EACOP: Uganda claims its right to develop its fossil fuels

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: EACOP: A boon or curse for East Africa?

By David Soler, Soraya Aybar, Pablo Garrigós

Posted on Monday, 21 November 2022 13:53
Heavy trucks and backhoes are working to complete the international airport promised as part of the social and economic package in Uganda. The works began in 2018 and it is expected to be operational by the end of 2023, becoming an industrial engine for the area. Photo taken on 10 October 2022 (Pablo Garrigós)

The European Parliament’s resolution against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has received criticism in East Africa as European countries face an energy crisis and search for alternative sources.

This is part 4 of a 7-part series

 “I thought ‘maybe there has been a misconception or maybe they are biased’. I was confused […],” says Rahma Nantongo, a 23-year-old Geology and Petroleum Studies student at Makerere University. Sitting in a café in Kampala, she couldn’t hide her dismay when talking about the European parliament’s resolution condemning the EACOP.

“You have an energy crisis with the Nord Stream pipeline closure and you come to a country that is developing, telling us to stop doing something that can drastically benefit [us],” Nantongo says. “Total Energies is going to invest in Qatar and nobody criticises that. Why are you concerned about us?”

The resolution, signed on 14 September, accused local governments of human rights violations and called for “exert maximum pressure on Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities, as well as the project promoters and stakeholders, to protect the environment and to put an end to the extractive activities in protected and sensitive ecosystems, including the shores of Lake Albert”. It also asked Total Energies to take at least one year to reconsider the project. The French energy company is the leading shareholder in the project, with 62% of its shares and a majority control over Tilenga reserves, which hold 83% of Uganda’s recoverable oil.

Despite the fact that the European Parliament has no binding powers whatsoever, the message was seen in Uganda as a threat to halt its goal to export oil by 2025. “We should remember that Total Energies convinced me about the Pipeline idea; if they choose to listen to the EU Parliament, we shall find someone else to work with,” President Yoweri Museveni said on Twitter.

Two months before that, European countries had begun taking measures after Russia started cutting down its flow of gas. On 8 July, Germany’s Parliament approved an emergency bill to reopen coal plants. “It is a painful, but a necessary move,” said Robert Habeck, Germany’s minister for economic affairs and climate action, who comes from the Green Party.

Habeck specified that it was a temporary measure intended to save gas after Russia had cut down three quarters of its supply in June. By the end of August, the entire supply from pipeline NordStream was shut down, leaving EU countries without their main gas provider. Russia’s resources accounted for 40% of total gas consumption, which was the second most used type after oil, representing one quarter of total energy use in 2021.

By 28 September, Habeck announced the extension of coal use up to the end of March 2024 and as a measure to “prepare for winter”. As such, Nantongo tells European MPs: “Put yourselves in the place of an average Ugandan, there are no lights in some places of the cities. We have to slowly develop what we have and we need a starting point. We could start cooking with liquefied petroleum gas,” she says. In 2021, still 94% of Ugandan households were still dependent on biomass for cooking, either firewood or charcoal.

EU rejects oil, but doesn’t finance green adaptation

Europe’s energy crisis coincides with a rush in African countries to develop its own natural resources. In November, Mozambique will export its first barrels of liquefied natural gas to Europe in a project led also by Total Energies, Niger will soon complete its oil pipeline to transport barrels through Benin and Senegal, which will exploit billions of cubic meters of oil and gas found in the last decade. German Chancellor Olaf, in his May visit to Dakar, Scholz already stated his country’s interest in its gas reserves.

Africans have recently claimed their right to develop their own natural resources, even if they are fossil fuels. “Africa has the lowest emissions and European countries are contributing to most of it. They should start from there. Let us develop and then we will have the conversation,” says Nantongo. Up to today, Africa has only contributed 3% of historical global emissions, whilst EU countries account for 22% and the US leads with 25%.

The EU opened the door in July to funding gas projects as it labelled it green energy, but oil is still heralded as a banned fossil fuel under its taxonomy. However, African leaders have criticised their lack of commitment to pay for climate adaptation projects, which include investment in renewables. At Rotterdam’s Africa Adaptation Summit in September, only four developed countries – the UK, Norway, France, and Denmark – committed money to Africa’s resilience, the $55m was an insignificant amount compared to the $25bn aimed for.

At COP27, the UN’s annual climate conference in Egypt’s city of Sharm el-Sheikh, leaders led calls to improve their finances. According to the UN’s ‘Environment Programme Adaptation Gap Report’, developing countries will need up to $565bn per year to stop the effects of climate change and ‘go green’, but as of 2020, finance was only $29bn.

Tanzania, 14 September 2022: Several workers build, under the orders of an Asian foreman, the expansion of the port of Tanga. The port authorities hope that the new EACOP terminal will be an economic boost for the city and for the local port. The public works on the main dock will be used to deal with oil vessels that will come to export crude oil to the global market. (Photo: Pablo Garrigós)

Renewable energies, a trustful alternative?

“[…] 15% – of income shares – is too low for the impact we are going to face from EACOP. We are not ready for the aftermath,” says Ugandan climate activist Hamira Kobusingye. “If only solar was cheaper enough, we would have more sunshine than needed to run our businesses or water bodies to provide hydroelectricity for our households.”

Uganda’s renewable energy potential is 5,300 megawatts, four times as much as its current capacity and seven times its energy demand. “Environmental neo-colonialism won’t develop because it doesn’t bring enough income back to them,” says Kobusingye.

However, the country’s population growth and recurrent problems with hydropower plants put into question its reliability and the need for alternative sources. “Big parts of Kampala can access hydropower, but if it rains, there is a blackout. Climate change is a concern, but we have to come to the fact that fossil fuels are so much needed,” says Nantongo.

If it goes ahead, EACOP will potentially multiply Uganda’s and Tanzania’s combined emissions by 25 over its lifespan, according to the Climate Accountability Institute, which calculates over 379 metric tons of CO2. However, Nantongo is still confident that  technology will help to burn fossil fuels sustainably. “We need to look at carbon storage technology. There must be a way to clean the emissions.”

*Halima Athumani contributed with reporting to this article.

This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund.eu

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