Ugandan communities whose lands lie in the pathway of a vast new oil pipeline under development in East Africa have accused French fossil fuel giant TotalEnergies and the Ugandan government of intimidation and poor compensation.
A group comprised mainly of smallholder farmers from Kyotera district, southern Uganda, say the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), fronted by Total, has coerced people into opening bank accounts before rates of compensation have been agreed.
EACOP is using compulsory purchase orders to acquire land in Uganda from over 3,600 households (affecting a total of 24,744 people).
The group claims that the project developers are reneging on a promise to base compensation for lost crops on higher, updated valuations, leaving them thousands of dollars short of what they expected.
They also say the rate of compensation offered for the crops – including coffee and bananas – falls well below amounts offered in other parts of the country.
The controversial pipeline will move oil from Uganda’s oilfields in the Albertine region, near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, over 1,400 kilometres east to the port of Tanga, on the coast of neighbouring Tanzania, from where it will be exported.
Environmental groups estimate that the project will “unlock” an additional 34 million tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide each year, more than the annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania combined.
Pressure has been mounting on banks and insurers to shun what is set to d be the world’s longest pipeline with electricity-powered heating, which is required to transport this particularly “waxy” type of oil.
This week, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Marsh, the world’s largest insurance broker, had won the contract for the project, in the face of opposition from within the company.
‘Intimidation’ and ‘Underhand Methods’
Leaders of some 524 households made up of “Project Affected Persons” (or PAPs) have written to Total and local administrators to request a meeting to resolve their grievances.
The letter calls on district leaders and EACOP to “end the intimidation and continued underhand methods being used to force us to open bank accounts to receive low compensation”.
Robert Brimuye, one of the leaders who drafted the letter on behalf of the group, told DeSmog he was arrested in his village and locked up overnight last October.
“I was arrested because of the work I have been doing on the compensation issue,” he said. “ I was accused of sabotaging the government, but I’m not deterred.” .
The group says that compensation rates differ between the districts through which the pipeline is being built. A coffee plant in Kyotera was valued at $9, almost two thirds less than in Lwengo, central Uganda, while a banana plant was valued at $7, half as much as in Lwengo.
They say an official had taken on board their concerns and advised them not to open bank accounts until these were addressed.
But Brimuye says this has not happened, complaining of a lack of transparency. He says the government and Total have failed to explain how the rates were calculated, while many of the people affected had low rates of literacy and could not understand some of the requirements needed for compensation, meaning they could miss out on payments.
“We want them to explain why we’re being paid less than people in other areas. And we do not want them to come with figures whose basis we do not know,” he explained.
Letters to the authorities are signed on behalf of affected communities by two representatives – Birumuye and another leader, Mariam Najjagwe — because of the threat of intimidation towards villagers, explained Diana Nabiruma, head of communications at the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), which is campaigning against the EACOP project.
Complaints over compensation along the project corridor are commonplace among landowners, many of whom have raised concerns over delayed payments. .
In Hoima, Kikuube and Kakumiro, affected communities have all complained of low compensation rates, Nabiruma said.
“In compliance with Article 26 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, the Kyotera district EACOP PAPs should be paid based on updated compensation rates [rather than 2019 valuations]. This will guarantee fair and adequate compensation,” she said.
Despite provisions in the Ugandan constitution, communities are often deterred from seeking redress in the courts, since lawsuits prove too costly or run into delays.
“In light of this, we hope that other stakeholders such as financial institutions that are interested in the project can hold its proponents accountable,” she said. “The financial institutions should not provide financing for projects that fail to respect PAPs’ human rights.” .
The construction of the pipeline is due to cost $3.5 billion for Uganda, Tanzania and their partners, Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC.
EACOP is one of a number of fossil fuel developments Uganda has approved, including the Kabaale Oil refinery, Tilenga and Kingfisher oil development projects. The latter consists of six wells located inside the biodiversity-rich Murchison Falls National Park. The projects jointly hold an estimated six billion barrels of oil reserves, 1.4 billion of which is recoverable.
Neither Total nor the Ugandan authorities responded to a request for comment.