Kampala — BUNYORO King Solomon Iguru and the late American literature professor Mason Cooley live thousands of miles apart but they have something in common. Cooley once said: "Courage, determination and hard work are very nice, but not so nice as an oil well in the backyard."
As though he were Cooley's student, Iguru is determined to reap from the oil in Bunyoro's backyard. So he has pulled out a four-page agreement his kingdom signed with the colonialists five decades ago and is demanding a share of the oil in the region.
1955 BUNYORO AGREEMENT
The 1955 Bunyoro Agreement, signed between British Governor Sir Andrew Cohen and Omukama Tito Gafabusa Winyi IV on September 3, gives Bunyoro Kingdom rights to share in the region's wealth.
Section 36 of the agreement states: "In the event of any mineral development, a substantial part of the mineral royalties and the revenue from mining leases shall be paid to the native government of Bunyoro-Kitara."
Based on this clause, Iguru has petitioned the President to allocate his kingdom an oil exploration block and that when oil extraction begins, Bunyoro should receive a substantial percentage of the royalties.
Shem Byakagaba, a legal expert, argues that the agreement is binding because it has never been annulled. Oil being a mineral resource, he argues, it is covered under section 36 of the agreement.
The agreement was signed to reduce the impact of the military attack on Bunyoro by the colonial Government in the 1890s and the economic deprivation in the early 19th century. In 1934, the colonialists banned the Banyoro from exploiting the mineral resources. They lost control of salt mines and other minerals which, according to Iguru, deprived the kingdom of revenue. After negotiations, the agreement was signed, improving the relations between Bunyoro and the colonial government.
These rights were rescinded in 1966 when former President Milton Obote abolished kingdoms. With the restoration of cultural leaders in 1993, Iguru argues, Bunyoro is still entitled to mineral rights specified in the 1955 agreement.
THE KINGDOM'S STAKE
Iguru further argues that the National Oil and Gas Policy should indicate how cultural institutions will share the natural resources.
But the energy minister, Hilary Onek, says the policy and the Mineral Exploration Act allocate royalties to districts where the mineral resources are located; and a percentage is also paid to the land owners; who in this case is Bunyoro Kingdom.
Bunyoro Kingdom consists of Bulisa, Hoima, Kibaale and Masindi districts. Of these, oil has been discovered only in Hoima and Bulisa. If the royalty goes to districts and not the kingdom, only these two districts would benefit. For this reason, the Kitara Heritage Development Association argues that the kingdom should be treated as a region and not in terms of districts.
But the Cultural Restitution Act of 1993 which restored kingdoms only limits traditional leaders to cultural roles. It does not assign them the role of managing public resources. As a result, the traditional institutions like Bunyoro are not part of the administrative system.
Nevertheless, Byakagaba argues that the Cultural Restitution Act did not annul the Bunyoro Agreement of 1955. He calls for an amendment of the Act to allow kingdoms to manage mineral resources.
"And receiving such money would mean the kingdom will be exposed to the institutions of Auditor General to account for the funds received," he adds.
But this also raises questions on whether Bunyoro has the institutions to ensure that funds are utilised efficiently for the benefit of the region.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
If Bunyoro is to benefit from oil exploitation, the king should set up companies, which will be subject to government audits.
Onek says if Bunyoro has sufficient funds to invest in petroleum exploration, the Government will let them acquire an exploration block. He, however, cautions that allocating Bunyoro an exploration block is no guarantee that they will find oil. He adds that natural resources should be shared by the entire nation. He cautions against sectarian demands.
But Byakagaba argues, "Bunyoro is not a tribe. It comprises of various communities that include Baruuli, Bagungu, Bachope and the Banyoro."
He adds that since Bunyoro will be most affected by oil exploration, they should take a proportionate share of the proceeds.
BUNYORO'S OTHER DEMANDS
Already, the kingdom is seeking compensation from the Government for the Waraga oil site in Hoima, saying the area was an important spiritual centre. The kingdom says the government and the oil investors tampered with the Bunyoro shrine, which was marked by mikooge (tamarind) trees. Waraga is said to be a spiritual centre set up by King Waraga, one of the oldest Bunyoro kings.
Bunyoro is also pushing for a university and petroleum institute at Kigumba, Masindi district.
Both the oil discovery and the 1955 agreement are not new. But campaigns for the 2011 presidential elections will start next year. Could the demand for royalties be a political calculation?