Oil has been in the headlines from last week, as the debate in Uganda's parliament was centered on issues around legislation in the oil sector.
This has come on the heels of even more discoveries in the Albertine Graben, an oil rich region in the western part of Uganda bordering lake Albert that stretches for over 500km from the North West to South Western Uganda.
This area encompasses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in the country, where there is already human, animal and plant settlement, hence a need to have strong and thorough legal framework to help supervise the entire process from exploration to actual consumption of the petroleum that has now been established at 3.5 billion barrels with recoverable quantities of nearly 1.2 billion barrels.
Tanzania is also in the process of updating their laws on the oil sector, the current laws having been written in the 1950s, to ensure that the revenue is shared equitably.
Oil is such an asset that it has turned some economies around in the countries it has been discovered. It has also created turmoil in other countries as a result of poor governance. This is the governance that Uganda and Tanzania are anxious to put in place so that these East African nations do not suffer either the 'Dutch Disease' which involves over-emphasis on one sector (e.g. oil) at the expense of other equally sensitive sectors like Agriculture and tourism or the 'Oil Curse' in which case the citizens fail to benefit from a resource that is so abundant that it should have raised them above the poverty line, but instead brought chaos.
Whilst it is true that there may be unique circumstances in the different countries, for example Uganda with its kingdoms clamouring for a piece of the pie, it would not be wise for each country to go it alone, so to speak.
Already, Kenya is changing its tax structure to accommodate its revenue targets by unilaterally imposing more fees at the port of Mombasa. This has already created a trade nightmare. If the EAC countries each had a different legislation on mining, this would also produce disharmony.
There is demand for the gas from Tanzanian and it is the petroleum in Uganda will find market in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. It would be a big mistake, for example, if the laws make it harder or more expensive to access these resources regionally than it would be to import the same from another source outside the EAC.
It is imperative, therefore, that the EAC member countries formulate, debate and promulgate a single and harmonious set of laws to govern the oil sector.