By Mobhare Matinyi Friday, 03 December 2010 Some time last year, a Tanzanian medical student at Makerere University told me that "Ugandans now have oil; everybody will have to dance to their tune." Yes, oil makes nations stronger. No matter how poor a country is, once oil production starts, everything changes. At a press conference in February, in Washington DC, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr Johnnie Carson, a no-nonsense African American diplomat, spoke about his tour of duty in Africa. *He said: "All of you know that Nigeria is an extraordinarily important country. It is probably one of the two most important countries in Africa. It is the largest in terms of its population. It is the second largest Muslim state in Africa, the seventh largest Muslim state in the world." The sharp-minded diplomat added: "It is one of America's most important trading partners. US investment in Nigeria is larger than in any other place in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria supplies 12 per cent of US oil. It is the source of the largest amount of sweet crude oil." How does that sound? Mr Carson didn't paint the other picture of Nigeria – as one of the worst places on earth to try anything. Nigeria is home to 156 million people squeezed into an area slightly less than Tanzania's size. The country is both extremely wealthy and extremely poor. Mr Carson, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania in the 1960s, served as the US Ambassador to Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and also as a diplomat in Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria, and a senior official in the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs. He knows Africa very well and cares about detailed issues such as the melting of Mount Kilimanjaro's snow and historical things such as Tanzania's tough stance against the Vietnam War. But why did Mr Carson comment so positively about Nigeria? Apart from other factors, which he later mentioned, he noted: "It is the source of the largest amount of sweet crude oil." Five days earlier, Mr Carson had this to say to the annual meeting of the Corporate Council on Africa in Washington, DC: "Oil and natural gas exploration have seized the spotlight in recent years (in Africa), with recent discoveries in Ghana and Uganda." Don't underestimate it. Oil in Uganda will be a game-changer in the region, whether for better or for worse. Soon, Uganda will be an economic powerhouse and powerful in many strategic areas as well. We better be ready. Our beloved neighbours, Kenya, have already smelled a rat.* Kenya's leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, on Wednesday reported that Uganda's plan to start an oil refinery project in 2010 will significantly alter the calculus of the Kenya's economic structure. That means that Kenya's refined oil export is doomed to die. So far, Uganda is the main importer of Kenya's refined oil. Kenya was, in fact, planning to extend its pipeline from Eldoret to Kampala only to be shocked by the news of 2.5 billion barrels of oil in Uganda. Kenya remains with an option, though, building a pipeline to transport refined oil from Uganda to the world. All is not lost for Kenyans though, as Southern Sudan may become a new nation by 2011, with a dream of exporting its oil through Kenya's pipeline. Southern Sudan's oil reaches the world market through a pipeline that connects it to the city of Port Sudan in Northern Sudan. About 70 per cent of Sudan's oil comes from the South; thus, a new port at Lamu in Kenya will free Southern Sudan from the Northerners. But where is Tanzania in this whole game? Sadly,* in Tanzania, we are still showing our affection to Khartoum, an apparently evil government that kills its own people. We need to wake up. Or maybe Tanzania is going to surprise the world with the news of oil discovery in the Mtwara Bay? How about that oil in Pemba, which a British consultant advised errant politicians in Zanzibar to forget about? Tanzania now has, unfortunately, the second largest economy in the East African Community (EAC) after Kenya. In a decade or so, Uganda will become the largest economy. Uganda will surely pull the strings around here with attention from the big brothers such as the US and China. Seriously, are we ready to talk Kampala's language? Don't forget that Southern Sudan wants to join the EAC. With oil flowing in this less-populated potentially rich country, Tanzania is very likely to become the fourth largest economy, only ahead of Rwanda and Burundi. What does that mean for Tanzania? Former US President George W. Bush once joked to Canadians that it's not always easy to sleep next to the elephant, comparing America to an elephant. Is Uganda going to be an economic elephant next to us while we haven't finished wrestling with Kenya? That's going to be exciting, but let's get ready!