Since 2006, when commercially viable oil deposits were discovered in western Uganda, the government has been trying to get that oil onto international markets.
Their solution is a 1,443 km pipeline that will run through Uganda and northern Tanzania to the port of Tanga.
The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) will also generate billions of dollars in much-needed revenue for Uganda and Tanzania. But as the world grapples with the threat of climate change, this fossil fuel project is hurtling into the complexities and paradoxes of global climate politics.
In September, the European Union parliament passed a motion calling for an end to all oil exploration and extraction activities in Uganda.
He said the international community must “put maximum pressure on the Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities” to protect sensitive ecosystems, calling on French oil giant TotalEnergies to halt its involvement there for at least a year and explore alternative projects based on in renewable energy.
The state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation is the other major player involved in the pipeline project.
The EU resolution revived the #StopEACOP campaign, which is supported by 260 civil society organisations.
Activists warn that the pipeline will violate the human rights of people who will be displaced by its construction and may threaten the region’s water supplies. It will also double the annual carbon emissions of Uganda and Tanzania, according to a recent analysis by the Climate Responsibility Institute.
“It is time for TotalEnergies to abandon the monstrous EACOP that promises to worsen the climate crisis, waste billions of dollars that could be used for good, and wreak havoc on human settlements and wildlife along the path of the pipeline,” said Richard Heede, director of the institute. founder.
The Ugandan government disagrees with this assessment. He points out that Uganda is much better than Europe in the use of renewable energy, with 80% of the country’s energy coming from renewable sources such as hydropower, solar and biomass.
A report by the German Agency for International Cooperation said that although the country has many renewable energy resources, they are untapped. Hydropower is the largest source of renewable electricity with around 2,000 megawatts (mid-2021). But bioenergy (biomass and biogas) accounts for around 94% of the country’s total energy consumption, with charcoal being most commonly used in urban areas and firewood and organic material from crops in rural areas.
The government says its total emissions since 1750 are less than a hundredth of those of Belgium, the seat of the EU. He argues that the new pipeline will provide the necessary financing to invest in even more renewable energy. And the increased power supply will save the country’s rainforests, he says. If people have access to electricity, they won’t need to cut down trees for firewood, which causes deforestation.
Ugandan officials are outraged that the EU should accuse Uganda of failing to protect the environment. The African continent contributes only 3.8% of global carbon emissions, but this figure is distorted by South Africa, which is one of the biggest polluters in the world.
The intervention of the EU parliament regarding the pipeline represents “the highest level of neo-colonialism and imperialism against the sovereignty of Uganda and Tanzania,” said Thomas Tayebwa, deputy speaker of the Ugandan parliament.
It is also not lost on Uganda that when Europe’s energy needs were under pressure, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European leaders summarily increased their reliance on oil and gas.
“This is the purest hypocrisy. We will not accept one rule for them and another rule for us,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in a recent statement.
The Ugandan government’s outrage may be understandable, but it’s not especially helpful, said Dickens Kamugisha, who heads the Kampala-based African Institute for Energy Governance. “Arrogance will not help us,” he said.
Europeans may be hypocritical, he said, but that doesn’t mean the East African pipeline makes sense for Uganda.
“After all, the more than $5 billion needed for EACOP will come from the West or China. Do you want loans from someone but do not want that person to ask you questions? Let’s be humble.”
Plus, he adds, the bragging would be more understandable if the Ugandan government could be trusted to keep its own promises and fix the other barriers that prevent people from getting electricity. For example: it doesn’t matter how much renewable energy Uganda generates if eight out of 10 Ugandans remain off the grid.
Nor will all those planned billions change anything if they disappear into the pockets of the ruling elite.
Winnie Ngabiirwe, executive director of Global Rights Alert, said the government promises the pipeline will bring untold economic benefits to Uganda, but “efforts to tackle corruption tell a different story.”
This article first appeared on The continentthe pan-African weekly produced in collaboration with the Mail and Guardnorth. It is designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.