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The Albertine Graben region has gained regional fame over the last 17 years since oil was discovered in Uganda. The discovered oil is slated to have its first production in 2025 under the stewardship of the government of Uganda, Tanzania, and two private companies, TotalEnergies and CNOOC (China National Oil Offshore Corporation). The projects include two oil fields and a pipeline transporting the oil from Kabale in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania.
The journey toward first oil has not been smooth. The process experienced different bottlenecks from the gate beginning with contract negotiations to select the appropriate companies to its current stage. Some of the challenges experienced at the beginning included disagreement on contract terms and corruption scandals among government officials and multinational companies.
More recently, one of the major bottlenecks has been environmental and human rights groups. These organizations are challenging TotalEnergies on issues including the negative impact of their projects, land acquisition, compensation, and resettlement of affected households. The company along with its other stakeholders including CNOOC, the government of Uganda and Tanzania have come under fire for these issues, especially about the land acquisition plan.
TotalEnergies is the majority stakeholder in the Tilenga and EACOP (East African Crude Oil Pipeline). To successfully execute these projects, TotalEnergies has a land acquisition plan for 6400 hectares. The acquisition plan is predicted to affect 19140 households and communities including the relocation of 775 primary residences.
From their reports, TotalEnergies seems exemplary. 98 percent of households affected have signed compensation agreements, 97 percent have received compensation, and 98 percent of relocated households have taken possession of their new homes.
Despite their commendable actions, resistance to the project from environmental and humanitarian organizations has not stalled. Among the organizations, Human Rights Watch claims the projects have devastated several people. They are responsible for displacing over 100000 people. In July 2023, Human Rights Watch called for the project to be halted.
Another major concern came courtesy of GreenFaith. According to the organization, the approach to catering to over 2000 graves has been dismal. Communitas and individuals affected by the grave relocation have complained of a lack of compensation for burial sites, poorly constructed relocation homes, insufficient documentation, and limited access to the graves due to relocation.
In June 2023, aid groups and 26 Ugandan individuals filed a civil case in France. The case was regarding reparations. Additionally, in September 2023, four environmental groups filed a criminal case in France. They accused TotalEnergies of “ecocide”, referring to the drastic negative impact of the project on the environment and communities.
As a result of all these accusations, TotalEnergies decided to conduct a review to investigate the land acquisition practices. The report expected in April 2024 will investigate land acquisition procedures, consultation conditions, compensation, and relocation. It is led by Lionel Zinsou, a former Prine Minister of Benin. Conducting this review has certain implications.
Considering the oil journey of Uganda has been filled with controversy from the gate, this may shed some positive light on the oil industry. If the review proves the reports to be false, it would paint the company in a positive light. On the other hand, it discredits the accusers.
Another reason the review is important is to resolve any true reports. By paying attention to the feedback from the report, TotalEnergies can implement appropriate solutions to the issues. This adds value to the community by adequately resolving their challenges including compensation. On the other hand, it draws communities toward a more positive attitude toward the company due to their positive response to their grievances.
With a more positive attitude, the project can proceed. This protects the interests of three stakeholders which are the multinational companies, the governments, and the citizens of the country. The report protects the significant investment of $10 billion that TotalEnergies has made into the projects. The company has already made $600 million available to commence the projects.
For the government, it protects infrastructural and economic development interests. The government plans to benefit from collecting taxes and fees from the oil industry and supporting sectors. So far, the oil journey has accelerated road construction and maintenance, especially toward the oil fields and critical routes for oil transportation. Additionally, infrastructure like a second international airport for the country have been added.
The population of Uganda and Tanzania stand to benefit in several ways. For one, in countries like Uganda, some contracts to provide goods and services to the industry have been ringfenced for citizens. Additionally, the developed infrastructure, especially the roads, are increasing access to the oil-rich areas in the country. That creates an environment ripe for investment creating more employment opportunities toward better standards of living.
By going ahead with the review, TotalEnergies is showing its commitment to seeing the oil projects in Uganda to fruition. It also shows their consideration for the stakeholders concerned, specifically, Ugandan and Tanzanian citizens affected by the land acquisition. While it may be costly in terms of money, time, and human resources, the review will add more value than cost to the Ugandan oil industry.