Uganda: ‘Wins and losses’ in EU resolutions for movements for or against EACOP

By Musinguzi Blanshe

Posted on Thursday, 29 September 2022 11:00
On July 1, 2022 activists with the Insure Our Future Coalition rallied outside the headquarters of Marsh McLennan in New York, urging CEO Dan Glaser and other top executives to cut ties with the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). (Photo by Erik McGregor/Sipa USA)

A resolution passed by European Parliament for the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has created uproar in Uganda over human rights and environmental concerns. Passed on 14 September, it wants to compel Uganda and Tanzania, as well as lead implementer TotalEnergies SE, to delay development of the EACOP for at least a year.

The proposed 1,443km heated pipeline, which will run from Albertine region, western Uganda, to Tanga Port in Tanzania, has been a major target of environmentalists for years. It’s the main crux in Uganda’s oil project, where production is projected to start in 2025. TotalEnergies owns 62% of the pipeline, with construction estimated to cost $4bn. The rest is owned by Uganda, Tanzania and China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

Although both government officials and EU Parliamentarians, who were architects of the resolution, agree that it may be inconsequential, it comes with wins and losses for pro- and anti-EACOP movements.

For EACOP supporters:

  • The resolution is not binding, they say. It will not delay the project by even a single day.
  • The resolution has awakened many Ugandans to take interest in the oil project being fought by imperialists. Some Ugandans, including government officials, have accused the EU of racism tendencies.
  • Supporters also argue that the resolution has exposed a hypocritical EU parliament, which is not as concerned about climate issues in Europe as in Uganda.
  • The loss for this group: the resolution has revitalised the movement that is against construction of the pipeline.

For Stop EACOP movement:

  • The resolution is a win because a parliament as influential as the EU has confirmed what they have been saying.
  • The resolution has prompted government officials to start responding to questions they have been raising for a long time on environmental and human rights.
  • They believe it will bring many Ugandans on their side, who will take interest in issues they are championing.
  • Their loss is that a resolution from an influential institution is not binding to any of the players.

Speaking to the EU on 27 September, President Yoweri Museveni had harsh words: “For the European Union, some of these people are insufferable, you need to control yourselves not to explode. So shallow, so egocentric, so wrong. But they think they know everything [and] broadcast ignorance all over the place. They should calm down because this is a wrong battleground for them.”

Inconsequential resolution?

The non-binding resolution has, for more than a week, been the main topic of discussion, with many angry Ugandans online accusing EU Parliament of colonialism and racism traits.

“It is true that luckily the resolution is not legally binding for Uganda or Tanzania,” Malte Gallée, an EU Parliamentarian and one of the architects of the resolution, tells The Africa Report. A day after the resolution was passed, Uganda president Museveni tweeted, saying he was convinced by TotalEnergies of their commitment to the project. In case TotalEnergies chooses to heed to EU Parliament, Museveni warned that “we shall find someone else to work with”.

Peter Muliisa, Chief Legal and Corporate Affairs Officer at Uganda National Oil Company, a government company in charge of government interests in the petroleum sector, tells The Africa Report that “even if it was a more binding document that was issued, we cannot stop”.

For the past two years, the fight over whether EACOP should stop or go had been championed by a small group of environmental activists and government officials. There are social media pages of  “stop EACOP” and  “support EACOP”, as well as WhatsApp groups through which each camp coordinates troops and disseminates information.

It wasn’t until the EU resolution was passed that interest in the debate increased for many Ugandans. The deputy speaker of parliament, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and rank and file government supporters came out condemning EU for discussing matters of a sovereign state. An online petition started by a government employee and signed by ministers was later discontinued for being used to post inappropriate content.

Active on Twitter to answer questions, Gallée has been at the receiving end of vitriolic abuses: he has been described as racist and colonialist. “I take these claims seriously because with no doubt, we have a brutal history that we have to respect,” he said in an interview. Muliisa says there has been much interest in resolution because of the status of EU.

EU interest, win for activists

Gallée was part of a four-member EU Parliamentarians team that visited Uganda at the end of July on a fact-finding mission. He says EU took interest in the issues and debated the oil project because they had been told of severe human rights violations and environmental risks that had not been addressed. He adds that TotalEnergies, which holds 62% on the EACOP project, is a European company. “We have to hold them accountable in regards to human rights,” he argues.

During the trip in Uganda, Gallée said they met many people who lost their livelihoods or experienced severe human rights violations, yet the government did not care.

Despite the resolution not being binding for Uganda and Tanzania, Gallée says it will certainly have an impact. “We managed to shine light on those who suffer from the project and hope that now they will be adequately compensated,” he says.

TotalEnergies was sued by environmental activists in a French court for disregarding of human rights and environmental concerns in Uganda’s oil project. Its CEO Patrick Jean Pouyanné has been invited by EU Parliament’s committee on human rights for a discussion on the subject on 10th October.

Brian Atuhaire, executive director of African initiative on food security and environment, a local NGO that has been part of Stop EACOP movement, tells The Africa Report that the EU resolution has empowered them because government officials have started responding to their questions. “They have been seeing us as small CSOs complaining. Now, we have the EU Parliament say what we have been saying is true,” he says.

Preconceived agendas

Mulisa says when EU Parliamentarians visited Uganda, they were given documents on environmental assessments which they hardly read. Government officials painstakingly explained to them what has been done in areas of environment and rights of displaced persons, but didn’t accept the explanations. “What we realised is, they came with their preconceived conclusions. They just wanted to tick a box that we were in Uganda,” he says.

Muliisa tells The Africa Report that Uganda’s oil project has catered for the environment to the highest international standards. He says government environmental policies and standards have been audited by international institutions, including banks that expressed interest in funding the pipeline project.

Despite the pipeline project partners signing a final investment decision in February this year, the project financiers have not been named. According to insiders, institutions expected to bankroll the project include Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation of Japan (which has been a financial adviser to Total on the project), Standard Bank and Kenya’s Equity Bank.

The Ugandan government has been saying it’s winding up the negotiations. Muliisa tells us that in about a month, the financiers will be announced. Global financial institutions have been a target of the environmentalists who want to dissuade them from financing the project. Atuhaire reckons that “one or two banks will run away” from the project due to EU resolution.

Refinery delay

The government also has a plan to construct a 60,000 barrel per day refinery. Despite the refinery project being offered to Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium in 2018, a group of mainly American companies including General Electric, not much progress has been made. Not even the front-end engineering designs have been completed.

Muliisa tells The Africa Report that it is difficult to get an investor for the refinery who is not part of the exploration group of a team, to invest their significant sums of money before being sure the crude oil is going to be produced.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options