With the world heading for a 2.4 °C global temperature rise, Total is disregarding the climate emergency and taking a lead on the Tilenga oil extraction project and the associated East African Crude Oil pipeline (the EACOP) - a pipeline as long as the route from Brussels to Madrid. The final investment decision for a total of 10 billion USD was proudly announced last week by Total and its partners in Uganda.
Praised by President Macron himself, this construction will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world. It is estimated that the 1,445km pipeline from Hoima district in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania will emit a staggering 34.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Upstream, the Tilenga project consists in the drilling of more than 400 oil wells, including one third within the Murchison Falls national park, the oldest protected area of the country, on the shores of Lake Albert, source of the Nile. In 2022, the company based in the home of the Paris agreement is thus on its mission to destroy the precious ecosystems and dismantle the livelihoods of more than 100 000 people in East Africa. Funnily – still claiming that it aligns with its goal of “net zero of emissions by 2050”.
The construction is about to begin, as soon as the company ensures financial resources for the project. But the communities on the ground have already been facing evictions and their safety has been put on hold. In contrast to Total’s fake promises that the investment would bring profits to local citizens, indigenous tribes such as the Barbaig, Sandawe, Ndorobo, Maasi, which settle in the Albertine region, are facing first-hand the effects of the investment. They can no longer carry out fishing as they used to because the company restricted parts of their land for the construction. Land is being taken over, cultures are being erased. Affected families have been waiting for compensation for more than two or three years. Community members and local activists who dare speak against the project face increasing harassment, intimidations and illegal arrests. The neocolonial face of Total is more than ever uncovering.
The scale of human rights violations that the project is already causing is overwhelming. Part of the pipeline is expected to go through Lake Victoria - the largest freshwater lake in Africa. The lake is a fishing ground and a source of water for around 40 million citizens from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. An oil spill would not only mean a loss of around 204 endemic species – adding to the alarming biodiversity crisis - but would risk causing a social disruption at an international scale. On the biodiversity note, sections of the pipeline are set to go through several protected areas, fragile ecosystems and wetlands, and the oil drilling will irreversibly affect the Murchison Falls National Park, home of endangered species, and will potentially increase the cases of human-wildlife conflicts.
The CEO of Total may not care about the destruction this investment is about to bring. But thousands of people around the world stand up against that injustice. A group of Fridays For Future activists from Uganda and Tanzania, together with activists from France and Germany, called out the investment in front of Minister Pompili, during the inauguration of Europe’s Green Capital in Grenoble earlier this year. As one of them said:
“Pouyanne, Macron, be careful, because this may become your biggest political nightmare”.
That is not an understatement – in the times of an already grave climate emergency, there is no space for any new fossil fuel investments. As the shareholders and investors will be celebrating the financial achievements of the company, the true face of Total must not disappear from the public eye. Recently, the CEO of Total claimed that the company “is not greenwashing” and announced its withdrawal from Myanmar because of the increasing human rights violations in that country. He should maybe talk less and act more. If the company is in any way serious about its care for climate and human rights, the investment in East Africa must be stopped at no time. If they continue the greenwashing while constructing the pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania, the fate of the company may be determined sooner than expected. With EACOP becoming the final nail to Total’s coffin.
Authors: Camille Etienne, Evelyn Acham, Faith Kwagala, Davis Reuben Sekamwa, Kobusiigye Hamira