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Museveni, Mobutu Oil Deal Hangs in Balance
By Frank Nyakairu
Kampala, Uganda, 7 October 2007 - UNCERTAINTY surrounds the 1990 agreement between Uganda and DR Congo on joint oil exploration, with Congolese authorities questioning the document's legitimacy.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the highly sensitive nature of the subject, authorities in Kinshasa told Sunday Monitor last week that the agreement is not "implementable because it was not ratified" by both countries.
Representatives of the governments of President Museveni and his then Congolese counterpart Mobutu Ssese Seko reached the agreement on June 23, 1990 in Kampala for both countries to jointly explore for oil along sections of the common border.
"That agreement has a lot of problems," a senior Congolese official said on Thursday. "One, the [Congolese] government Uganda signed it with was illegitimate but most importantly the protocol was not ratified by the two governments."
Under the Ugandan system certain international agreements like treaties, conventions and others have to be ratified by Parliament for them to have force of law in the country. Indeed, in certain cases laws have to be enacted in order to 'domesticate' the said treaty or convention.
It had been hoped that issues surrounding the 1990 deal and related matters would have been clarified last week when three Congolese ministers were expected to meet in Kampala with Energy Minister Daudi Migereko.
The meeting was called by Uganda to discuss the agreement and "upgrade it to international standards", according to Mr Migereko. However, Kinshasa withdrew its delegation at the last minute, angering official Kampala.
Congolese oil minister Mende Omalanga said the delegation was "unable to attend the planned meeting because of other commitments". Uganda and the DR Congo, known as Zaire in Mobutu's day, are sitting on what prospectors believe could be large oil reserves of up to one billion barrels in the Albertine Basin which straddles a section of the border between the two neighbours.
Thus the 1990 agreement envisioned "joint oil exploration concessions, joint investment and shared profits". In saying the Mobutu regime was illegitimate, however kleptocratic it was as Kinshasa is saying, is to stretch the point.
Under international law, any given State government inherits the obligations arising out of agreements, treaties and other such arrangements that its predecessor might have entered into. Such protocols remain enforceable until such time that either of the States party to them pulls out by formal declaration.
Kinshasa is yet to make such a declaration. In the 1990 agreement, both countries had agreed to view the national "boundaries as non-existent for the purposes of oil exploitation based on goodwill and regular consultation".
A few years later, however, Presidents Museveni and Mobutu fell out as Kampala accused Kinshasa of aiding the Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces.
Uganda soon joined Rwanda, which had earlier accused DR Congo government of harbouring genocidaires, to oust Mobutu in early 1997 after a quick war. Mobutu fled into exile and died in Morocco on September 7, 1997.
Laurent Kabila became President. He was assassinated in 2001, paving the way for his son Joseph, the current President, to take over.
Failure to talk
Mr Reuben Kashambuzi, Uganda's commissioner for petroleum exploitation and production, said the failed ministerial meeting was supposed to see the negotiation of a "unitization agreement which helps countries to agree on common deposits in terms of percentages each state is entitled to. In international oil business it is done this way and though the current agreement did not envisage such [high levels of] deposits, Uganda and DR Congo [still] have to agree a unitization deal".
On September 8, Presidents Museveni and Kabila met in Arusha in Tanzania in an attempt to defuse the growing tensions.
A Uganda government official who attended the meeting said: "The Congolese said they had problems with the  agreement but when we sat them down to carefully look at the agreement they could not point out exactly what the problem is."
Despite Kinshasa holding back, Mr Migereko said Uganda will proceed with offshore and onshore oil business "within the Ugandan territory".
With Uganda eager to proceed quickly with oil exploration, the behaviour of the Congolese government may further worsen already icy relations between the two countries.
At least nine people - including a British contractor and soldiers and civilians from either country - have lost their lives in skirmishes on Lake Albert since August.
Kinshasa remains suspicious of Kampala, while according to a UN official who spoke to Sunday Monitor on condition of anonymity, the DR Congo is also wary of Heritage Oil Corp, one of the companies prospecting for oil in Albertine Basin.
Sources familiar with this matter say Kinshasa is unhappy about the relationship Heritage might be enjoying with Executive Outcomes (EO) - a mercenary outfit of ex-South Africa army commandos. They also see EO's probable links with President Museveni's brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, through his Saracen Guards company, as being potentially problematic.
In 2006, Heritage Oil signed an agreement to explore and exploit oil wells on the Congolese side of the Lake Albert. Heritage and British-based Tullow Oil are both drilling in concessions around the basin.
Source: The Monitor