By Diana Taremwa
Oil companies led by French oil giant Total SA are continuing with plans to build a USD 3.5 billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Last month, Uganda and Tanzania signed a deal to undertake the 1,445km oil pipeline, just two days after government had signed a host government agreement with Total.
The pipeline is expected to carry some 200,000 barrels-a-day of crude oil from Uganda’s oil-rich Hoima region to the Tanzanian port of Tanga. In Uganda, the pipeline covers 296Km and traverses 10 districts, 22 sub-counties and an estimated 172 villages.
However, while the pipeline is a welcome to development for Ugandans as will among other benefits during the construction phase create employment benefits in the form of thousands of jobs, it is proving to be a nightmare for project affected communities.
In Mubende district, farmer Vicky Najjemba looks over her coffee plantation and house. After getting a solar power connection to her 3 bedroom house two years ago, Ms. Najjemba, a single mother planned to raise her 4 children here.
She now fears that she may be forced to relocate with her family, even though her long promised compensation is yet to arrive.
“It’s very disappointing,” said the 37-year old mother adding, “This is my ancestral land, the future looks so uncertain.”
Ms. Najemba is among the 12,000 families being evicted to pave way for the project.
She expressed frustration at being told not to undertake any further activities on the land. Ms. Najjemba, who struggles to feed her family, will also likely lose her coffee farm, a situation she says risks pushing her deeper into poverty. Many residents along the 900-mile pipeline route have similar stories.
Last year, a cut-off date was placed on the pipeline affected people’s property, which meant that people cannot utilize their land for long term investments such as growing of perennial crops, setting up of houses and others.
Affected people perceive this action as an abuse of their economic, cultural and social rights.
Sande Amanya, one of the affected people, also resident of Mubende, vows not to abandon his home and banana plantation unless he is fully compensated.
“We were stopped from cultivating our fields within the pipeline path, it’s now 2 years and we have not received any payment, yet we are not able to fully utilize our land,” Amanya lamented.
In 2006, Uganda confirmed the existence of commercially viable quantities of oil in the Albertine basin. Oil reserve estimates remain at 6 billion barrels.
Oil companies finalized the exploration phase and are now preparing to undertake the development phase, which will subsequently lead to oil production. Once produced, part of the crude oil will be refined in Uganda to supply the local market while the rest will be exported to the international market through the EACOP.
The EACOP will cross Lake Victoria, one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, where an oil spill could prove disastrous for over 30 million people that rely on the lake’s watershed for drinking water and food production.
Last month, an oil spill off the coast of Mauritius caused extensive ecological damage when Japanese-owned cargo ship MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef, leaking 1,000 tons of oil onto pristine coasts causing an ecological emergency.
A recent report by Oxfam on the Human rights impact assessment of the oil pipeline titled ‘Empty promises down the line’, among other findings, concluded that the EACOP would worsen communities economic opportunities by limiting the use of their land and destroying the wetlands and forests they depend on for livelihoods.
The report recommends that EACOP developers and government should ensure valuation and compensation processes are just, transparent and aligned with international best practices.
The writer, Diana Taremwa is the Extractives Officer, Water Governance Institute