Uganda: The Next Saudi Arabia?

Uganda is a landlocked country of 32 million that's a bit smaller than Oregon. GDP: $1100. And, according to this report of a meeting with a representative of the US Department of Energy, may have reserves that "rival" those of Saudi Arabia.

(For reference: Saudi Arabia produces well over 10 million barrels of oil a day and has reserves estimated at 267 billion barrels.)

The DOE expert says Uganda could produce 3.5 million barrels a day, and possibly much more, and then offers US help with environmental and governance issues.

I have no way of knowing how accurate the prediction of Uganda's oil reserves is, but even if there is a lot of oil there, there's no doubt that the place and oil source we call Saudi Arabia was the product of a particular moment in world history, and a particular relationship between the US as the emerging post-colonial world power and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which needed protection as the Cold War heated up. In other words: More than oil made Saudi Arabia what it is today.

By contrast, this moment in history is a dramatically different petri dish. As this article shows, Uganda is actually considering NOT exporting its oil, which would mean that the reserves, no matter how large they are, would not realize their full value. Furthermore, Uganda is seriously looking at doing deals with both Iran and China--both in their own ways emerging powers without the baggage that the US has.

And the US has neither the diplomatic suasion nor the air of military invincibility that it had 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The US military, through AFRICOM, has a complex relationship with the government of  Uganda and rival groups in nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. Earlier this year, AFRICOM helped plan a horrifically botched raid on rebels who turned around and killed 900 civilians.

It's probably fair to say that regardless of how much oil is found, there will never be another Saudi Arabia, willing to invest so much of its income in creating spare capacity to keep America's vision of the world afloat with cheapish oil. For the US, chasing  Saudi Arabias  and oil reserves around the world has been part of our 20th century version of manifest destiny. But with incredible speed, the whole venture --both the good and the bad--is changing.



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Lisa Margonelli is a writer on energy and environment. She spent four years and traveled 100,000 miles to write her book, "Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank." More

Lisa Margonelli directs the New America Foundation's Energy Productivity Initiative, which works to promote energy efficiency as a way of ensuring energy security, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and economic security for American families. She spent roughly four years and traveled 100,000 miles to report her book about the oil supply chain, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank, which the American Library Association named one of the 25 Notable Books of 2007. She spent her childhood in Maine where, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, her family heated the house with wood hauled by a horse. Later, fortunately, they got a tractor. The experience instilled a strong appreciation for the convenience of fossil fuels.

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