Uganda and Tanzania signed a deal with Chinese and French oil companies this week finalizing terms of a $10 billion drilling and pipeline project. The project's backers say it will usher in economic development across the region. But Ugandan activists say complaints from communities affected by the project are not being heard.
Civil society organizations have raised red flags again, one day after Ugandan and Tanzanian officials put ink to paper for what they call the Final Investment Decision.
The move opens the way for construction and development of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline connecting future oilfields in Uganda to the Tanzanian port city of Tanga.
However, Ugandan civil society organizations, under their umbrella Stop EACOP, say the $3.5 billion project violates the rights of communities around Lake Albert where oil drilling will take place.
In 2021, the NGO Africa Institute for Energy Governance, which is providing legal support to the affected communities, was raided twice for allegedly operating without a license.
The NGO’s executive director, Dickens Kamugisha, says the attacks were meant to silence them for demanding to see key documents and raising issues such as people’s property rights.
Kamugisha tells VOA that locals may get compensated for the loss of their property but were not given much chance to negotiate.
“They are being forced to open bank accounts. But even those who have opened, they don’t receive the money," said Kamugisha. "Many people haven’t agreed on the compensation rates, but they are being told you have to receive whatever is available. So, the communities are still aggrieved. There are no grievance handling mechanisms. The courts are not functioning, so the people are helpless. People have been made to even become poorer, and more miserable and desperate.”
This week’s agreement was signed between Uganda, Tanzania, the French company Total Energies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
Total Energies faces a lawsuit in France for its failure to prevent human rights violations and environmental damage linked to the project.
The drilling and pipeline have been delayed for years, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni noted that one reason for the delay was the pressure put on Total Energies by civil society groups.
Museveni has been dismissive of the groups, describing members as jobless people moving aimlessly.
‘They go and campaign. They say, Ugandans are not allowing NGO’s to inspect the petroleum operations in Lake Albert," said Museveni. "They are hiding something. So, I appeal to the Ugandans and to the local governments in Buliisa, Kikube, in Nwoya, let the NGO’s go and sleep in the bush if they want.”
When completed, the pipeline is expected to carry about 60,000 barrels of oil to Tanzania per day.
Tanzania’s Vice President Phillip Mpango expressed hope all parties will adhere to labor and environmental laws.
“I’m therefore looking forward to hear that they are committed to implement this project, in an exemplary manner," said Mpango. "Taking into consideration the ecology as well as local community rights.”
Uganda’s oil deposits were first discovered in 2006 and are estimated at 6.5 billion barrels. Assuming the drilling and pipeline go ahead, exports are expected to begin in 2025.