Why are presidential candidates silent on oil?


In Aldous Huxley’s novel, ‘Point counter point’, the lead character Sidney Quarles goes frequently to London from his country home in Essex, ostensibly to work at the British Museum on democracy in Ancient India.

It’s about local government in Maurya times, he explains to his wife Rachel, referring to the Indian Imperial Dynasty that ruled the country in the fourth and the third century BC.

Rachel does not, however, have much difficulty in figuring out that this is an elaborate ploy by Sidney to cheat on her, since his real reason for going to London, she surmises, is to spend time with a new mistress.

Aldous Huxley tells us how Rachel Quarles assesses what is going on; Sidney’s visits to London became frequent and prolonged. After the second visit Mrs. Quarles had wondered, sadly, whether Sidney had found another woman.

And when on his return from a third journey and, a few days later on the eve of the fourth, he began to groan ostentatiously over the history of democracy among Ancient Indians.

Rachel was convinced that the woman had been found. It turns out in Huxley’s novel that Rachel Quarles was right. Sidney was squirting ink for exactly the reason she suspected.

Are presidential candidates cheating electorates by maintaining their silence on Uganda’s petroleum oil sector? Is it a ploy to maintain the secrecy surrounding the oil contracts? Or, it’s a failure to demonstrate, how oil rent will be utilized to expand opportunities for all?

Have Uganda’s youths trained themselves to taking pleasure in small mercies? Just like the workers in exploitative employment arrangement in the oil sector.

A conversation on this subject from two Ugandan youths is of some special interest. As the conversation is reminisced a lady named Amanda and her friend, Dez, proceed rapidly to a bigger issue than ways and means of becoming income secure.

How far would Uganda’s oil rents go to help me get what i want? Amanda wonders whether, it could be the case that if “all the Uganda’s oil rent” were hers, she could attain immortality through it. “No,” responds Dez, it is “like the rent of corrupt people were yours.

But, there is no immortality through oil rent”. Amanda remarks, “What should i do with that by which i won’t lead the life i have reason to value?” Amanda’s rhetorical question has been ruminated again and again to illustrate both the nature of human frailty and the limitations of NRM’s prosperity for all.

I have too much skepticism of otherworldly matters than to be led here by Amanda’s worldly frustrations. But, there is another aspect of this exchange that is of rather immediate interest to understanding the nature of youth income deprivation in Uganda.

This concerns the relation between youth income deprivation and our ability to live, as we would like. While, there is a connection between income and realizations, the linkage may or may not be very strong and may well be extremely dependent on other conditions.

The issue is not the ability to live forever on which Amanda strives for but rather the ability to live really long (without being cut off in one’s prime) and to have good life while alive (rather than a life of misery and deprivation).

As Aristotle noted in the very first chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics (resonating well with the conversation between Amanda and Dez, millions of kilometers away in Uganda), “Income is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else and that something else is what we have to seek’.

If the Amanda has reason to want oil rent, we have to ask; what precisely are these reasons? How do they work? On what are they dependent? And what are the things Amanda can “do” with more oil rent? In fact the youth always have brilliant reasons for wanting more income.

The usefulness of income lies in the things that it allows us to do and the substantive ‘handicaps’ it helps us to remove. Of course, it is common knowledge that very many youth like Amanda often suffer from varieties of deprivations.

Many have little access to health care, to sanitary arrangements or to clean water and spend their lives fighting unnecessary morbidity, often succumbing to premature mortality.

Presidential candidates can consider demonstrating how oil rent policy options will expand opportunities for all.

Walter Ochanda, the author, is an international development specialist.

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