News / Africa

Iran Courts Ugandan Vote Against Sanctions

Michael Onyiego

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Uganda Friday following a visit to Zimbabwe earlier this week. The Iranian president is expected to meet with his counterpart, Yoweri Museveni to discuss Iran's nuclear program as well as investment in Uganda's oilfields.

Just one day after United States Vice President Joe Biden announced that China and the U.S. agreed on future sanctions for Iran, President Ahmadinejad landed in Uganda to lobby support for his country's nuclear development.

The U.N. Security Council requires 9 out of its 15 members to approve of sanctions, but any of its five permanent members has the ability to veto the resolution.

Iran maintains that its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes and Uganda, a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is a potential ally which President Ahmadinejad hopes to court.

Uganda has been increasing its ties to Iran over the past few years. After a state visit to Iran last year, President Museveni announced that Iran had agreed to assist Uganda in the construction of an oil refinery. Iran also agreed to help train Ugandans at the country's University of Petroleum Studies.

Despite its vote in the Security Council, Uganda relies heavily on western aid to fund its economic development and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi's School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Gerrishon Ikiara, says Uganda cannot risk damaging its international image.

"Uganda is very dependent on aid from western countries, and that would spoil its image quite a bit. Iran would be asking for too much from Uganda in that case," he said. "Because as a member it has to weigh the overall sentiment from other members. And, in terms of respecting Obama's position, I don't think Uganda would be willing to support Iran on the issue."

But investment in oil has the potential to sway the east African nation. Iranian investment in Uganda's newly discovered oil fields will be a critical topic of discussion for the two leaders.

A deposit containing 700 million barrels of oil was recently discovered in eastern Uganda, and developers believe that the country could hold nearly 1.5 billion more. President Museveni has expressed the desire to process Uganda's oil locally, and has been searching for foreign partners to provide the country with technical expertise.

Uganda expects the oil revenue to help fund an ambitious $26 billion development plan, which it unveiled earlier this year, and it has invited major energy firms to explore the Lake Albert region, where the first deposits were found.

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