Mired in controversy and an underlying false promise of development, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline has been a bone of contention in the East African region. The pushback against the project has reached global rallying and succeeded in halting funding for the pipeline. Despite this, the project has made advancements displacing locals from their land, leaving many destitute and without alternative means of livelihood.
At the centre of the pushback against the development are environmental concerns, coupled with the socio-economic status of communities in the host countries. Fossil fuel exploration and extraction has consistently been fueled with the promise of improving the lives of citizens, often economically vulnerable communities - all of which have failed to materialise , particularly in African countries. The same has been promised at the EACOP, and yet again, the promises have been unfulfilled..
This publication spoke to Zaki Mamdoo, the #StopEACOP campaign manager to get further insight on the project, and check in on the current status of the pipeline.
What is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline?
The project is a plan to build the world’s longest heated crude oil pinpine, stretching 1,433km across the countries of Uganda and Tanzania. The oil will be pumped from the Kingfisher site in north-west Uganda; a site that sits on the border of Lake Albert - an important ecological habitat to wild and aquatic life, and a vital source of water . The site is owned by the state-owned Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).
Also located in Uganda, the Tilenga site, located in the heart of the Murchison Falls National Park, will be operated by French multinational corporation TotalEnergies. The combined oil sites are estimated to produce over a billion barrels of oil, the TotalEnergies website reads.
Once the oil is pumped from the two sites in the Great Lakes region in Uganda, the crude oil pipeline will connect the oil production points to the coast of Tanga in Tanzania, where it will be exported.
How is the EACOP substantiating the project in light of ongoing protest and conversations around the climate crisis?
“These corporations don’t care! Many of them promote renewable energy in their own countries, in the Global North and in China. While they are doing that back home, they are very happy to continue with the harmful and damaging projects of the fossil fuel industry abroad, especially in the Global South and more specifically within Africa. They do not care about the real impacts and will find any way to talk about it,” said Mamdoo.
History has shown time and again that the extraction of fossil fuels has only resulted in the exploitation of the host countries. Countries such as Libya, Nigeria, Algeria and Angola, are the continent’s top oil producing countries,yet they have very little to show for their natural resources. Instead, these countries are marred by war, famine, and derelict democracies - not entirely due to oil exploration.
TotalEnergies and EACOP sites have stated that they are committed to biodiversity and that “significant resources have been mobilised to implement [their commitment to biodiversity] in an exemplary way”. The project also stated that it is committed to using the best technology and mitigation strategies to avoid the most extreme environmental impact. However, much of the social and environmental damage would have been done by forcibly removing communities from their homes and mutilating the environment.
What is the environmental and social impact of the EACOP?
2023 has seen one of the hottest days on record due to the climate crisis, the IPCC calling Code Red on humanity alongside a plea to end the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels to ensure that global average temperatures don’t surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius. Despite this, the EACOP is said to be nearing financial closure by the end of the year.
The Climate Accountability Institute has estimated that the project will emit greenhouse gases of about 379 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over its lifecycle, more than the yearly emissions of Australia. The project will also disrupt some of the most sensitive ecosystems on the continent, including the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site. Any spillage will affect the land, water, air and surrounding species and ecosystems.
A report by Human Rights Watch titled “Our Trust is Broken” shows that the displaced communities from land acquired to make way for the pipeline are worse off than they were before they were compensated. Many communities are still awaiting adequate compensation.
Mamdoo added that the women had been adversely affected by the removal from their land, as they were the ones who added value to the land, but did not hold title deeds.
Some women have spoken of how men receive lump sums of money and have squandering it, leavinging their families. People also don’t have the financial literacy to make their money work for them. There was no consideration for finding ways to help these people, which would have been necessary in a context like this,” said Mamdoo.
The HRW report also adds that most of those evicted from their land were illiterate and did not fully understand the terms of their contracts. Some of those who resisted the offers are said to have faced intimidation, constant pressure from company officials, harassment from local authorities and threats of court action.
Where does the EACOP stand now?
Drilling has already taken place at one of the oil fields but with the pipeline still looking to reach financial close, there is nowhere to pump the oil into in order to transport it. The project has faced numerous challenges to its financial backing, including the #StopEACOP campaign; an effort to inform financiers of the impact of investing in the project.
The project needs about $5 billion to proceed with the pipeline. Financial close has also been delayed as a result of financing from China to Tanzania due to a separate and earlier loan agreement between the two countries. However, matters seem to be nearing resolution as the project is expected to secure funding for the construction of the pipeline by the end of the year.
This article is part of our current reporting project "Dismantling the Fossil Fuel Industry".