Cognisant of the fact that the East African states are now bundled under one economic umbrella and more so, that the governments have in the past engaged in high profile conventions to forge a way forward for the entire citizenry; I want to voice my well considered opinion on the most important regional resource that is usually said will quickly fuel the economic development of the region as a whole, oil!
It is common knowledge that pockets of oil fields have been discovered around the region, some of the most recent ones being in the Albertine region and another potential oil basin within the middle of Lake Kivu.
Its discovery has evoked and revolutionised debates regarding exploration, refinement, decommissioning and many more, even the face of nonexistent laws to clearly regulate the industry.
While there is a remarkably tremendous progress towards realisation of the dream despite the unavoidable backward and forward movements in as far as the oil exploration and the sector as a whole is concerned; the simple rules of economics and investments fall into play.
For example, around mid 2013, Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Uhuru Kenyatta of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya respectively came up with insightful and brilliant ideas on the oil sector mainly routed around infrastructural plans, to enable both exploration and most importantly refinement.
I recall the trio agreed on many things of which oil pipeline from the Albertine and prospective Lake Kivu to Mombasa and other regional refineries were proposed. Being an impeccable idea despite our little resources, I would on the contrary choose another option other than a pipeline. How about the trains?
As analysts and experts once said of Uganda’s oil, it is estimated to be 3.5 billion barrels with a lifespan of approximately 30 years of exploitable oil thus 200,000 barrels (appx.24 million litres) of oil per day and the refinery would take up 30,000 barrels (3.6 million litres) scalable to 60,000 barrels at peak each day.
Uganda consumes 27,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day at a 7 per cent growth rate.
A few months back, Rwanda ended the contract it had with Vanoil and at the time, prospects on petroleum exploration almost fizzled out until the great interest was reignited recently at the validation workshop for a draft law on petroleum exploration and production.
As to how many barrels could be lying beneath Lake Kivu is at least not public knowledge yet let alone actually establishing petroleum actually exists there.
Lest I forget to put my point across; yes! East Africa is endowed and can actually quickly put pen to paper and sign as many petroleum bills into law but, how efficiently and economically can we manage our economic resources? Why would we not look beyond the 30 or so years when the pipelines shall cease to be of use?
We could instead perhaps invest in modern trains versatile enough to carry the waxy oil to the refineries and later on use them for public transport or strictly cargo.
As my old college friend Benon Mugulusi once put it in his research paper he called pipeline versus trains, he argues that modern trains can haul up to 80 oil tank-cars at a go. Each oil tank car can carry up to 714 barrels.
Meaning a modern train with an average 80 tank-cars can comfortably carry all Uganda’s oil refinery needs for one day. He adds that a class three railway track can have a train moving at a speed of about 64kph.
This means from the Albertine region to Mombasa approximately 1600km at a conservative speed of 40kph, a round trip would take about four days.
With an allowance for mishaps, Uganda would need about 30 trains working simultaneously to transport oil from the albertine without delay.
While the research is criticized for being insubstantial, it reinforced my ideologies on efficiency and economy, two principles that would certainly work together but not devoid of each other especially in the presence of little resources.
My very modest idea is, as we draft laws; we should cater for those that may come after us and have facilities on which they can further improve. We build the legacy, shape a destiny and they will all follow.
The writer is a social commentator currently based in Kigali