Ernest Wasake:   Good morning, Comrade Tony Otoa; I hope this finds you well. How have you been holding up during this period of the pandemic? 

Tony Otoa:   Thank you very much for hosting me. I have been great.

I have had a great time of learning, growing and understanding how to do things differently—and now we are getting used to doing different things to make things happen.

Ernest Wasake:  Could you give us an overview of the Oil and Gas Value Chain in Uganda?

Tony Otoa: The Oil and Gas Value Chain is a very vast and intense one. It is a great value chain with many opportunities, especially in the local context.

The chain has upstream, midstream and downstream project segments. The upstream project is about the drilling, construction and civil works. In the midstream project, you have the oil pipeline of 1400-kilometre from Hoima in Uganda to the Tanga Port in Tanzania. The downstream, which is already evident in the country, is available for many local entities to deliver the final oil products to the consumers. There is less local participation in the upstream and the midstream projects because they are technical and capital intensive.

The Oil and Gas Value Chain in Uganda is an exciting opportunity for many local people. Opportunities include a wide range of jobs created plus the provision of services and goods in the downstream operations. With close to 15,000 workers to be employed directly, there will be a big need for food, accommodation, and health services, among others. When we talk about food, agriculture becomes a critical focus area, presenting many opportunities to benefit from.

Ernest Wasake:  Great, please tell us about the Stanbic Business Incubator Limited’s role in the Oil and Gas Value Chain?

Tony Otoa:  The Incubator’s role is very interesting and has been evident for quite some time.

We do not see ourselves as a stand-alone financial entity but as an entity supporting Oil and Gas Value Chain players. The Stanbic Business Incubator has concentrated on training and making Ugandan businesses astute over the last three years. When I speak about astute, I mean ensuring the visibility of demand, letting them know what opportunities are coming their way, and training them to become efficient, sustainable, and thrive.

There is no doubt that Ugandan businesses will seize the Oil and Gas sector opportunities with the Incubator’s support. For example, some companies that have come out of the incubator program are now huge players in the Oil and Gas space. One of the companies is Inspecta Africa, a company providing services to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) and has gone on to forge international partnerships with businesses across the region.

We also want to create stories that speak to employability for young people and steer financial rotation in the sector. We hope that as we support local businesses to become better, we can see many companies improving and actively participating in the industry. In the early times, not many Ugandan companies actively participated during the exploration and the appraisal phase. Many of them were sub, sub, sub, subcontractors. We want our companies to be contractors or subcontractors who are making real revenue and not breadcrumbs.

Ernest Wasake: Thank you for the excellent overview. What opportunities exist for SMEs in the Value Chain?

Tony Otoa:  Enormous opportunities exist for SMEs in the Value Chain.

As you all know, the Government of Uganda has been very deliberate in ring-fencing some areas for local businesses. So Ugandan SMEs have priority when it comes to these opportunities. Some of these include civil work construction, transport logistics, catering, hospitality, security, manpower, etc. SMEs simply need to understand and prepare to apply for the opportunities.

As a business, you might have been in operation for a long time, but for as long as you have not gone the extra mile to make yourself known and active in the Oil and Gas space, it will be hard to participate. First, the Oil and Gas sector is capital intensive. Businesses need time to develop and become attractive to financing. That financing is now readily available.

Second, seek to understand the sector more by engaging with the different sector actors. We now see a trend of the Oil and Gas sector now coming back into the arena. Businesses need to seek partners to make this a reality through joint venture partnerships with local and international companies. If SMEs can do that, then we are doing well as a country because the sector proves that growth is possible.

Ernest Wasake: What policies exist to encourage SME participation in the Value Chain? 

Tony Otoa:  Uganda has done well in terms of policy and regulations for the Oil and Gas sector.

When we compare with countries like Nigeria, which has been producing oil for over 60 years, their local content regulations and laws came into play around 2010/2011. For Uganda, even before the Oil and Gas activities were fully operational, we created those laws, regulations and policies, which is a good step. We have policies that support the participation of local businesses in the Oil and Gas space under the local content policy. Some sector activities are ring-fenced for Ugandan companies, which is a great starting point.

These laws and policies are great, but if we do not have Ugandan SMEs who can manage to participate in that space, the law also allows foreign entities to take over the space. So it is upon us to take advantage of the policies and maximize the available opportunities.

Ernest Wasake: What would it take to increase SMEs’ level of participation in the Oil and Gas Value Chain? 

Tony Otoa:   We can do a lot to increase SMEs’ participation in the Value Chain.

I will share a story to answer the question. In 2018, I knew a company while I was at Total E&P as National Content Manager. This company wanted to do what the big players like Schlumberger, Halliburton, and Baker Hughes were doing. The company kept on bidding for those opportunities, but unfortunately, they kept falling off the grid. Why? They did not have what it took to participate in the sector. They had no policies in place. When we brought them on board at the Incubator, we trained them on a three-month program and coached them for close to nine months. During the same time, we supported them to get ISO certification and other certifications. As I speak today, the same company supports CNOOC in various operations and project work for an international logistics company.  That shows you that it is possible in a short period for a small company to become a great participant in the Oil and Gas Value Chain, employ many people and create value in the country. This story speaks to the many businesses that still have the dream and hope of participating in the Oil and Gas sector.

Lastly now that the Final Investment Decision (FID) is soon, it is a signal to an excellent start for Ugandans participating in the Oil and Gas sector. But like the gun at a race, if you are not ready when the sound goes off, you are not prepared, and whoever is prepared will take on this whole race. Therefor SMEs need preparation to benefit from this value chain. As the Stanbic Business Incubator together with our partners we support SME preparation through training, information sharing and creating visibility over demand. We are positive that with these interventions we shall have more SMEs participating in the Oil and Gas value chain.