Why East African court dismissed EACOP case

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a 1,443km pipeline that once completed will run through 10 districts in Uganda, stretching from Hoima in Uganda to the Indian Ocean at the Tanga Port, west of Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE

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The five-judge panel also slapped costs on the civil society organisations that filed the case.

Campaigners opposed to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project (EACOP) have suffered a major blow in their push to stop its development after a court threw out their legal challenge to the multi-billion-dollar project. The activists said they will appeal the court’s decision.

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ), sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, did not deal with the merits of the case presented by several civil society groups. Instead, it ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the challenge because it was filed very late.

Campaigners across the globe have heavily criticised the EACOP project fronted by TotalEnergies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments, citing risks it poses to the environment, local communities, and its contribution to climate change. When completed, the EACOP will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world, stretching 1443km from Uganda to Tanga Port in Tanzania.

The five-judge panel led by Justice Yohane B Masara, the principal judge, also slapped costs on the civil society organisations that filed the case. Other judges on the panel included Dr Lawrence Gacuke, Dr Charles Nyawello, Mr Richard Muhumuza, and Mr Richard Wabwire Wejuli.

The regional court agreed with the Ugandan team led by Mr Martin Mwambutsya, the director of Civil Litigation in the Attorney General’s Chambers, that the case by the civil society organisations was time-barred.

Mr Mwambutsya also told the court that the challenge in respect to the Host Government Agreement was premature because the case was filed on November 6, 2020, yet the agreement was signed on April 11, 2021.

“From the foregoing, the reference is time-barred and cannot be adjudicated upon for having been filed outside the time period prescribed by the treaty. The court, therefore, lacks jurisdiction…to entertain the reference. The reference is accordingly dismissed with costs awarded against the applicant jointly and severally,” the court ruled.

The court also ruled that the applicants should have initiated the case in 2017 instead of waiting until 2020, which rendered the court incapable of exercising jurisdiction in the matter.

The civil society organisations, including Natural Justice (NJ), Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL), and Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), said the ruling will negatively impact the environmental rights of the people of Uganda and Tanzania. In their case, the civil society organisations contested the EACOP construction.

They argued that the project violates various provisions of the East African Community (EAC) Treaty, the Protocol for the Sustainable Management of the Lake Victoria Basin, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Convention on Conservation of Natural Resources, the post-2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Climate Accords.

They told the court that project proponents failed to conduct effective and meaningful public participation and consultation. The civil society organisations further told the court that neither human rights assessments nor climate impact assessments were conducted before initiating the EACOP project.


According to the organisations, this gives rise to significant concerns regarding environmental sustainability, social justice, and climate justice.

    In a joint statement after the EACJ ruling, the civil society organisations said they intend to challenge the EACJ decision through an appeal.

    They asserted that the judgment overlooked crucial facts that could have enabled the applicants to present the merits of their case before the court.

    “This judgment marks a continuation of how the global north and various government institutions in Africa are blind to the destruction of the environment and the impact oil and gas have on the climate. Profit is valued above livelihoods and the environment. We will evaluate the judgment in detail and make the necessary actions to ensure we continue to protect the environment and the people who live in it,” Mr Lucien Limacher, the head of Defending Rights and Litigation at Natural Justice, said.

    Mr Dickens Kamugisha, the chief executive officer of Africa Institute for Energy Governance, said they are determined to appeal the “unjust ruling” because they believe the dangers posed by EACOP can and will be stopped.

    “It is a somber day for the millions of East Africans who had anticipated that the court would allow the consideration of evidence concerning the environmental, social, and economic risks of the EACOP project and make a determination on our case based on its merits,” he said.

    Mr Deus Valentine Rweyemamu, the chief executive officer of Center for Strategic Litigation, said “an opportunity to hold the governments of Tanzania and Uganda accountable for non-compliance with the EAC Treaty provisions on the environment and other environmental laws” has been missed with the ruling.

    Mr Dale Onyango, a lawyer from Kenya, said their “commitment to environmental sustainability, social justice, and climate resilience remains unwavering” despite the court’s decision.