Pipeline projects threaten local communities in East Africa

A giant pipeline project, led by several companies including Total, plans to transport thousands of barrels of oil from Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga in the coming years. A titanic project that environmental associations never stop fighting.

Oil prices may well collapse, they do not change the oil groups’ ambitions. A large-scale project in East Africa, called “Tilenga”, can attest to this: the energy giant plans to exploit deposits, mainly located in the protected area of ​​Murchison Falls in Uganda, and supply oil through a 1445 kilometer long pipeline. A titanium structure operated by Total in partnership with Chinese companies CNOOC and British companies Tullow, which arrested until the UN. Ultimately, construction, which also worries many environmental associations, should transport nearly 200,000 barrels a day.

Discussed for several years, the pipeline’s path is now confirmed: it will connect fields located in western Uganda, in the Lake Albert region, to the port of Tanga, in the Indian Ocean, in Tanzania. The extensive work required for this large network of pipelines must begin by the end of the year. Tanzania’s Presidents John Magufuli and Uganda’s Presidents Yoweri Museveni signed an agreement on Sunday, 13 September. The project, as ambitious as it is costly ($ 3.5 billion) “will not only create jobs but also promote regional cooperation and stimulate economic development in the areas crossed by the pipeline,” says John. Magufuli.

On paper, Tanzania even expects the creation of 10,000 jobs. But the realization of such a project can not be done without affecting the ecosystem and the lifestyle of its inhabitants, warned the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and NGO Oxfam. Concerned, the organizations called in two reports published on 10 September, the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments to review their copies and “listen to the communities concerned”.

At least 12,000 families are expropriated

“It is estimated that with this project, at least 12,000 families will lose part or all of their land,” describes France 24 Sacha Feierabend, FIDH’s consultant on globalization and human rights. “Concretely, companies go door to door on the spot, buy back land, promise to settle the inhabitants of new villages and give them back land.” But beyond the harshness that such expropriation can represent for some families, the “compensation” that companies promise to satisfy residents is struggling.

“First of all, the land entrusted to the citizens is often smaller than the ones previously occupied. In particular, we do not take into account their customs and their way of life. For example, we can see in some villages in Uganda, where families have already relocated, “Finally, clans have been mixed and now have to live on top of each other. Finally, some common goods, such as grazing land shared with neighbors or wells, could not be moved, which today weakens everyone’s daily lives,” the FIDH representative laments.

Another concern from organizations is that the quality of air and water in turn can be threatened. “Oil exploration activities carried out a few years ago in Uganda had already made access to safe drinking water more complicated. There is no reason why it should be any different today. The leak could have catastrophic consequences for the lakes and rivers nearby,” insists Sacha Feierabend.

Total in court

The threat is all the more serious because the project involves drilling 419 oil wells located … near Lake Albert, one of the largest African lakes. “This is an exceptional ecosystem that allows thousands of fishermen to make a living from their resources. It is therefore important to prevent drilling in these protected areas,” he adds.

If nothing seems to stop the project at the moment, Total will still have to defend its case before the Court of Appeal in Versailles on 28 October. On 23 October 2019, the French NGOs Les Amis de la Terre et Survie and the Ugandan associations Afigeo, Cred, Nape and Navoda had awarded the oil giant in summary to condemn the consequences of this pipeline. In particular, they criticize Total for not following the law duty of care of multinational companies by expropriating people from their land before receiving compensation.

The Nanterre Civil Court declared itself unable to assess the case on 30 January. This is “bad news” for NGOs that have decided to appeal “despite the urgency of the situation”. Time is running out, but the hope of a turnaround continues for the associations. “People take up the debate and the subject is mobilized, it calms us down, but now we need strong actions. Justice can give them to us,” concludes Sacha Feierabend.