On Saturday March 4, 2023, Mr. Elison Karuhanga published an article in the Saturday Monitor titled, Setback for poverty conservationists.
In the article, Mr. Karuhanga reacted to a ruling made by a French civil court in relation to a case that six Ugandan and French civil society organisations (CSOs) filed against TotalEnergies. The article was full of misinformation that we, the six organisations that filed the court case, would like to react.
The CSOs that filed the case include Africa Institute for Energy Governance, Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED), National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA) from Uganda. Others include Friends of the Earth France and Survie from France.
The 2019 case, which was the first ever to be brought under France’s Duty of Vigilance law, was aimed at compelling TotalEnergies’ to elaborate and effectively implement adequate prevention and mitigation measures for its Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects in Uganda and Tanzania.
The French Corporate Duty of Vigilance law places an onus on large companies based in France to identify and prevent risks to human rights and the environment that could occur as a result of their own activities and the activities of their subsidiaries and main subcontractors and providers. The activities include those abroad.
Because TotalEnergies is headquartered in France, its activities in Uganda and Tanzania have to be conducted in compliance with the above law. Any lawsuit brought against a French company in relation to the above law also has to be filed in France.
Because we, the CSOs that filed the court case against TotalEnergies, averred that Total’s social and environmental prevention measures for its Tilenga and EACOP project activities were inadequate, we filed a court case against the company in France.
Unfortunately, on February 28, 2023, the Paris civil court – following a fast-track process – considered our claims inadmissible over procedural issues. However, the court did not rule on the main issue of the case, which is the inadequacy of Total’s measures to prevent human right violations and environmental harm associated with its Tilenga and EACOP projects.
Despite this, Mr. Karuhanga celebrated the judgment noting that we, the six CSOs, filed “wild allegations” against Total in court. He argued that long before TotalEnergies came to Uganda, the country conducted a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) and put in place other plans to protect the environment from oil threats. Mr. Karuhanga also discussed the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) studies that were conducted for Total’s projects.
What Mr. Karuhanga forgot to tell his audience was that after reviews or studies by various experts including those from the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA), E-tech and Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) among others, the mitigation measures contained in the Tilenga and EACOP ESIA reports were found to be either inadequate or the information therein misleading.
Information on the number of jobs to be created by the EACOP and the potential carbon emissions from the project was especially found to be misleading. Indeed, questioned on the occasion of its Annual General Meeting last year, Total confessed that only 900 direct jobs would be created after the construction phase under the EACOP project. This is far from the 80,000 the company communicates publicly about. The adequacy of the company’s mitigation plans to manage social impacts and protect chimpanzees was also questioned.
Little wonder then that even when Mr. Karuhanga and his peers chest-thump about the ESIAs and other impact management documents, communities in the districts of Buliisa, Hoima, Kikuube, Nwoya, Lwengo, Kyotera, Rakai and elsewhere that have been affected by Tilenga or EACOP continue to suffer the negative impacts of the projects.
In his aforementioned article, Mr. Karuhanga also noted that Uganda has a right to develop its natural resources to address poverty. No one can argue against this. Nations must use their resources after weighing the pros and cons of doing so. For the case of Uganda, it is laughable that anyone can label environmentalists as well as social and climate justice activists as poverty conservationists. Uganda’s president, who has consistently sent messages on the need for environmental conservation, would be the first to be called a poverty conservationist if this were the measure that was to be adopted.
But, the president is not a poverty conservationist. Neither are environmentalists. Indeed, communities, women, youth and CSOs that are calling on Uganda and TotalEnergies, as well as the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), to prioritise environmental conservation over oil exploitation are considered as champions. Why?
Uganda has been listed as the 13th most vulnerable country to climate change. Major economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism and even business have been listed as some of the most vulnerable under Uganda’s Updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on climate change of 2022. Anyone that is campaigning against climate-wrecking projects such as the Tilenga, Kingfisher and EACOP is a friend of Uganda, and not a poverty conservationist.
The idea that the oil and gas sector is also going to enrich Ugandans is a fallacy. A look at oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola will disabuse anyone of this notion.
It has also become fashionable for pro-EACOP groups to call non-Ugandans who campaign against the EACOP and Tilenga project racist neo-colonialists. In his article, Mr. Karuhanga observed that the court “has rejected an invitation to exercise colonial authority over sovereign states.” This is totally false as the court did not examine the merits of Total’s projects, and more importantly the case is against Total, a French company, not against the Ugandan state. The Duty of Vigilance law solely imposes obligations on France-based companies, not on sovereign states.
But, after muzzling civic space at home, some people in the pro-EACOP camp want to silence non-Ugandan critics through guilt-tripping, name-calling and others. This is unacceptable.
We would like to reiterate the following:
1. Our court case was only dismissed on procedural grounds; the judges did not rule on the facts. The ruling therefore isn’t a win for Total and in no way did the court say that Total is complying with the law and that their social and environmental prevention measures are adequate or sufficient.
2. The dismissal of our case is questionable as our claims have not changed since the beginning. We simply added new evidence to substantiate them.
3. While human rights violations keep going on, and the first oil drilling is imminent, the dismissal also adds new delays but the matter is not closed. We are reflecting on next steps.
The time is 6:06pm. Alex Lyazzi, a fisherman, alongside his colleagues set off from a landing site in Kigungu-Entebbe for Lake Victoria.
They travel by boat and with them, they carry fishing nets. They often lay the nets in the lake and return to land.
Later in the night, they return to the lake, haul their fishing nets with their night’s catch onto their boats, return to land and sell their fish.
Lyazzi learnt his trade from his father, who also learnt from his father.
Like Lyazzi, several fisherfolk rely on Lake Victoria to make a living. According to the paper, The status of Lake Victoria Fisheries under limited access fisheries, 219,919 fishers including fishermen, boat owners and labourers work on the lake.
The number of people that are directly and indirectly employed by the lake’s fisheries is higher. It stands at over 3 million people and includes processors, traders and others in the fisheries value chain.
ABOUT LAKE VICTORIA
Standing at a surface area of 68,800 km2, Lake Victoria is the second-largest freshwater body in the world and the largest in Africa.
The lake is shared amongst Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya with 51%, 43% and 6% of the lake being found in the above-mentioned countries respectively.
The lake performs various functions among which is provision of water, fish and employment. According to the paper, Lake Victoria’s bounty: A case for riparian countries’ blue economic investment, “The lake provides ecosystem services such as water for domestic and industrial use, transport, hydropower generation and food to over 40 million people”.
The lake also supports the largest freshwater lake fisheries in the world, with about 1 million tonnes of fish being caught annually from the lake. The total annual value of the lake’s fisheries is over USD 400 million.
Nile Perch has the highest value of about USD 400 million. It is exported to “more than 50 countries, with 60% exported to Europe.” Silverfish, also locally known as dagaa or mukene, which is traded regionally and is used both as human food and in chicken feed, has an annual value of USD 588, 680. The annual value of Tilapia is estimated at USD 34, 651.
Lake Victoria also plays socio-cultural roles with several beaches, cultural norms and others being supported by the lake.
This major lake stands to be impacted by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project. First, when constructed, the pipeline will affect wetlands and watercourses in Uganda and Tanzania belonging to the Lake Victoria basin.
Modelling exercises done by scientists to determine how the lake would be impacted in case of any oil spills show that there are high risks of the lake being polluted at some points.
Specifically, a failure of the pipeline from KP300-520 in Tanzania would negatively impact the water quality of Lake Victoria, thereby affecting the lives of the people who depend on the lake to meet their water and food needs.
Furthermore, the EACOP project’s full value chain carbon emissions over 25 years are projected to be 377.6 million metric tonnes. This stands to worsen the climate change impacts on the lake.
Lake Victoria has come under pressure due to climatic changes with a decline in the lake’s water levels being seen between 2003 and 2006. The lake’s water levels also rose to the highest-ever recorded point in May 2020, attaining the 13.42 metre-mark.
Such climate-change induced impacts affect the fisheries, transport, hydropower generation, tourism and other important sectors.
Important to note is that Lake victoria is not only a critical resource for Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania but is also very essential for the livelihoods of people outside East Africa. Countries along the Nile basin such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan rely on the ecosystem services provided by River Nile, whose source is Lake Victoria. The pipeline’s proximity to the lake therefore puts millions of lives in Africa at risk.
VIOLATION OF LAWS
Because the EACOP project is impacting the Lake Victoria basin, a separate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) determining the project’s impacts on the lake ought to have been undertaken by the project developers.
Under Articles 4,5,12, 13 and 14 of the Protocol for Sustainable Development of Lake Victoria, projects which are likely to have a significant impact on the Lake Victoria basin such as the EACOP must undertake environmental impact assessments through a process of public participation by the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat. The EIA is supposed to be approved by the EAC Council. These provisions of the protocol were violated by the EACOP project developers.
Being a critical resource for Africa, the management of Lake Victoria calls for special care and respect for all laws and treaties that have been enacted to protect the lake.
To promote the rule of law and protect Lake Victoria, four East African civil society organisations including Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT)-Uganda, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)-Uganda, Natural Justice-Kenya and Centre for Strategic Litigation-Tanzania filed a court case seeking both temporary and permanent injunctions against the EACOP project.
Other reasons showing why the court case was filed can be read in this factsheet.
The case is set to be heard in Kampala on November 11, 2022.
The newsletter has the following content:
Green economic sectors at stake: Ugandan government should listen to EU parliament on EACOP
Pictorial of our activities
In the media
Upcoming eventsAFIEGO’s September 2022 newsletter
Last week, we shared the blog, Murchison Falls National Park: Ravaged by oil and climate change.
In the blog, we discussed the unfortunate changes that the park has undergone as oil infrastructure in the park takes shape.
This week, we relate how climate change has affected the park. The impacts were narrated by a tour operator who has been visiting the park for nearly two decades.
Hippopotamuses are interesting animals. They do not have sweat glands and rely on external conditions to cool off. As such, they spend hot days in shallow water and feed at night when it is cool.
When I visited Murchison Falls National Park on July 25, 2022, I noticed something peculiar: the waters levels of River Nile, which flows through the park on its way to South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt, had increased compared to 2019 levels. The river had also burst its banks. Previously sandy and shallow areas where hippos wallowed were covered in water!
Why did the water levels of River Nile increase? On May 1, 2020, Hon. Sam Cheptoris, Uganda’s Minister for Water and Environment, addressed the country. He observed that due to heavy rainfall, the water of levels of Lake Victoria and the River Nile system had increased. The minister noted that as at April 30, 2020, the lake’s water levels had increased to 13.32 metres.
“This … rise … is only 0.08 meters away from the highest level ever recorded,” the minister said.
The minister listed the sub-sectors that would be affected by the increased water levels including hydropower stations, water transport and settlements among others.
Biodiversity and tourism were not mentioned. When I visited Murchison Falls NP on July 25, 2022, I realised that this was a great oversight. How?
Murchison falls is one of the biggest attractions in Murchison Falls NP. In the park, the Nile squeezes through an eight-metre gorge and forms the 45-metre Murchison falls. The falls are beautiful and powerful. The sound that they make is awe-inspiring.
To get a better look and feel of the falls, tourists take a waterfall boat cruise. The cruises start from two docks in the northern and southern banks of the park. Tourists decide which dock to use. The boat cruise stops about 200 metres from the bottom of the falls. At this point, the boat cannot go any further. Previously, tourists could leave the boat at this point. They would step onto a rock, view and hear the mighty falls. This rock was submerged by water and the beautiful touristic experience of getting as near to the falls as possible was taken away.
Four hundred and fifty-one (451): This is the number of registered bird species found in Murchison Falls NP. Of these, there is a curious small bird called the rock pratincole. The bird, a native African one, lives on rocks found in fast flowing rivers. The bird also breeds by laying eggs in rock depressions. Rocks are integral to the survival and well-being of these intra-African migrant birds, which feed on insects. The rock at the bottom of the Murchison Falls was an important habitat for the rock pratincole. Viewing the bird was also a pleasure for tourists. It was enthralling to see these small birds launch their flight from the rock, quickly pick flies near the falls all the while avoiding being washed away. With the rock at the bottom of the falls having been submerged, we didn’t see the rock pratincoles when I visited Murchison Falls on July 25, 2022 with tourists. Yet viewing the rock pratincole is one of the tour experiences that we widely market.
Another bird of interest in Murchison Falls NP is the red-throated bee-eater. This tropical bird is found in only 21 countries in Africa, Uganda inclusive. The bird is small and has a distinctive beautiful red throat. It feeds on bees. The bird nests/breeds near streams and rivers among others. In Uganda, the bird breeds in tall sandbanks on Lake Albert, the Kazinga channel and below Murchison Falls. Needless to say, the bird needs dry, and not flooded, conditions to breed.
In the Nyamusika plateau, nature created the perfect breeding grounds for the red throated bee-eaters and other birds. Nyamusika plateau is a clay-sandy rock that leads to Murchison Falls. The rock is soft, which enables the red-throated bee-eater and pied kingfishers to make holes (nests) in the rock and breed. Because the rock is cliff-like in nature, predators such as snakes that would eat the birds’ eggs find it hard to glide to the birds’ nests.
Unfortunately, climate change-induced flooding has affected the plateau, making it hard for the birds to nest.
Climate change has affected habitats and breeding grounds for key species in Murchison Falls NP. Ironically, oil extraction is planned in the park with trial drills expected to start this December. Burning (using) of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change.
With oil extraction in the park being planned, it can be said that the park is going to provide a resource that could kill and bury it for good.
Murchison Falls National Park (NP), one of Uganda’s oldest and largest parks, is under pressure from oil exploitation and climate change impacts.
A tour operator, who has been visiting the park since 2003, has noted changes to the park as oil exploitation infrastructure takes shape. The tour operator shared his experience with AFIEGO, which is narrated below.
On July 25, 2022, I visited Murchison Falls NP. I own a tour and travel company. Part of my work includes accompanying tourists to national parks among other tourist sites.
Because of the COVID-19 disruptions, I had gone a full year without visiting the park. When I visited on July 25, what I saw disheartened me. How?
With the tourists that I was accompanying, we entered the park through the Kichumbanyobo gate in the southern sector of the park. We drove to the park using the Masindi (Kisanja)-Park Junction Road.
This is one of the critical oil roads. It goes through the park. It is aimed at supporting TotalEnergies to extract oil from the park. Ordinary Ugandans also use the road. Particularly, travelers from Western Uganda going to West Nile use the road. Some road users have reported seeing road kill such as lizards and monkeys on the road.
Previously, the road entering the park was a dirt one. This is because not only are dirt roads better for biodiversity conservation, many tourists say that dirt roads provide the real wilderness experience they are seeking.
Previously, when one entered the park using the dirt road, one felt like they were entering a nature sanctuary. With the tarmac road however, one gets the feeling that one is going to any other place, and not a nature reserve.
Experiences are very important in tourism. If Murchison Falls NP starts to feel like any other place, and not a nature reserve, then tourism in the park, which is one of Uganda’s most visited, could be hurt.
SCENIC VIEWS COVERED
Further, previously, tourists would immediately start seeing wildlife such as baboons, black and white colobus monkeys and others when they entered through the Kichumbanyobo gate.
The monkeys are arboreal in nature and could be seen in the tree canopy over the road. However, this inter-connected canopy has been destroyed due to the Masindi (Kisanja)-Park Junction oil road. The big troops of monkeys and baboons we used to see are no more. Only a few remain.
In addition, soon after the Kichumbanyobo gate, one would bypass River Sambia, a seasonal river. The river hosts crocodiles, which we would see. Today, a bridge has been built over the river. The wildlife we used to see cannot be seen anymore as the river is covered by the bridge.
Baboons on a road inside the park. These are subject to road accidents
A bridge, which is part of the critical oil infrastructure, connecting the south and north sectors of the park has also been built. Tourism operators requested that a suspended bridge be built. However, we were told that this bridge would be too weak.
I think a sturdier bridge to transport oil rigs, which are heavy, was needed. This bridge has eased transport between the two sectors. However, it has killed the ferry experience. Before, we would connect from the north to the south sector using a ferry. This allowed us to see scenic views of River Nile.
WATERFALL BOAT CRUISE
The waterfall boat cruise is a popular activity in the national park. The boat cruise starts from the Paraa dock and ends at the bottom of the falls.
The scenic distance between those two points is 17km. The boat ride used to take two hours. The boat captain used to ride slowly so that tourists could see the hippopotamuses, crocodiles, elephants, water birds and other biodiversity.
Because of the increased water levels of River Nile, attributed to climate change, the shallow areas where hippopotamuses used to wallow are no more. Fewer hippopotamuses can therefore be found trying to wallow in the North bank, which was the best viewing place for hippopotamuses.
Further, on the shores of River Nile in the North bank, crocodiles used to be seen sunbathing. They would open their mouths to cool off. However, the river bank on which they used to sunbathe was flooded due to climate change impacts. The crocodiles now hide in the thickets on the river bank, making them harder to see.
Some of the impacts of road construction in Murchsion Falls NP can be seen in the pictorial below.
In part 2 on Thursday next week, we will show the other changes to the park. If no action is taken to address the oil exploitation and climate change impacts, the park may lose its alluring features, hurting tourism.
Tourism is a billion-dollar industry in Uganda. The sector earned Uganda $.16 billion at one point. The sector also employs over 667,600 people. Being one of the largest and most visited Ugandan parks, Murchison Falls is not only important for conservation but for the survival of tourism.