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“A Carbon Bomb”: Movement Grows Against EACOP East African Pipeline Funded by France’s Total & China

StoryNovember 16, 2022
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Image Credit: Twitter: @StopEACOP

COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has been called the African COP, but many African climate activists cannot afford to attend. Broadcasting from the summit, we speak to Omar Elmawi, campaign coordinator for Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, about the push to stop the construction of a major pipeline that would stretch 900 miles from Uganda to Tanzania. Key financial backers of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline include the French company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Company. “It’s a project that is strongly being opposed by people in Uganda and the whole world, because it’s going to be displacing over 100,000 people in East Africa, and it’s also going to be causing a lot of impacts to nature,” says Elmawi. He adds that the region should transition instead to renewable energy such as solar.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit, COP27, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, as we end today’s show looking at a movement to stop a major oil pipeline in East Africa to connect Uganda’s Lake Albert oil fields to the Port of Tanga in Tanzania. Key financial backers of the 900-mile East African Crude Oil Pipeline, known as EACOP, include the French company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Company. Environmental groups have fought the project for years, warning it will have a devastating impact on the region and produce vast greenhouse gas emissions. One group recently described the project as a, quote, “mid-sized carbon bomb.”

To talk about EACOP, we’re joined by Omar Elmawi. He is campaign coordinator of the Stop East African Crude Oil Pipeline campaign, co-founder of deCOALonize, based in Kenya.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to be with you here in Sharm el-Sheikh. Omar, talk about this oil pipeline. For a global audience, place it for us. And who’s behind it?

OMAR ELMAWI: Thank you for inviting me.

This is a pipeline that’s been proposed in East Africa, which is going to be the longest heated pipeline, to be able to take the oil that was discovered in the Lake Albert region in 2006 in Uganda all the way to Tanzania so that it can be put into tankers and then taken into international markets for being utilized for other issues within these countries.

So, it’s a project that is strongly being opposed by people in Uganda and the whole world, because it’s going to be displacing over 100,000 people in East Africa, and it’s also going to be causing a lot of impacts to nature. One of the biggest biodiversity sectors, called the Murchison Falls Park, is going to be affected. And then it’s also a carbon bomb, as you’ve already said, because it’s going to be emitting over 34 million tons of CO2 every year for the next 20 years that it’s going to be operational.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how is Total and this Chinese company having the authority to build this?

OMAR ELMAWI: Because the way they proposed this project is that after Uganda discovering the oil, they realized that it’s a costly process, and they don’t have the money to mine it by themselves, so they invited interested parties to come in and submit their interest to be able to exploit it.

But then the unfortunate thing is that now Total took advantage of this process, and they managed to come up on top, and they managed to get — to become the biggest shareholder of the project. They own over 62% of the pipeline, and they own a whole operation, 100% operation of one of the biggest oil fields in the region. And they’ve signed agreements that are giving tax benefits to the corporates, where they’re getting a tax holiday for up to 10 years. They won’t be paying a penny for all the oil revenues that are selling out.

And I know for — people who are watching will be asking, “Then why is the government signing on to these agreements?” And to me, in my mind, I’m also asking the same questions, because it’s either the government is really ignorant about its interests in what they’re doing with all of this process, or, secondly, someone has been compromised, and they are not making decisions on behalf of the interests of the public, but the interests of their own stomachs.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how the profits from this, if there are profits, are apportioned between the oil companies, Total, China, and the countries, Uganda and Tanzania.

OMAR ELMAWI: If there are any profits, all of them are going to go to the corporates, because the way you make money in the oil business is either you charge taxes over the barrel, per barrel of oil that’s being sold — and they are not doing that, because they’ve already given a tax exception for 10 years. The second way is to have a huge shareholding capacity within the project. And as I’ve already told you, the governments of Uganda and Tanzania are minority shareholders of their own resource that they are considering is coming from their country.

And therefore, what they are doing here is that the only thing that they will benefit are the impacts that are going to be faced for the people, the impacts on the environment, the impacts on health. And they’re the ones who are going to be shouldering all of these issues, because these are areas that they will have to be setting aside government and money from the government to be able to be dealing with these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the groups that are fighting it. And how much effect do they have on the governments of Tanzania and Uganda?

OMAR ELMAWI: This is one of the classical campaigns to show where it started from a community grassroots campaign, where communities living along the corridor, all the way from Uganda, the western Uganda, up to Tanga in Tanzania, came together and decided to start a campaign to stop this project. And in doing so, they started inviting and bringing on board many other voices from the whole part of the continent at first, and now even people coming from all over the world having and showing solidarity. We have organizations and campaigns in France who are pushing and making sure that they’re helping to put pressure on Total. We are having friends in the U.S. who are making sure that the different banks that might be interested in this project don’t give out the money. And therefore, it’s now one of the classical good examples of coming together with global citizens where they’ve shown that the world is indeed a small village.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we just had on yesterday Vanessa Nakate, and she is from Uganda, and she also spoke about EACOP and her opposition. I’m wondering about this COP, COP27, called Africa’s COP. Your thoughts on that? And are these companies that you’re talking about, not to mention the country — how they’re represented here, like Total?

OMAR ELMAWI: I mean, so far, it’s been a huge disappointment. This is not necessarily an African COP, but just a COP that’s happening in Africa. Everything is the same as how it’s been happening from before. The bigger Global North nations are pushing the agenda. Our African leaders are here, not understanding who or where their priorities should be, because they seem to be advancing the priorities of fossil fuel companies by trying to push for things like gas and fossil fuels as a transition fuel for the continent, when actually what they are doing is providing all of these resources for fossil fuel companies to keep exploiting and taking them to the Global North. So, in short, we are opening business as a petrol station for the Global North.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about how people, the wildlife, the animals, the flora, the fauna are affected. You said 100,000 people. Who moves them? And do these countries say they will be compensated? And does that matter if they’re forcibly moved?

OMAR ELMAWI: So, the unfortunate thing is, in Africa, and indeed, in this case, Uganda, when the government is convinced that a project is good for them and for the public, all of us are considered as collateral damage. So, 100,000 people will give way just to make sure that this pipeline takes effect. These are just the people who have to be removed from the process. I haven’t even started speaking about people who are economically displaced, because the pipeline is cutting across areas that is fertile land where people depend for agriculture. It’s cutting across rivers and lakes which are important as not just freshwater sources for the people, but also for fishermen and other people. So, all these are people who are going to be affected.

Definitely, the pipeline is passing across important wildlife areas, some of the game reserves, including the Murchison Falls Park, which actually is home to some of the most important wildlife animals within the continent.

And then, finally, it’s also the aspect around how this project is actually pushing across, you know, people who have been opposed to it and speaking against it having, one way or another, faced government reprisals. There have been a lot of human rights violations in the process. People have been arrested. People have been detained. Organizations have been threatened to have the organization deregistered. And therefore, for us, it doesn’t necessarily look like development, because you don’t force development of people. If they don’t agree to it, then you shouldn’t be putting them in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Omar Elmawi. He’s campaign coordinator of EACOP — stopping EACOP, Stop East African Crude Oil Pipeline campaign, and also the co-founder of deCOALonize. That’s “decolonize,” but the “col” is spelled C-O-A-L. Talk about what that means, how you’re fighting coal and fighting for renewables.

OMAR ELMAWI: Yeah, and it’s sad that at this time and age we’re still talking about coal as an option for energy production for people. I mean, the evidence is there of how harmful it is, how it affects people and everything that it touches.

And therefore, the deCOALonize campaign and what we were trying to do is to show that this project is really wrong. We were able to work with the community across two regions in Kenya, that were the coal fronts, to be able to speak up against this project and to significantly challenge it in courts. And it’s one of the few good examples of success stories where the communities were able to successfully litigate and win a case against the coal interests. And we’ve been able to make sure that that project never takes effect.

And in terms of renewables, it’s the whole reason why we are doing this work, because we are not just saying that we don’t want energy, because we have more than 650 [million] Africans who are energy poor in this continent that require accessible and affordable energy, but the solution shouldn’t be about exploiting these resources and taking them somewhere, but find a solution that provides this energy to them. And the good thing is that renewables are easily decentralized, and we can easily make sure that people get access to this energy and we’re improving their lives and livelihoods.

AMY GOODMAN: Amazing, the amount of solar energy you have in Africa, to say the least, but how little solar power is funded in Africa.

OMAR ELMAWI: And that’s very true, because Africa has the potential to provide over 40% of the world capacity or potential for solar, but only 1% currently of the generation is from solar in Africa. What this tells you is that we have opportunities. We have an opportunity here to take advantage of this resource and actually make money out of it, because it’s not charity. It’s a business opportunity that businesses can do and make a lot of money off without necessarily impacting the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Omar Elmawi, we want to thank you so much for being with us. He’s campaign coordinator of the Stop East African Crude Oil Pipeline campaign, known as EACOP, and co-founder of deCOALonize.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González will be giving a speech this Friday at Columbia School of Journalism, reflecting on his 40 years of fighting for racial and social justice in journalism. It begins at 4:10 p.m. on Friday. Check out democracynow.org for details and his two other speeches that he’s doing before he leaves New York at the end of the year.

We are working with an amazing team. Special thanks to Nermeen Shaikh and Hany Massoud and Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Denis Moynihan. I’m Amy Goodman.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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