HOPES OF Rwanda striking oil have been alive for some years now. The potential for the existence of the resource in the country is real, especially around the northern and central part of Lake Kivu, along the Rwanda-DRC border.
The Kivu area is a geological extension of Lake Albert region – described as the Albertine graben – where substantial amounts of oil deposits were discovered in 2006 in Uganda.
In anticipation of discovery, an oil exploration policy is already in place in Rwanda, and the upstream petroleum law is currently being drafted.
The prospects for Rwanda are not misplaced, especially if one compares the success rate for Eastern Africa against other regions on the continent.
While some 15,000 wells have been drilled in West Africa in the last two decades, only 500 or so have been drilled in East Africa with oil discoveries in Uganda and Kenya, as well as gas off the shores of Tanzania.
And earlier this month, more off-shore oil and gas deposits were discovered in Lamu at the Kenyan Coast. This is in addition to the oil deposits first discovered in Turkana in the country’s northern region since 2010.
Massive gas finds in Tanzania’s waters, along the East African coast, make the region one of the world’s most active oil and gas exploration areas.
Continent-wide over the last two decades, figures for known oil reserves in Africa have risen by more than 25 per cent, and gas reserves are now known to be more than 150 per cent higher.
Whatever the prospects for riches portend, especially for us in East Africa, it means that we have to be prepared in terms of policy, as well as legislatively, on how to utilise the resources for all our benefit.
And, without having to dwell on the so-called “resource curse” that has seen some countries on the continent crumble in conflict over resources, it inevitably means that the EAC must seize the chance to use newly found oil and gas to enhance regional development and integration.
This week saw the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) resume business in Arusha, Tanzania. And while regional Parliament recently launched the Second EALA Strategic Plan (2013-2018), it behooves it that the issue of our new found resources should find rigorous discussion, if only for consensus and general direction for the region.
Certainly, the region’s political leadership needs to show vision and foresight by being strategic in using the new found resources to enhance regional infrastructure, diversify its economies further, and invest in education to reduce poverty and create globally competitive economies.
To their credit, this already being done with the wide-gauge railway currently in the works from Mombasa through Kampala to Kigali, and the ambitious Kenya’s Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), also already in the making.
With this, we must keep alive to the fact that East Africa is now being touted as the new oil and gas frontier.
International observers are busy showing how since the end of the Cold War, old powers such as the US and the upcoming ones such as China and others are seeing African oil as part of an effort to diversify away from too high a dependence on Middle East oil.
While China, for instance, already receives an estimated one-third of its oil imports from Africa, it is projected how the country of well over 1.3 billion people will become the world’s largest net importer of oil by 2020.
Back to Rwanda, the hope should keep alive. Preliminary magnetic and gravity exploration and Synthetic Aperture Radar study on Lake Kivu has indicated possible occurrence of long chain hydrocarbons, which suggests there could be oil deposits in the vicinity.
The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues.