Oil, democracy, and Uganda

A voter in Uganda shows a blank ballot while waiting to vote.</p>

A voter in Uganda shows a blank ballot while waiting to vote.

Elections are underway today in Uganda. The African country has been in the news for much of the past year due to its controversial laws on homosexuality, and the January murder of a prominent gay rights activist.

But that's not all at stake today.

As GlobalPost Senior Correspondent for Africa Tristan McConnell points out, the other main issue in Uganda is oil. The Rift Valley is full of the stuff, and Uganda's oil windfall is estimated to be worth $2 billion a year for the next two decades.

But along with a potential boost to Uganda's economy, oil money brings worries: Corruption. Environmental degredation. Complicated relationships with Chinese and other foreign oil firms.

Here's how Tristan puts it:

There is widespread concern, given Uganda’s worsening reputation for official corruption, that the oil windfall may be squandered, stolen or siphoned into private bank accounts rather than invested in the roads, schools, hospitals and infrastructure the country so desperately needs. High-stakes squabbles over control of the oil money that flows into state coffers might also undermine Uganda’s democracy, which is still stabilizing after a long history of civil war and single-party rule. John Mary Odoy, director of the Democracy Monitoring Group in the capital Kampala, warned: “If the oil is badly managed it will affect our emerging democracy very badly.”