EACOP; when the kettle calls the pot black

Author: Nicholas Sengoba. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

Corruption and misguided expenditure will turn it into a curse. Uganda government has its economic mismanagement history

African autocrats and their allies in the global West and even in the East, are bedfellows -strange bedfellows.

Whatever their differences, subjugating the people on the continent so as to dominate and exploit them is a major mutual motive. It brings them together. It has been the story from the day the colonialist landed in Africa all through to the dawn of Independence, to the present day.

Like happens in any relationship they have good and bad days. But they are always focused on the same thing. The leader on the continent is supported by his allies to perpetuate himself and his acolytes at whatever cost. The allies who are the piper expect their man or woman on the continent who goes by the title ‘President’ to dance by their tune by granting them cheap and exploitative access to national resources.

As long as the president plays ball according to the rules he may remain in power with lukewarm criticism from his funders. It is when he goes against their wishes that they will bare their fangs. Uganda’s intention to build the 1,443 km East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has caused quite a kerfuffle.

Uganda’s allies mainly in the European Union have raised ‘serious concerns’ about three major issues.

The environment will be impacted by the $15 - 20 billion project that runs from the shores of Lake Albert with the heated pipeline maintaining about 50 degrees Celsius on the journey to the coast from Uganda via Tanzania. On the way it passes through farmlands, forest reserves, some small rivers and settlements. Then there is an intention to sink about 132 wells in the Murchison Falls National Park.

About 9,513 people will be displaced by the project in Tanzania while about 3,648 people will suffer the same fate in Uganda. Worse still it is claimed that many of these have not been compensated. The EU Parliament alleges that more than 100,000 ,mostly famers, are threatened with eviction without commensurate and due compensation. A campaign called Stop Eacop, which is a network of organisations opposed to construction of the pipeline, cites gross human rights violations by the Uganda government in relation to this project.

The EU parliament has asked TotalEnergies, a French company, and the Uganda government to put the project on hold for at least a year. The latter have dug in and are going ahead.

On the face of it the EACOP is a Godsend to Uganda, which is a highly indebted poor country. Oil, unlike the primary agricultural products that make up a good percentage of Uganda’s exports and foreign exchange earnings, is a highly valued fat cash cow.

If all goes well Uganda can break from the debt dependency to a self sufficient developed economy.  There is market for it in the foreseeable future.

A country that finances its economy achieves real independence. If Uganda was financing its budget and not receiving aid and grants for the EU, we would not be having this conversation.

But we are all alive to the fact that oil is not a magic bullet. Like all fortunes it becomes a misfortune if the proceeds land in the hands of the imprudent and ill intentioned.

Corruption and misguided expenditure will turn it into a curse. Uganda government has its economic mismanagement history.

That trend has excited so many people at the advent of a project only for their hearts to be broken. There was the depressing tale of AGOA. There is the newly revived Uganda Airlines feeling the weight of corporate abuse.

But we shall give the benefit of doubt to the project and let time tell us the tale of Uganda’s oil.

What is very intriguing is the altruism shown by the EU and others towards the people of Uganda.

The EU over the years has supported the government of Yoweri Museveni now in power for over 36 years. The human rights record of his government has not been rosy. The shambolic elections, the illegal detentions, land grabbing, torture, killings by security agents etc are not news. This human rights state did not start taking a nosedive when Uganda discovered oil and decided to extract it from the ground.

The EU, which is one of the largest contributors of ozone depleting gases, has worked well with Museveni’s government over the years.  Yet the same government has presided over rampant abuse of the environment. According to globalforestwatch.org, ‘from 2001 to 2021, Uganda lost 967kha of tree cover, equivalent to a 12% decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 438Mt of CO₂e emissions.’ In addition, there is visible reclaiming of wetlands under the guise of development.

The farmer the EU is shedding tears for has an even sadder tale. It is easier for a high heeled hunchbacked camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an African farmer to get their healthy organic produce on the European market. When the produce gets there in its raw form which attracts a pittance. It is processed and sold back for a fortune. We may assume that the EU, which loves the Ugandan farmer, has hitherto never noticed this unfair trading relationship to get concerned for the poor farmer.

The concern that runs away with the biscuit for me is the part about compensation. The irony of all ironies is that the EU Parliament sits in Belgium and talks about compensation of aggrieved people. Many of the EU Parliament member states once held colonies in Africa. France and Belgium (we shall leave Britain out after Brexit but this message gets to them as well,) were notorious for brutality as they exploited colonies.

Belgium under King Leopold II has one of the darkest histories of the murder and ill treatment of humanity ever. His record was worse than that of Adolf Hitler who killed over six million Jews.

France in West Africa did the same. Over the years calls for compensation and reparations for the ills of colonial engagement in Africa have landed on deaf ears. There are so many cases of refusal to return stolen artifacts that shamefully grace the museums of many European cities. Just returning artifacts without   paying a cent or apologizing to the victim is problematic!

The EU Parliament may have genuine concerns. But the log in its eye is a huge blemish on its credentials to lead the campaign against the EACOP.

That is why the pro-EACOP side with its dubious history will sound genuine with the argument that the EU is scared that the slave is about to break his shackles.

Twitter: @nsengoba