By Ronald Musoke
The president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, has advised Uganda to exploit her oil and natural gas resources in an optimal manner if the country is to avoid repeating the mistakes the first generation African oil and gas producers like Nigeria have made over the last four decades.
Kaberuka who on Nov. 6 was giving a public lecture organized by Bank of Uganda with the theme, “From Economic Growth to Economic Transformation: An Agenda of the African Development Bank,” said if Uganda exploited her newly found oil wealth well and optimally she would realize the economic transformation the country is yearning for.
He was directly reacting to Betty Olive Kamya, the president of the Uganda Federal Alliance— a relatively new party on Uganda’s political scene— who wondered why African countries such as Uganda were failing to exploit their comparative economic advantage and were instead joining the band wagon of prospecting for oil and other mineral ores.
“It will be a shame if Uganda does not exploit her oil potential (but) Uganda should not make mistakes which the first generation African oil producers made,” Kaberuka said.
According to the World Bank, Uganda is among the 50 out of the 54 African countries which are either prospecting or producing oil, gas or mineral ores.
Kamya had earlier inferred that most of the African countries including Uganda which are excited about oil and other minerals neither have the technical nor managerial expertise and that they are better off concentrating on key sectors like tourism and agriculture where they clearly have a comparative advantage over their competitors.
“There is euphoria about oil discoveries but do we have the competitive advantage to manage and market this oil so as to benefit wider sections of the population?” Kamya asked.
However, Kaberuka argued that it would be a shame if Uganda did not exploit her newly discovered oil wealth. He advised Uganda and her peers to draw the right lessons.
Kaberuka noted that around the world, natural resources have been a blessing for countries like Botswana, Indonesia and Brazil, adding that these resources would only turn into a curse if it is a matter of public policy.
However he was also quick to caution Uganda and her peers, noting that oil and gas discoveries all across the continent will not actually guarantee economic transformation but rather policy choice would.
Speaking to a packed and attentive audience that included diplomats, ministers, Members of Parliament, the Academic fraternity, the media and members of the general public in Victoria Hall at Serena Hotel, Kaberuka said although Uganda has done all the right things over the last two decades as far as progressive economic policies are concerned and that she is now poised for economic transformation, this will only be possible with careful planning.
He said investments in agriculture, quality education, infrastructure as well as labour intensive manufacturing sectors would be the most critical in transforming Uganda’s economy over the coming years.