Uganda chooses Tanzania for oil pipeline route: minister

An oil exploration tower in Tonya on the shore of Lake Albert.
An oil exploration tower in Tonya on the shore of Lake Albert.PHOTO: AFP

KAMPALA (AFP) - Landlocked Uganda announced plans to export its future crude oil production via a new pipeline to be built through Tanzania rather than Kenya on Saturday (April 23) .

"We have agreed that the oil pipeline route be developed from Uganda in Hoima to the Tanzanian port of Tanga," Uganda foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa told AFP.

"We considered Tanga oil pipeline route based on a number of aspects - among them it is the least cost," the Ugandan minister said as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwanda's Paul Kagame held a regional mini-summit outside Kampala.

The first large discoveries of oil in Uganda date back to 2006 on the shores of Lake Albert. Reserves in the area are conservatively estimated at some 1.7 billion barrels.

But informed sources say production will not come on stream before 2025.

Three oil companies - Total of France, Chinese giant CNOOC and Anglo-Irish firm Tullow - each won a one-third rights share in 2009, but the issue immediately arose of how to export the crude from a country with no coastline.

After years of talks discussing the relative merits of different routes out to the Indian Ocean, Uganda has chosen to run a 1,400 kilometre pipeline through Tanzania through to the port of Tanga near the Kenyan border.

According to a Ugandan experts' report dated April 11 and obtained by AFP, the Tanzanian project won the argument because the "Tanga port in Tanzania is fully operational while Lamu port in Kenya is still to be built".

Kenya had proposed a pipeline from Uganda through impoverished northern Kenya to Lamu as part of an ambitious national development programme dubbed Vision 2030.

But the oil companies involved in Uganda preferred an alternative southern route through Kenya terminating at the existing major port of Mombasa. Although cheaper, Nairobi was concerned it would not deliver regional development in the neglected north.

There were also concerns for Uganda that parts of the Kenyan northern route would run near areas close to Somalia that might expose the pipeline to attacks by Al Qaeda-aligned Shabaab militants.