East Africa: East African Crude Oil Pipeline

Harare — The East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) will transport oil produced from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania, where the oil will then be sold to world markets. While this may be considered an economic boon for East Africa by some, climate activists are raising concerns about the threat to the livelihood of community members, sensitive ecosystems, and worsening the climate emergency.

The EACOP is now at the centre of a global battle as community members and climate activists are mobilising around the world to increase pressure on banks and financial institutions financing the project.

But how does the pipeline affect livelihoods?

In a film titled EACOP: A Crude Reality, 350.org features the testimonies of communities directly affected by Total Energies’ mega project. One Ugandan community member says they lost their family home because after being refused resettlement and forced to take cash compensation.

Many of the activists in the documentary were not named.

“Tilenga affected me and my family in many ways. In 2017 Total E&P (exploration and production) Uganda came and acquired the land for the central processing facility which is 772 acres. So in that land which they acquired, my home was there. So I had a residence with my family. The land wasn’t mine, it was for the family. The land was compensated. What affected my family is that when we went for disclosure with my wife, the money they were offering was very little. So we opted for resettlement. At the end I lost my home because they refused to resettle me. They told me I should take cash compensation,” the community member said.

Then they were arrested by Ugandan authorities.

The International Federation for Human Rights reported that a community member was arrested by immigration officials upon arrival at the airport of Entebbe, Uganda. They were was coming back from Paris, where they testified on December 12, 2019 in a case brought by two French non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – Survie and Friends of the Earth France, as well as four Ugandan NGOs against the French oil company Total Energies, for alleged human and environmental violations triggered by its operations in Uganda.

“In 2019 I went to France to witness in tribunal court about violation of human rights. I was arrested in Entebbe when I was coming back. They warned me when I was there in jail after they released me, we went in a certain room and told me don’t again go and witness. If you do again, you shall lose your life,” the community member said.

Nearly a third of the pipeline will be built on the Lake Victoria basin, the second largest freshwater body in the world, and a source of income for over 40 million people.

“Many lives depend on this lake. I am attached to this lake because I grew up seeing it and already it’s facing many effects of climate change from different activities like sand mining, over-fishing, pollution and swamp reclamation,” an activist called Hilda said.

“Already research shows that this lake will be dried out in 100 years from now. If the EACOP project continues in this way, then we won’t even have the 100 years. So we have to fight for this lake because this is our future. This is the future of our children and the coming generation,” they said.

It’s been reported that in Uganda alone, 178 villages were lost, while in Tanzania 231 villages no longer exist because of the EACOP.

“The majority of our forests are in the Albertine Graben, where the oil and gas resources are found in Uganda. And because of that, the forests are under a lot of pressure,” said Diana from Uganda. She said the Bugoma Forest in the Albertine Graben fell victim to this land grabbing in 2016 when the grabbing was formalised. The Ugandan government then issued land titles to the land grabbers. About 8,000 acres of land is being destroyed but the community is still fighting to ensure that this stops.

“We have seen the destroying of our environment, cutting down trees and we have seen the changes of the weather. Affected people have tried to express all these effects using different mechanisms. Some have written many petitions, some have gone to court, some have met Total over this, some have met government over this. Every time Total says “we are going to work on that”, Maxwell said.

When criticized about the EACOP project, Total Energies said the EACOP and its upstream Tilenga oil project in Uganda are “low-cost and low-carbon”.

“Respecting others is a value at the heart of the ethics of Total Energies. Respecting others is respecting human rights and this is a collective requirement for us through our operations across the world. We want to work with the local population and our projects are developed to meet the needs of a country and contribute to the well being of the people living there. I want to mention our projects in Uganda and Tanzania that are regularly criticised by NGOs. These are the major industrial projects for the two countries. The announcement in February 2022 of the launch of this project is part of our commitment that is exemplary in terms of sustainability. It is an oil project with a low carbon intensity creating value for the countries and local communities, and net gain in terms of biodiversity, these are our commitments,” said CEO of Total Energies, Patrick Pouyanne.

Pouyanne said villagers had been offered a choice between replacement housing and cash compensation.

“We are aware of the stakes of this project which is an onshore project. Of course onshore projects are more difficult to put in place that offshore, because we cross territories that belong to people so there’s a lot of work to be done, quality work of course concerning large numbers of people. We’re told the vast majority are against this project. In reality this is not the case.

“The truth is that the vast majority of people in Uganda are in favour of this project and take benefits from this project as they say themselves including when these people need to be relocated by building them new houses,” said Pouyanne.

However, in 350.org’s documentary, the affected people say this is not true.

“EACOP promised us that the way they fund people, after they have passed their pipeline, the livelihood of people would change. Since then it’s been five years. The cost of living now has gone high. It’s way higher than it used to be. There is change which has happened, for example the land which used to cost one miilion Ugandan shillings, now we’re going to 30 million. Since then they promised people that they are going to pay them the compensation, nothing has ever been done. In fact we have lost. We used to have land, but now we don’t have our land and we don’t have money, ” said a community member who had a beekeeping business.

“I had a house and a business of beekeeping. After they took the piece of land they wanted, I could no longer control those beehives freely because people thought the land had been taken by the government, whereby they started destroying my beehives, so my business collapsed. We used to plant tobacco and other crops that would bring us money. But now we’re told not to continue planting,” the community member said.

In 2022, a delegation of climate activists from Uganda and Tanzania travelled to Europe to highlight the devastating impacts of EACOP to policy makers, faith leaders and financiers. They were joined by climate activists from Europe and across the world to demand climate justice.

Vanessa Nakate, a prominent Ugandan climate justice activist said: “I want Total to stop funding our destruction through the EACOP project. I want the people to join us in this fight to stop EACOP and I want the politicians to stand on the good side of history for the people and the planet.”

One of the major things that make the EACOP project possible is it’s financial backers. Asian banks also play an important role in providing that money, said Eri Watanabe, a Senior Finance Campaigner for 350.org.

Watanabe said Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) is the financial advisor to Total Energies and one of the co-lead arrangers for the U.S.$3 billion project financing for the project. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), with Standard Bank South Africa, acts as financial advisor to joint venture development companies.

While more than 30 financial institutions around the word have officially announced that they will not support the project, the #StopEACOP campaign continues to target funders and possible financiers supporting the acceleration of the climate crisis by destroying biodiversity and protected areas in a process leading to human rights abuses.