EU seeks to delay Uganda's oil pipeline works

The EACOP senior construction engineer, Mr Jose Allyon (2nd left), with engineers from China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering at one of the oil pipeline crossings in Ssembabule District during pre-construction survey.  PHOTO/  FREDERIC MUSISI

What you need to know:

  • The vote by a majority of the EU Parliament came hours after Uganda’s MPs had labeled an earlier move to block the project as racist and imperialistic.

The European Union (EU) lawmakers yesterday voted by a majority of 334 to pass the resolution that seeks to compel Uganda, Tanzania and the Total Energies SE to delay development of the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) for at least one year.

During the one year period Uganda and the French oil giant should go back to the drawing board to study an alternative route with less environmental footprint. However, the southern route to Tanzania was chosen in early 2016 as  the least cost route due to among others least environment footprint.

One hundred and ninety nine (199) MPs voted against the resolution while 60 abstained during voting. The seven-point resolution also seeks to exert “maximum pressure” on Uganda and Tanzania SE to elevate standards and adopt international best practices during development of the project, including halting oil related activities in Murchison Falls National Park to the northwest.
The devil is in the detail as the EACOP becomes the latest frontier of tight rope pulling between the EU and the French oil company. Brussels has long accused the French company of cozying with Moscow, which attacked its former Soviet Republic neighbour, Ukraine, eight months ago.

The resolution passed yesterday is the sanitised version of the initial 16-point draft motion in which the MPs upbraided French oil giant Total Energies SE of “corporate colonialism of extracting as much profit as possible” at huge human and ecological cost.
The original draft called for completely halting development of the $3.8billion (Shs14trillion) Greenfield project that will transport Uganda’s waxy crude oil from the oil fields in mid-western Uganda to Tanzania’s Indian Ocean Tanga port en route to the international market.

The draft among others also demanded active participation of the EU in the UN negotiations on an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and human rights. It also wanted Uganda and Tanzania to launch an independent investigation into the social and environmental standards applied by European companies, in particular in the fossil fuel sector.
In the latest resolution, the EU lawmakers expressed grave concern about claims of human rights abuses involved in the project. These include wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders and the arbitrary suspension of NGOs. Consequently, it called upon Uganda and Tanzania to initiate concrete measures to ensure authorities, security forces and policies respect and comply with human rights standards. 

The lawmakers also urged proper compensation of project affected persons, and implored Uganda to allow civil society organisations poking around the issues to operate freely.
On Wednesday, a section of EU MPs talked tough against the multi-billion dollar project. This sent quivers among officials in Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Paris, and London, expecting the worst to come out on Thursday.

The latest development will fly as a slap in the face of both the project developers and anti-fossil fuels campaigners and conservation aficionados, including a section of local and international NGOs, which have for the past two years pushed to halt the pipeline.
In the initial draft resolution, the EU lawmakers even exalted international financial institutions—banks, insurance companies, and export credit agencies—that have distanced and walked away from the project.
Uganda’s ambassador to the EU, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, Mirjam Blaak described the hubbub by EU lawmakers as “not informed by facts and fuelled by self-seeking groups.”

“Of course we will continue engaging them, but what they are doing is unfortunate,” Ambassador Blaak told Daily Monitor.
The EU Parliament’s resolutions are not binding but rather advisory to the EU Commission, the executive branch of the 27-member trading bloc responsible for implementing decisions and managing the day-to-day business of the EU.

Oryem tells off EU MPs
In Kampala, the government asked the EU lawmakers to stop interfering in the country’s internal affairs, respect its sovereignty and transact diplomatic business on the basis of mutual respect.
The state minister for International Relations, Mr Henry Okello-Oryem last evening described the lawmakers’ resolution as both “unfortunate and contemptible.”

“It is unfortunate because most of those people who voted ‘Yes’ don’t have any clue about the terrain of Africa. They are so gullible, they fell in the trap of goodie-goodies—those NGOs feeding them lies—but are ignorant. They know nothing on the ground,” Mr Oryem said. He added: “So they (MPs) don’t want Africa to develop its natural resources and yet it’s the only way to solve some of our problems. Our people continue cutting trees as the cheapest form of fuel. So if we don’t avail them opportunities like gas (LPG), who then will?”
Daily Monitor has learnt that a group of EU legislators behind the motion visited Uganda early this year on a fact-finding mission during which they engaged with among others the oil pipeline company.

Italy’s Francesca Donato, a co-mover of the resolution who was among the visiting delegation, on Wednesday spoke glowingly about the visit. 
Total Energies SE is the parent company of Total Energies EP, which is developing oil fields in Nwoya and Buliisa districts, and Total Holdings International B.V which holds majority shareholding of 62 percent in the EACOP holding company. Other shareholders are Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), each with a 15 percent stake as well as China’s oil company—Cnooc, with eight percent. 

The EACOP Company managing director, Martin Tiffen told Daily Monitor from Paris they will make a statement in due course. A lot has been said and written about Uganda’s oil project since exploration and appraisal from around 2012 when he Anglo-Irish wildcatter, Tullow Oil, Cnooc, and Total EP—now Total Energies EP—intensified seismic surveys and appraisals of oil deposits in mid-western Uganda.
But since February 1, 2022 when the government and the oil companies announced Final Investment Decision—to invest $10billion (Shs36trillion)—in the Uganda oil project to kick start the next phase of development and construction, what started as a conservation campaign turned into fierce opposition.

Day-in and day-out, international media is awash with fears, concerns, and environmental risks—real and perceived. Some have even inferred that the country is on a path to self-destruction with oil.
On Wednesday, one EU lawmaker invoked President Museveni’s long stay in power to the equation, saying with petro-dollars will keep Uganda’s strongman in the saddle.

Climate change fears
The MPs, and conservationists opposed to the Uganda oil project, which encompasses the EACOP and Total Energies EP’s Tilenga project in Nwoya and Buliisa districts and Cnooc’s Kingfisher project in Hoima and Kikuube districts, claim that taking the project forward will be an affront to the fight against climate change. They cite carbon emissions, which are blamed for catastrophic disasters around the world, including the increasing frequency of mudslides on the Elgon ranges in eastern Uganda.

Between 2005 and 2015, according to the ministry of Water and Environment’s Climate Change Department, Uganda’s carbon emissions increased from 53 metric tonnes to 90 metric tonnes, the upsurge attributed to agriculture, forestry, and land usage.
Energy usage and production accounted for 10 percent of carbon, of which three quarters was attributed to the transport sector—heavily-polluted air spilled in the atmosphere from second-hand vehicle engines from Japan and China. Whether or not oil will lead to a surge in these emissions remains a subject of debate.

Other pundits and researchers opposed to the Uganda oil project have painted a grim picture, warning of among others oil spills and drawing parallels to the beleaguered Niger Delta, and adverse interruption to the eco-system—flora and fauna—which will deal blow to Uganda’s tourism sector, the highest foreign exchange earner of $1.6b (Shs5.6t) between 2018 and 2019 before Covid-19 upended life as we know it.
The repeated manoeuvres by some developed powers to block developing countries from extracting their natural resources, including oil, has also renewed debate on the Brandt line— the gap in financial wellbeing, between richer developed countries and poorer developing countries—commonly known as the North/South Divide.

Some pundits describe as unfair and bewildering the notion to completely halt new oil projects in the poorer south, in Africa and Latin America, for the sake of avoiding mistakes committed by north/developed countries during the 1960s, 70s and 80s which partly contributed to the current climate disaster.
By press time last evening, government agencies in the oil sector and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were shuffling back and forth over an official response to the EU.

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