parliament to Parliament affair, all done with decorum and respect. The Europeans have for long been our development partners – we continue to draw lots of funds from them and for a fact, we can’t afford as a country to singlehandedly finance this Shs14 trillion project. We need their money. This fact should have informed Parliament’s response.
In fact, what Parliament did is what Baganda call “Okwekangabiriza”. It is simply an indicator of the extent to which pernicious excitement has seeped into the arteries of our legislators.
Shockingly, as many of us considered the decision by parliament as having been hurriedly and unthoughtedly taken, I was shocked to see the President of Uganda, commenting in its support.
“The remarks of the Deputy Speaker and the Attorney General in one of the dailies concerning the EU Parliament and EACOP interested me in making some comments of reassurance to our people. I want to assure you that the project shall proceed as stipulated in the contract we have with TotalEnergies and CNOOC,” the President said.
“We should remember that Total Energies convinced me about the Pipeline idea; if they choose to listen to the EU Parliament, we shall find someone else to work with. Either way, we shall have our oil coming out by 2025 as planned. So, the people of Uganda should not worry,” he added.
As if that is not enough, the Vice President, Jessica Alupo days later, took the ‘fight’ about the construction to the United Nations. Alupo told the UN General Assembly that it was hypocritical for any individuals to speak ill of the project.
The Vice President said: “It is regrettable and hypocritical that some of the regions and nations that mismanaged the environment and are disproportionately responsible for global warming have embarked on a rigorous campaign to thwart efforts of other countries, to responsibly and sustainably develop the oil and gas sectors. Our view is that development should be environmentally friendly, inclusive and provide benefits for all; it should leave no one behind.”
The most recent was President Yoweri Museveni. On Tuesday while presiding over the official opening of a two-day, 7th edition of the Uganda International Oil and Gas Summit said the EU Parliament MPs are “shallow, egocentric and wrong.”
“The European Parliament has got enough work to do in its own place. I would advise the MPs there to spend a bit more time doing that. East Africa has got more capable people who know what to do,” the President said.
All this has no place in a world of international relations. Uganda should have first of all shown concern about the issues raised by the EU Parliament, then move to put in place a team of experts including career diplomats and senior government officials to engage the EU Parliament on the same by way of listening to them and also presenting the country’s positive, such that the two parties reach a win-win situation.
The air of mystery, confusion and ‘big boy’ syndrome surrounding this standoff is a clear manifestation of failed diplomatic decorum on the part of Uganda.
The writer is a Ugandan Journalist with a passion for African affairs.