Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Monday that the construction of a planned oil pipeline project in Uganda has devastated the lives of thousands of people, with farmers’ land being acquired through pressure and “inadequate” compensation.
The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, the fossil fuel project that is currently under construction, will link western Uganda with the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania to export Ugandan oil. EACOP’s shareholders include TotalEnergies EP Uganda, the state-owned Uganda National Oil Company, the state-owned Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation, and the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company.
The project’s construction requires land acquisition. According to TotalEnergies, the French fossil fuel company behind the project, environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) and third-party reviews have been carried out to make sure the project is compliant with best practices. It also says it has introduced a two-phase land acquisition process to compensate affected persons:
- Phase I – land users are still able to and encouraged to continue to use their land; and
- Phase II – land users cannot use their land but will receive compensation in cash and in-kind.
The company claimed that 96 percent of the affected persons will receive compensation for the full replacement cost of their land, structures, crops and trees and that four percent will have to relocate their primary dwelling.
However, in early 2023, the HRW conducted interviews with 94 affected persons, the results of which demonstrated severe impacts on the livelihoods of Ugandan families from the land acquisition process. According to the HRW, “The land acquisition process has been marred by delays, poor communication, and inadequate compensation,” and “affected households are much worse off than before.”
Some interviewees explained that they had lost crucial sources of income as a result of having their land acquired. Moreover, they told HRW that many of them had been pressured and intimidated by TotalEnergies EP officials to agree to this low and inadequate compensation. Some families even said that they had not been offered the option of replacement land but were “pressured to accept cash settlements that were below the cost to replace land,” contrary to what TotalEnergies had promised.
Based on the interviews and report, the HRW has made recommendations to the project operators, the Uganda government, and financial institutions considering providing support to the project, including increasing compensation amounts, improving government oversight of the project and compensation processes, and withholding funds from the EAOCP.
The EACOP website states that, as of June 2023, a number of 196 replacement houses have been handed over, while the total number of physically displaced households is 547.