British Imperialism on the fiddle in Uganda

William Hague, former Conservative leader and current Foreign Secretary, has personally intervened in a dispute involving two British oil companies and one of the world’s poorest nations.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Hague, along with Conservative MP Henry Bellingham, lobbied heavily on behalf of Tullow Oil, who was embroiled in a tax dispute with the Ugandan government. 

The quarrel emerged after Tullow acquired Heritage Oil’s assets in Uganda in a deal worth almost £900 million. However, Heritage, registered in the tax-haven of Jersey, owed the Ugandan government £250 million in capital gains tax. The company paid £75 million and subsequently refused to settle the remaining £175 million. Uganda justifiably sought to reclaim the considerable sum, by which time the wrangle began upsetting Tullow Oil’s market price and gained the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Reports have exposed that Bellingham ‘lobbied strongly for Tullow Oil’; in direct meetings with Ugandan President Yoweri Musaveni; in bilateral discussions with several African ministers; and with the FCO Director for Africa. In published email exchanges between Tullow and the FCO, it was announced that “Tullow Oil have hit serious problems…which threaten their…investment in Uganda. Recommendation that we intervene urgently at Ministerial level with President Museveni.” Days later, William Hague personally contacted President Museveni, resulting in the announcement that the bill would not have to be settled and that Tullow could begin extracting millions of barrels of oil from the country.

Further complexity is added when we consider that both companies are headed by wealthy Conservative party supporters. Tullow Oil’s chief executive, Aidan Heavey, donated £10,000 in the run up to the last general election, whilst Heritage Oil’s Tony Buckingham donated £50,000.

Buckingham has played a significant role in British imperialist interests in Africa for some time. In 1993, he established the mercenary outfit, the aptly titled Executive Outcomes, with infamous Old Etonian Simon Mann. It proved a wealthy venture, protecting oil installations from rebel groups across a number of war-torn African states. He later became a leading figure in Sandline International, another mercenary collective, whose activities in Sierra Leone highlighted the hypocrisy of Blair’s early ‘ethical’ foreign policy when it came to light that the Foreign Office was complicit in arms sales.

Depicted as privileged adventurers, with undertones of romanticism and mystery, by sections of the bourgeois media, Buckingham and his associates were the hired representatives of British imperialism, engaged in the modern scramble for Africa’s rich mineral reserves including oil, gold and diamond mining. Illustrative of this seedy relationship between the British state and hired mercenaries, the aforementioned Mann counted heavily on fellow Etonian, and the Conservative MP in question, Henry Bellingham to raise his case in the House of Commons following his incarceration after a failed coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea. Mann received a Presidential pardon in 2009.

Whilst the vehicle of exploitation employed may have changed from mercenary outfits to legitimate oil companies, the intention of pillaging Africa in the service of British imperialism remains constant. Tullow Oil will surely now reap tremendous profits from the Lake Albert basin in Uganda, whilst Buckingham’s Heritage looks towards the oil fields of northern Iraq. The personal intervention of William Hague stands not only as a shameful example of corruption and conflict of interest, but indicative of British imperialisms flagrant violation of national sovereignty, political transparency, and third world development.

In related news, a study by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism has publicised that City tycoons accounted for approximately half, £11.4m, of Conservative party funding in 2010. Further, David Cameron’s recent visit to Egypt’s military interim government, following the deposition of imperialist-sponsored dictator Hosni Mubarak, has been exposed for the opportunistic sham that it was after it was revealed that he was accompanied by representatives of eight major British defence firms.  Simultaneously, Defence Minister Gerald Howarth and fifty British arms companies were marketing themselves at an arms export show in the United Arab Emirates, attended by generals of various dictatorial regimes.

Similarly, William Hague’s ongoing threats to withdraw arms sales licences from Libya, coupled with disingenuous remarks about humanitarian concerns, are noteworthy considering a recent European Union report highlighted that Britain and several other EU states have considerably increased their arms sales to several governments in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. This includes Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and, of course, the genocidal apartheid regime in Israel.

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