Our pipeline would have given Uganda a stronger say in regional politics and opened up for it the possibility of future security collaboration and even trade with Ethiopia and South Sudan
Uganda recently announced plans to export its crude oil through a new pipeline to be built to a Tanzanian port rather than via Kenya. Though Uganda’s decision to abandon Kenya for Tanzania was formally made at the East Africa Community Summit in Kampala at the end of April, unmistakable signs that Uganda was courting partnership with our southern neighbour predated the summit.
As early as last September, we already had sufficient reason to believe that Ugandan crude oil would not be exported via Lamu, despite earlier agreements to do so. This gave us enough time to reflect extensively on the potential outcomes of Uganda’s change of heart.
Kenya had much more to offer. But before getting into this, it is imperative to objectively consider the reasons behind Uganda’s decision—mutual respect between our two countries suggests this; sound diplomacy demands it.
Uganda decided against a joint pipeline with Kenya because of challenges they believed our country would face with land acquisition and security in the Northern parts, especially those areas closer to restive Somalia.
Uganda also backed the Tanzanian route because the country’s port of Tanga is already fully operational, while Kenya’s Lamu port is yet to be built. This was a big determinant in deciding against Kenya.
Admittedly, Uganda’s justifications are persuasive. But at a much deeper level, there are some assumptions that our neighbours made about Kenya that are not entirely accurate. For instance, Uganda’s concerns over security may sound legitimate at first glance. But wouldn’t a pipeline open up Kenya’s northern region to development, and in the process necessitate a reliable and more robust security presence?
Moreover, a pipeline via the north falls into the Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor (Lapsset) route. This means that a joint Ugandan-Kenyan pipeline passing through the north would secure the strategic interests of not just Uganda and Kenya, but also, indirectly, South Sudan and Ethiopia, bringing greater regional unity.
Greater unity would in turn mean a lasting peace in South Sudan, which not only recently embarked on a new but fragile era of peace, but also formally joined the EAC; therefore South Sudan’s issues are now our issues.
Finally, greater unity brought about by the pipeline would act as a plank for closer collaboration between Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and the Somalia government in the war against al Shabaab.
More than just providing a route for its crude oil, our pipeline would have given Uganda a stronger say in regional politics and opened up for it the possibility of future security collaboration and even trade with Ethiopia and South Sudan, which both are set to benefit from increased economic development in Northern Kenya.
Additionally, the operating and capital costs would be much lower for both Kenya and Uganda due to the combined volume of crude oil, something that is not possible in Tanzania, which has natural gas but not crude oil. This is a strong selling point on Kenya’s end that was overlooked.
In the final analysis, Uganda’s reluctance to go with Kenya and instead opt for Tanzania has come at a huge cost, though this may not be apparent now. It has, however, also come with its own opportunities, not just for Tanzania, but also strangely enough for Kenya.
Kenya will go it alone. The country now plans to construct a $2.1 billion pipeline between the oil fields in Lokichar and Lamu. The pipeline is set to be completed by 2021, and it is our belief that it will receive widespread support from the international community, especially from development agencies, who will undoubtedly support our pipeline’s socio-economic impacts and its role in fostering security and stability in northern Kenya and the wider Horn of Africa region.