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Activists say 100,000 not happy with Total’s oil activites in Uganda

By George Mangula

Two French environment civil society organisations said in a report on Tuesday that over 100,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania have been hurt by human rights violations linked to the Total’s oil operations especially in Uganda.

Friends of the Earth and  Survie are seeking a court order requiring Total to disclose how it is addressing the adverse impact from its activities, sayingthe company has an obligation to do so under French law.

Total has not  commented on the report as yet. But the French company has previously said it has complied with Uganda’s national as well as international standards.

The campaign groups, alongside  Ugandan environment activist groups like Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) and others, have alleged that Total intimidated and failed to properly compensate local landowners affected by work on its Tilenga project in Uganda, and said environmental safeguards the company has put in place were not enough.

They added in their latest report that the situation was also disrupting access to education and healthcare in some cases, increased teenage pregnancies, environmental degradation, incomplete ESIA processes and others. “It is clear that the rhetoric on Ugandans benefitting from the oil sector is just that, rhetoric.”

A French court previously ruled it was not within its remit to judge the case. The activists appealed the decision, and another ruling is due next week.

On September 11, 2020, the Ugandan government signed the Host Government Agreement (HGA) for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project with Total.

AFIEGO’S CEO Dickens Kamugisha and partners say Ugandans are seeing the same secrecy in the oil sector. “As earlier noted, the signed HGAs for the EACOP project have not been published.”

They say citizens remain in the dark as regards not only the terms and conditions of the HGAs but other agreements such as Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) signed between government and oil companies. “Citizens have to rely on government promises that they are getting good deals, yet government has proven to be unreliable through making promises that are not kept.”

Further, Kamugisha says oil host communities are key stakeholders in the oil and gas sector but these too remain unaware of what is going on as regards the EACOP. He says project-affected people were last engaged by the project developers in September 2019 when Total suspended activities on the EACOP project.

He says parliament, the institution that represents the will of the people also largely remains in the dark. “MPs have not reviewed and publicly discussed the EACOP HGAs to provide oversight, enable citizen understanding of the contents of the HGAs and to hold government accountable. This can only facilitate the signing of bad agreements that favour oil companies and a few individuals at the expense of Ugandans.”

Amidst the above, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and other institutions of Uganda continue to violate environmental laws governing the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) processes for the EACOP, he says. “Per environmental laws, a decision on the EACOP ESIA should have been made and communicated to Ugandans already. This is yet to happen.”

“Moreover, there is immense opposition to the EACOP project and to oil activities that are being conducted or have been allowed in national parks, lakes, rivers, forests and other ecosensitive areas in Uganda and Tanzania.” The mitigation measures that have been provided by oil companies to avoid, minimise or mitigate the impacts of the EACOP and other related oil projects are inadequate. “As a result, court cases have been filed in Uganda and France. This calls into question the legal basis of oil activities by government and Total. It also leads to questions such as: Why are the governments and companies rushing to conclude agreements before the determination of court cases that have a bearing on the EACOP project?”

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