The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has been notorious for how it has handled the voices opposed to the project. A myriad of problems have plagued the project, but central to all those problems have been the silenced voices speaking on behalf of the environment, wildlife, and communities being exploited by the project and its partners. 

In early December 2023, 42 households were sued for refusing tot accept financial compensation offered by the Ugandan government for their land that sits along the route of the pipeline. The households have argued that the compensation is insufficient and that it was unfair to ask them to leave their homesteads. The court ruled in favour of the Ugandan government, and ordered that the compensation be paid to the court’s account. 

“We are protesting! If my rights are violated, I am ready to protest because I am not fighting to become a president or a minister - I am fighting for my rights and for the rights of my people and the rights of the community at large. If this project affects me, it has already affected my son, my daughter and my wife,”  52-year-old Jealousy Mugisha Mulimba, executive director of Community Voice and Planning Organisation (COVAPO) told Climate Justice Central on a phone call, over a patchy network . 

Mulimba has faced continuous intimidation for not accepting the compensation, including being arrested upon arrival from France at the Entebbe International Airport and detained for nine hours. This was  for “bringing shame on his country” after being in France to witness a human rights violations case brought against TotalEnergies Uganda. 

In a media statement by the Ugandan government in response to the human rights violation case tried in France, the country said the project was designed to limit harm to farmers, fishers and tourism business. Adding that a specific Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) has been conducted. 

“Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) was therefore undertaken, and targeted measures were put in place to address any potential adverse effects on land-based livelihoods as part of the project. Thus, the Ministry would like to strongly disagree with the misleading narrations of hu1nan rights abuses detailed in the resolution about oil and gas projects,” said the Ugandan government. 

He is not the only one to have been arrested for his association with the opposition of EACOP. In November, seven students were arrested for peacefully voicing their opposition to EACOP and highlighting the connection between the dangers of the project and the climate crisis - particularly the urgency for Uganda to take climate action. 

A Human Rights Watch report confirmed that the project was in fact violating human rights, and had left many in a worse off condition than they already were; this in addition to pressure and intimidation from TotalEnergy EP Uganda and its subcontractors - a tactic used to make illiterate farmers sign contracts they they didn’t fully understand and agree to inadequate compensation. 

Total Energies said recently on their website: “As in all the Company’s operations, TotalEnergies attaches the utmost importance to compliance with human rights in the implementation of these projects. Everybody has the right to express themselves. TotalEnergies does not use or tolerate the use by others of aggression or physical or legal threats against people who are exercising their right to freedom of expression or their right to peaceful assembly or protest.”

Some of these tactics were also used in Kijuma village, where community members were not consulted about replacing their reliable water source with a borehole, which members say is unreliable. Their reliable water source - a shallow well - sits at the middle  of the projected  pipeline and will be cut off once the construction of the project commences. 

Samuel Abedilembe, who lives in Kijuma, said the counsellor had signed to acknowledge compensation on behalf of the community. He told CJC over a WhatsApp call that this angered him as the borehole would dry out on warmer days and take much longer to fill jerry cans - a reality that could result in the water needs of over a thousand families not being met; an issue which does not currently exist. 

“The community does not want the borehole but the key question we are asking ourselves is, who are we sharing this with? From which level should we go? When we voice our concerns to the governments, they usually say we are against government projects; that becomes a very big blow to our side. So our voices are not being considered. You just have to  agree with the government,” said Abedilembe in despair. 

Anti-government sentiment has been a tool used to arrest activists opposed to the pipeline. TotalEnergies has also shrouded some information in secrecy by not answering concerns about the new technology being used for the pipeline. These concerns centered on environmental safeguards given the never-before-used technology.

Edwin Mumbere, director of the Center for Citizens Conserving Environment (CECIC), told CJC that there are many aspects of the project that have not been discovered and are resulting in greater impacts than anticipated. 

"Because most of the oil wells are in Murchison National Park, civil society in Uganda has been complaining about this. There were oil well sites all over the park. When they realised there were a lot of complaints, they buried everything underground. If you go there, you cannot see where the wells are; only TotalEnergies and the government know because they are marked by GPS.

"The question is, how do we know if there is an oil spill or if the heated oil is affecting wildlife? These are all questions we are asking ourselves. We also ask them of the government. But we are usually labelled as 'anti-development' or they revoke our operating licences (as NGOs)," Mumbere said as he hashed out some of the finer details of the project through a phone call clarifying facts.

The project was supposed to benefit the people by attracting investment and providing crude oil to parts of the world. However, the project hasn't started yet, and the consequences for the people - all with long-lasting effects - are many. From environmental impacts, socio-economic impacts, human-wildlife conflicts and the increasing impacts of the climate crisis, the consequences of the project have shown that it is not people-centred, but merely an enrichment tool for the elite and politically connected.

Mulimba expressed concern that EACOP would end up like other oil and gas projects across the continent, including Nigeria. He said he did not want to see rivers, fish and land destroyed and left in a country with no peace. "Some people may see profit today, but tomorrow it will be a coffin."

Mumbere said: "The truth is that we know our government, how it works and its weaknesses. To be honest, this is not a people's project, it is a project for a select few in government. If you look at how the current contracts are being awarded, they are being awarded to companies that belong to top government officials who have gotten smart and partnered with international companies.

At the end of the day, the local citizens will not benefit. We have seen this with other projects and investments, and we wonder how EACOP will be different from what we have seen. And the government has not answered this question; different scripts and players, but the same story.

This article is part of our current reporting project "Dismantling the Fossil Fuel Industry".