Ugandan Government Scraps Taxes on Oil, Gas, Mining Exploration

Ugandan Government Scraps Taxes on Oil, Gas, Mining Exploration

My comments

  • While on the face of it this move makes sense, I hope there is a balance to ensure that the scheme is not abused – leading to the loss of essential revenue, which Uganda needs.
  • In Malawi we had the Kayelekera Uranium mine, which was given many incentives (including a lax agreement that was too generous),  but which resulted in the loss of revenue by the government. African countries cannot afford to be conducting their affairs like this, because they are the ones who are most in need of resources – to help with economic development, poverty eradication and public investment(healthcare, education and national security). Further as I often say, when was the last time an African company was given a 70% stake in a mining interest in Europe or America?
  • It would be better and wiser, in my view, for the Ugandan government to get into the business of oil exploration. They would be able to keep more of the money derived from the natural resource – which they would then use in developing Uganda. In any case Uganda is a small landlocked country, and when you have few resources, you must utilise them wisely.
  • See my earlier article to understand my thinking on these issues.

Growing African economies that will work for African people

African market
Women at an African market

Tanzania just announced that it will dump English as its official language in schools, opting for Kiswahili instead. This morning, I read this article that somehow appears to suggest that this is a bad idea.

I must say I disagree, and below I’ll try to explain why.

When the colonial powers came to Africa, one of the first things they did was to impose their own languages as the language of learning in their territories. France imposed French in the various west African territories it colonised, Portugal imposed Portuguese, Holland imposed Dutch and Britain imposed English and so on. This had the effect of dividing communities which were otherwise related. The overall effect was to stop any hope of large countries the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo from ever emerging out of Africa. It was divide and rule of the purest form. Fragmentation – a cruel tactic designed to tie the future of those then colonies forever to the colonial powers.

So the english taught was not necessarily to be a conduit of knowledge transfer that would empower the colonies as some people would have you believe. Instead, it was a move to make sure that schools produced compliant subjects which could easily be manipulated, and do the bidding of the colonial masters in Europe.

And that is reason enough in my view for Tanzania to change the official language to Kiswahili, because the motive of colonised Tanzania having to communicate in foreign languages was entirely driven by foreign interests.

Secondly, groups of people often associate and define themselves as an ethnicity on various terms, but one of the most common denominators, other than ancestry is language. You identify as Chewa because your parents are Chewa and they spoke Chichewa, they lived in the land of the Chewa, their village was in the Chewa belt. Therefore you are Chewa.

This is the norm, not the exception.

So as Tanzanians, the question which the above article answers is that Kiswahili is a unifying force in Tanzania. It holds together the people, even though they are made up of 130 different ethnicities.

So why then should they conduct their lives based on an imported language when they have a language of their own?

Who’s interests does having English as an official language of education ultimately serve?

Why teach in English when students could learn in their own African language? Are people not proud of being African?

If the US, Britain or Spain is unlikely to begin teaching their students in Nyanja or Kiswahili which are African languages, why is it somewhat acceptable or expected for Africans to teach their students in foreign languages?!?

In any case, shouldn’t Tanzania develop an economy that first and foremost works for Tanzanians (if you can allow me to temporarily step out of my usual Pan-African shoes), people who are citizens of a sovereign country?

In the above article, the author quotes Ahmed Salim, a senior Associate at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy that works with U.S investors, who makes what I consider to be a hopelessly narrow-minded point:

However, in terms of overall impact, the main challenge will be felt long-term when companies set up shop in Tanzania and are left with hiring staff that are either bilingual Tanzanians or from neighboring Kenya or Uganda. This will somewhat hinder Tanzania’s competitive advantage in the future.”

Now, I’m not saying they should stop teaching English altogether, or that English isn’t an important international language. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead the argument for English is tied to this over-emphasis on foreign investment (money coming from the outside of Africa) to help and rescue Africans, to give them jobs and create an economy – as if Africans themselves couldn’t use their own resources to create economies that work for the benefit of African countries.

Tanzania has many natural resources including natural gas (See the following links Tanzania’s Natural Gas Reserves Almost Triple on New Finds ; Statoil makes another natural gas find offshore Tanzania ;  BG Group touts Pweza as its largest Tanzania gas find ). The country’s economy is growing at a rate of 7% which is quite high and above the international average. If those resources are utilised properly by the government of Tanzania for the benefit of the country’s citizens (as opposed to liberally auctioned-off to the highest corporate bidder) they could be a source of some serious economic development that would create jobs for young Tanzanians, investment into security, and used for infrastructure development, investment in Education, Healthcare and women’s issues.

That investment, derived from wholly Tanzanian owned resources, could be a serious game changer if utilised wisely.

But if some corporation is allowed to own a majority stake, or lions share of Tanzania’s Natural Gas resources, I can tell you now what difference it will make to the Tanzanian economy in the long run:

NONE.

The profits that corporation makes will be wired out of Tanzania to already developed and rich countries. Countries that needs the benefit of the resource much less, and that have billions in cash reserves to fall back on. And those profits will find their way into the fat pockets of already rich shareholders in those rich countries. Ultimately such funds will trickle down to contribute to the tax system of those already rich countries, benefitting their economies.

Meanwhile, poor Tanzanians already struggling with poverty, low incomes, unemployment, high cost of living, government corruption, who do not own property, poor healthcare in hospitals and the lack of medicines, no electricity in most areas, deforestation, poaching and lack of clean water in the villages will not have benefitted proportionately from such natural gas deals. Instead they will have to continue receiving handouts, breadcrumbs from aid organisations – when their country possesses the natural resources that could be used to create wealth for them…all just because of greed of some corporations

How absurd and stupid is that?

So the scare mongering self-serving attitude against Tanzania choosing to teach their students in Kiswahili is wrong, It’s anti-African and I vehemently disagree with such dishonest views.

Africans and other developing countries have been stamped on for too long. We must end this corporate driven theft and madness and begin to create economies which are designed to serve and benefit us as Africans, just as others have been building economies to benefit their own economies, and their own people.

After suspension of oil and gas exploration licences in Malawi what happens now?

Anglo American Corporation was founded in Johannesburg in 1917 with £1 million (what today would have been £75 million, adjusting for inflation according to one inflation calculator).

AngloAmerican

It has since grown into a publicly traded behemoth with a market capitalisation of £31.2 billion and revenues of £29.3 billion (2013). It’s headquarters is now in London and the company is now known as Anglo American Plc, the fourth largest mining company in the world.

Although a net ‘loss’ of $961 million was declared in 2013, Anglo American is undoubtedly one of the big boys in the industry. To give you a scale of just how big they are, Anglo American Plc owns 85% of Luxembourg registered De Beers Investments, the holding company of De Beers, another prominent mining giant which is well-known in Southern Africa. But if that’s not convincing enough then how about this: Anglo American recently walked away from a gold interest worth $300 billion, after investing over $541 million it it. Apparently, the withdrawal is related to environmental risks, in particular the threat the Pebble Mine would pose to Alaskan Salmon (there’s even a campaign), although Anglo’s chief executive claimed the withdrawal was in fact a way of prioritizing “.. capital to projects with the highest value and lowest risks.”

Both Anglo American and De Beers have been criticised over their practices in Africa, including price-fixing, low wages (for Anglo American recently in Chile here) and lack of transparency. In particular, according to a Wikipedia entry:

In 1977, the company [Anglo American] demanded that the paper it owned, Rand Daily Mail, tone down its equal-rights support after exposing the murder of South African activist Steve Biko amid the subsequent government backlash. [words in parenthesis for clarity]

Further, a British charity, War on Want, published a report in August 2007 that accused Anglo American of profiting from the abuse of people in the developing countries in which the mining giant operates. According to War on Want:

“in the Philippines and South Africa, local communities threatened with Anglo American mines have faced severe repression in their fight to stay on their land, while in Ghana and Mali, local communities see little of the huge profits being made by AngloGold Ashanti but suffer from fear and intimidation and from the damaging impact of its mines on their environment, health and livelihoods”

In response, the company subsequently published a report defending itself and disclosing its finances.

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Malawi’s first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda could have begun a state owned mining company in Malawi in the late 1960’s. He could have hired specialists from abroad, bought equipment from Britain or the US, begun prospecting for minerals, and by 1970 laid a foundation for a functional mining industry. The technology was available, and when Malawians had been travelling to South Africa in their thousands to work in the mines, labour would not have been a problem.

Banda didn’t begin a mining company. Instead he focussed on agriculture, which traditionally does not reap large profits as the sort which mining companies the likes of De Beers and Anglo American have been known to reap.

That decision could be a contributory factor further explaining Malawi’s economic woes today. While others were investing in assets and initiatives having huge long-term yields, Malawians were dabbling with agriculture and tobacco.

But to give him credit, while Dr Banda could have thought mining was not a priority to the newly independent country, he must have known that Malawi didn’t have enough capital resources to waste on ambitious projects whose very returns were unknown if not a gamble?

Further, having just broken away from the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, it’s understandable that while Britain could have been willing to extend Malawi a line of credit, as single-minded as Banda was known to have been, it’s inconceivable to think that he would have wanted to be constrained by such kind of favours from the very same people he so vehemently denounced. As he once declared: “We have no minerals. The soil is our gold mine”. In any case, what did a medical doctor who barely 10 years previously had been running a clinic in London know about the mining industry of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Having said this, would Dr Banda have started a state-owned mining company if he knew what treasures lay beneath the surface of Malawi’s geology? If he knew the value of such treasures on the international market?

Especially since there was information available as early as 1966 as to the Mineral deposits and mining potential of Malawi, according to a research paper titled MINERAL RESOURCES OF MALAWI AND MINING POTENTIAL by Rodney Mshali (The Society of Malawi Journal Vol. 62, No. 2 (2009), pp. 27-35 published by: Society of Malawi – Historical and Scientific ). Banda could have decided to take the risk if he wanted to.

Mineral Deposits

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Whichever way, it’s not my place to make a determination on Dr Banda’s judgement at this time.

But what does all this have to do with the current mining landscape in Malawi?

Well, as can be seen in the following links in Zambia, Chile, South Africa and Ethiopia , some mining companies have been known to be a menace to the countries they operate in. Issues of ownership, corruption, tax evasion in the form of profit shifting, low pay and poor working conditions, and of environmental degradation are often always lingering. In Malawi, recently, it has emerged that Paladin was considering to discharge ‘contaminated’ sludge kept in a dam near its Kayelekera mine into Malawi’s rivers systems for fear that if they did not do so, the rain season would cause their dam to overflow.

Thus, when news broke just under two weeks ago that the government of Malawi had suspended all oil and gas exploration licenses on Lake Malawi, so as to allow government to scrutinise and review each Licence that was issued or signed, I didn’t really know what to make of it. After all,  Malawi has had its fair share of sorry episodes of bad contracts married with irresponsible management, with the Paladin saga at Kayelekera. Although appearing diligent, uncovering any such lax agreements will just remind us all how deep in muck the country really is. It will not be a cause for celebration.

So then, what will the government do?

If they plan to review the oil exploration licenses in all good faith, and if necessary use legal mechanisms to resolve any indications of foul play -including unfair or prejudicial contract terms that do not benefit Malawians; if they plan to bring the miscreants to justice, then the suspension is a noble move.

In addition, the government of Malawi could work with charities [such as SHERPA (France), the Center for Trade Policy and Development (Zambia), the Berne Declaration (Switzerland), l’Entraide Missionnaire (Canada) and Mining Watch (Canada) ] which in 2011 filed complaints against mining companies Glencore International AG and First Quantum Minerals Ltd, to the Swiss and Canadian National Contact Points (NCP) for violating the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises including for Tax avoidance in Zambia.

However, if the suspension of oil and gas exploration in Malawi is a veiled attempt at ‘rent-seeking’, as is rumoured to have taken place not only during Bingu Wa Mutharika’s regime, but also during the People’s Party administration, then it would be unfortunate because the government would have lost an opportunity to harness the resources that Malawi has. DPP would have lost a chance to show transparency.

One more thing; how can Peter Mutharika be sure that the value of assets or mineral resources declared by Oil companies interested in prospecting, or already prospecting is accurate, and not under-declared/under-valued ? For example, if the actual value (or near estimate) of viable crude oil deposits under the basin of Lake Malawi was US$400 billion, what is to stop the Oil companies holding the exploration licenses from misinforming the government that they had found only US$100 billion worth of confirmed deposits under the lake? Especially when the government was unable to verify those figures?

Wouldn’t an independent state-owned Mining company, that had its own equipment, and that owned a stake in each exploration site, and that was jointly involved in the exploration, so as to be able to verify the findings by its own independently undertaken mapping and surveying reduce such a risk?

Finally, it goes without saying that for them to be successful, any state-owned organisation (including parastatals) should be run and managed by people who by merit are fit to do so, and not by public appointees with little or no experience in the relevant technical field or area.

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