In 2009, commercially exploitable reserves of oil were found in the Albertine Lakes Basin in Uganda. Along with a number of new oil exporters, Uganda now faces the challenge of using the new resources to advance its development agenda, while avoiding the corrosive effects oil often has on governance.
This paper considers the tradeoffs and potential impact of alternative uses of the oil rent. It argues that alternative approaches towards absorbing rents should be judged from two perspectives – the direct impact on growth and living standards, and the indirect effect on governance. The Ugandan authorities favor using the oil revenues to build much-needed infrastructure; while this could have very large benefits, evidence of Uganda’s already deteriorating governance and mounting corruption raise questions about its capacity to wisely invest the oil revenues. This paper considers an alternative—distributing oil rents to the population through cash transfers—as a potential tool to mitigate some of the governance risks associated with oil revenues by giving Ugandan citizens a stake in their own resource wealth, and considers the strengths and limitations of such an approach.