Regional and International stakeholders will meet in Nairobi, Kenya, on 18th and 19th March, 2020 for the 6th East Africa Oil & Gas Summit & Exhibition. This year’s theme “Positioning East Africa as the real destination for Oil and Gas Investment” is focused on portraying the region as a hot bed of oil and gas exploration, investment and development. Going by its theme and agenda, there is cause for optimism at the regional level. The sessions will focus on harnessing opportunities and innovations to drive development in the oil sector.

In Uganda, however, we certainly have no joy yet. With the final investment decision pending, the Ugandan oil wheel seems to be turning slowest in East Africa- and the future does not look pretty, especially considering the land ownership issues.

Figure 1: King Fisher Oil field operated by CNOOC Hoima , Credit – Tullow Oil, Uganda

The JV Partners involving Tullow Uganda Operations Pty Limited (TUOP), Total E & P Uganda B.V (TEPU) and CNOOC Uganda Ltd (CUL) are yet to advance to the development phase of the Tilenga Oil Project. In order to do so, the oil companies need to acquire permanent land for large scale and linear infrastructure. They need land to drill over 400 wells and to construct a pipeline to transport the oil to Tanzania.

The development of the Industrial Area and the N1 access road alone requires the acquisition of 784.504 Acres. This land will need to be acquired from 187 land owners including 121 individuals, 62 families and 2 clans. Land acquisition has however become problematic. Controversy over the involuntary displacement of communities and low or delayed compensation to Project Affected Persons is a real issue.

Figure 2: Impacted Homesteads and Land Parcels. (Sources: Atacama/Synergy/Nomad)

It is evident there are human rights violations. In 2017 over 30 primary residents were displaced to pave way for the construction of the Central Processing Facility in Kasenyi Village, Bwendo Sub-county, Bulisa District but to date they have not been resettled. Their livelihoods are definitely affected as a result. In response six NGOs led by Friends of the Earth are suing Total in France over the business activities of its subsidiary, Total Uganda in the Albertine Graben. The allegations are that Total failed to adequately assess the impacts on human rights and the environment of the Tilenga Oil Project in Uganda. They want the French Courts to force Total to address the short comings in its project including lack of a risk identification or specific measures concerning its activities in Uganda.

Second, Total must effectively implement urgent measures in response to the violations and risks of violations observed in Uganda especially among displaced communities in order to improve the situation for affected persons. The case against Total is the first claim to be made under the French duty of Vigilance law which requires that any company whose head office is in France establishes and effectively implements a vigilance plan for its subsidiaries. The plan must include a risk map intended for identification, analysis and prioritization of risks, procedures for regular assessment of the situation of subsidiaries and appropriate actions to reduce risks or prevent serious harm to project affected persons.

Should this case give hope to project affected persons especially land owners in the Albertine Graben? Yes, but the answers to the issues should not come from the French Courts. At best the outcome from the French Courts will require Total to address internal corporate governance issues. It most certainly will not address specific challenges faced by land owners in the Albertine Graben. One might argue that the case as presented in France is not even an accurate representation of the human rights and environmental violations in the Albertine Graben.

The answers in my view should come from East Africa, not France. The East African summit will host over 400 companies, 500 delegates and 30 countries. It’s a strong platform for national and regional stakeholders to make a unified stance against these violations. It is an opportunity to hold international oil companies to account and have them commit to specific workable measures to address the human rights and environmental violations in the Albertine and other oil exploration areas in East Africa. Simply, we can learn a thing or two from the French but at the end of the day our turf can only be protected by us.

Epodoi Paul

@epodoi_paul