Thursday-September 15, remains a historical day as many people found the European Union (EU) parliament’s resolution on the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and Tilenga an irresistibly exciting issue worth reacting and responding to despite their level of information and understanding on the engaged matter!
Whereas it is a general matter affecting us, and wrong to isolate it as generals’ matter for only generals to discuss, I personally would not give way to the misinformed and biased perspectives from a number of key players in the public, as it would have direct or indirect impact to the people.
First of all, the “EU Resolution on EACOP” was one urgently adopted by the European parliament (MEPs) denouncing the major or critical environmental and climate risks and human rights violation posed by the EACOP and Tilenga projects aimed at developing Uganda’s huge oil deposits that were discovered along the Albertine Graben around 16 years back.
While Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIAs) of all projects were approved by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and TotalEnergies got permitted to proceed with the projects, in the knowledge of MEPs; more than 100,000 Project Affected Persons (PAPs) are being evicted even before they are compensated for their land and property while development activities of this mega oil project are evidently ongoing.
TotalEnergies is set to drill around 132 oil wells in Murchison falls National Park, a protected area among other several ecosystem hotspots set to face destruction as they offer route for a 50 degrees Celsius heated pipeline buried underground running from Kabaale Hoima in Western Uganda for 1,443 kilometres to Chongoleani, Tanga in Tanzania. Such concerns amongst others as the resolution indicates therefore called for the extractive activities to be put to an end as a most effective remedy is being sought for.
This was and remains a largely discussed issue in the past weeks in and outside Uganda. However, the disappointing fact is that some people from either side of the discussions are misleading many people with emotional and uninformed general statements. For example, in Uganda, most issues even when they are not political, some people always find a way to analyse and discus them as though they are political. So, the level at which people are engaging on this, one could easily believe that EACOP discussion is politically inspired. This is wrong. We cannot discuss these issues like government and opposition. Very wrong because it increasingly distances us from the truths in these particular matters.
As a concerned citizen and more so a passionate conservationist advocating for sustainability of course, I have keenly followed this discussion on several platforms through articles published in different news channels, discussions on social media including twitter spaces, on virtual platforms, talk shows on radios and televisions on both local and international levels. I have heard Ugandan speakers and panelists make comments regarding different issues raised by the MEPs in their resolution. I recommend those from an informed perspective because while they are speaking, you appreciate honest and confident submissions on the real situation in this oil matter. However, it is very unfair for some people to loudly speak about the matter while they are emotional and excited overriding the truth with what they think is right other than what actually is! I rebuke these particular ones because of the way they deliberately sound like they have some ulterior motives in this matter that concerns us all.
Notably, the matter has obviously divided the public into two. Some people are on the #SupportEACOP side and others are on the #StopEACOP. I have no problem with either side so long as exaggerations are not part.
From the supporting side, the multibillion-dollar project should proceed. As a developing country, such an investment attracting around $10 billion is something we just cannot afford to lose, most importantly at the time when the nation is trying hard to recover from an economic crisis by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We all should agree that this investment has a lot to offer to us as a country. Transport and communication routes are undergoing development, direct jobs, contractual opportunities, tourism, infrastructure, markets for local supplies, construction of the Kabaale airport, a proposed industrial park-an oil refinery and development of Hoima Oil city, to mention but a few, whose contribution is direct to the national economy.
However, there are inevitable costs we neither cannot just choose to ignore! Just like any other big projects, the oil project as well has social and environmental effects and so is why several ESIAs were conducted for every single project to satisfyingly capture and address remedies to the identified dangers.
We understand that a serious number of people is going to be affected while creating way to these projects. For example, EACOP alone will displace more than 100,000 PAPs to other different locations. While there are well stipulated guidelines in the Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) by the responsible contractors and stakeholders, this is not something we could take lightly. These communities amidst other several challenges won’t easily adapt to this sudden change.
It is also in our knowledge that nature itself is under threat as a number of oil wells and their access routes are in protected ecosystems like Murchison falls National Park. For a 1,443km distance, EACOP is set to affect many other protected areas from Uganda to Tanzania.
It is unequivocal that a measurable vegetation cover including some forested areas are set to be cleared. This and more, risks the biodiversity in the Albertine region and along the EACOP route to be lost.
There is total discomfort from both sides as human-wildlife conflicts have increasingly been recorded in these communities. This is because the level and speed at which we are interfering with nature is sadly too quick for it to adapt.
Oil spills is another feared risk from this project. The fact that such a sensitive project is in close proximities to Lake Albert and Lake Victoria as important marine ecosystems, concerns people on such a high likely to happen scenario. The impact of an oil spill is far reaching as it could irreversibly wipe out all life in these lakes. Allow me to remind you that this is yet another case we cannot afford to live with. We just cannot undo it.
As we now deal with Fossil fuels, Climate change is a reality and we have painfully had a taste of its unfriendly effects. The long droughts have evidently affected the agriculture sector and the general economy and heavy floods as caused by sudden heavy rains have not only displaced thousands of people but also affected the infrastructure with some people losing lives. Again, we are dealing with a fossil fuel deposit and this could get worse if we don’t act and do right.
So, finally here is my stand
I personally want this oil, and so do you! Why? Because it is already discovered. It is no longer hidden! Come on, we have it just below our feet. That is a fact we cannot keep calm about and as a Christian, I believe there must be a reason why it is not in Europe or anywhere now but here, in Uganda and so we should drill it out.
It has taken us more than 16 years since we knew about this oil. As a country, I trust that all this long we took was not merely to delay us but rather better prepare all that was needed for this oil to be developed.
I strongly believe we understood that what we were about to engage was a perfectly unique venture and so we needed a better way. We have studied the process bit by bit and assessed the major concerns as identified in the conducted ESIAs.
A number of legislations have been adopted to ensure a decent development and utilisation of this resource. Well thought agreements and decisions have been made, MOUs entered into and proper contracts signed. All this was not done at once but rather step by step, an indication of a careful pace.
Notably, Uganda decided to join the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and in August 2020, we successfully made it as a member state. This was done with good main intentions; for proper, open and accountable management and use of oil, gas and mineral resources for the benefit of the people.
Actually for your information, our first EITI Report is just concluded and awaits assessment for validation. With all that, I am pretty sure that we are not about to embarrass ourselves before the world. We have all this considered because it is important.
However, still as a Christian, I believe there is a reason why the EU resolution came in just now. I think it is a good warning from them to re-check ourselves and the options we have before we could take off at an irreversible speed. All that was done in preparation as indicated above was for our benefit. And there is no us without us. There is no us without a nature!
So leaving your political views out of this, realistically, I think this could be an alert from a good friend asking us to check if we have all we will need for this long journey before we could turn on our engines for a supersonic take off.
All I am asking is could we please look back on what is highlighted and be sure! Because after all it’s neither the European Union nor anyone else but (us) Ugandans to do this in the most thought way while upholding nature and the rights of every citizens in Uganda.
This is where learned submissions and facts help us to perfect this investment. In the end, everything will make sense for us all. And finally, let us engage only when we understand. I say all this, because this is My Oil too, as a humble Ugandan. For God and My Country.
The writer is a young Environmental Conservationist, Climate Reality Leader, SDGs advocate and a finalist student of Environmental Science Technology and Management at Kyambogo University