The Making of a Petro-state: Governmentality and Development Practice in Uganda's Albertine Graben


Paddy Banya Kinyera

Research Area:


Preparations for oil production in Uganda along the Lake Albert Basin have, over the last decade reconfigured the reason of government—the politico-economic rationalities of the East African country. This has come at a critical time when the global oilscape is increasingly featuring alarming discourses of energy scarcity and insecurity, consequentially leading to what Michael Klare frames as “the race for what is left”. More critical and applicable to Uganda, is the relatively stable concern in both academic and development discourses that the oil industries in the under-developed (or developing) countries of the global south are “cursed”—for a fact that there have hardly been possibilities for these oil-rich countries to translate the oil revenues into visible human development. The failures that have been demonstrated by several countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa laid the foundation for the so-called “petro-states”, characterised by multidimensional oil-linked stalemates hypothesized as the “resource-curse”. At the heart of this “curse” lies the critical question of government, often mistakenly regarded as the function of institutions that play the role of governing state affairs. Uganda’s oil industry is emerging at such a time when not only the race for what is left has laid particular focus on the African continent—the idea of the “new scramble” for Africa; but also the narrative of governmental failures in the established oil-producing countries on the continent. Guided by the question: how is Uganda becoming a “petro-state”, the study explored the strategies that multiple stakeholders are undertaking to prepare the country and the population for an era of oil production. Framed within the optics of Michel Foucault’s idea of government as the “conduct of conduct”, the study framed Uganda’s oil industry as a field practice of power shaping up with reason to ensure effective management of the resource, as well as the population’s aspirations. It problematised oil as more than just the liquid substance; and govern-ment as more than just the institutional role of the state, but the state alongside other units of power, all trying to strategically shape effectively governable fields of oil extraction.