The French oil giant Total has big plans: In a Ugandan national park, it wants to develop 400 oil wells in a total of six fields. The oil is to be transported with the help of a new pipeline, the largest in the world. Local populations are to be displaced, according to local media reports. NGOs are considering filing a complaint. If Gazprom did that, the Nord Stream II stupid chatterers would immediately mesh in with the army for protection.
Criticism of the oil giant Total has been growing for several months. Non-governmental organisations and 14 French mayors criticised the company for its inaction in reducing greenhouse gases and spoke of a lack of willingness to develop the company’s objectives in such a way that the objective of a temperature increase of a maximum of 2 degrees Celcius can be achieved. A consultation was unsuccessful, and mayors and non-governmental organisations sent out a letter of formal notice. Now the French oil giant has again received mail from six associations, this time due to its activities in Uganda.
The reason is an oil production project that Total is currently working on: 400 wells on six fields located in a Ugandan national park. The oil would then be transported via Tanzania to the Indian Ocean with a 1445-kilometre pipeline, which is also planned.
Total’s interest in Uganda is no accident: Uganda only estimated its oil reserves in 2006. They amount to at least 1.7 billion barrels, which could put the country at least 30th in the international ranking of the producing countries. The problem: The Ugandan oil reserves are also located in the 4000 km² Murchison Falls National Park.
Contrary to French law
According to the French online portal mediapart, Total has tried to allay environmental concerns about the project in Uganda. Total pointed out that the environment could be left in a better state than was found before arrival. The project will also take less than 0.1 per cent of Murchison Falls National Park.
Six associations distrust the oil giant’s statements. The French NGO’s Survie and Les Amis de la Terre, as well as the four Ugandan associations AFIEGO, CRED, NAPE/Amis de la Terre Ouganda and NAVODA, have recently sent a call to Total headquarters in La Défense, France. They criticize the oil giant for failing to comply with the provisions of the Corporate Due Diligence Act, which France passed in 2017.
According to this Act, large multinational companies are obliged to set out in detail in their annual reports how the activities of the parent company, the subsidiaries and the sub-enterprises relate to human rights and the environment. could have an impact. The report must also include a detailed plan on how the company intends to avoid and limit risks to human rights and the environment.
Criticism of compensation
This is where the NGOs start their criticism. For example, Total’s report, published in spring 2019, is incomplete and unclear. In Uganda, ngOs found “violations or serious risks of human rights violations” by a subsidiary of Total and two subcontractors.
As Dickens Kamugisha, a lawyer and managing director of the AFIEGO association, said in a media conference, there are six million people living in the region in question. 50,000 inhabitants would have to leave their country to make room for Total’s projects. The people affected have no choice but to accept Total’s compensation, Kamugisha said. A system that works with stitch data forces them to do so. Otherwise, they would risk losing everything.
The non-governmental organisations also criticise Total for its handling of compensation. It is true that the oil giant has committed to buy back the land from displaced farmers in order to make room for oil fields and the pipeline. However, the farmers had already been expelled before the compensation. They were forbidden to return to their fields, which meant that the peasants could no longer care for their families. Children had to drop out of school, and there had even been famines.
Litigation is possible - difficult evidence
Total now has three months to respond to the non-governmental organisations and act accordingly. Otherwise, the Nanterre Supreme Court, which is considering an application for interim measures, could take action.
The non-governmental organisations stated that they had concrete testimonies in their files, but could not publish them for security reasons for the inhabitants of the local population. At the entrance of the site where oil is to be extracted in the future, directly opposite the office of Total’s subcontractor responsible for the purchase of the land, an “oil police guard” had been set up. Ugandan police officers are at work here, apparently only serving the oil industry by intimidating residents. That is why the work of non-governmental organisations is made massively difficult, and many of those affected did not dare to talk to the organisations.
In the rest of the country, too, the work of ngOs has been undermined. Kamugisha spoke in the French media of nightly office attacks by the government police in which the computers of the NGO’s were stolen.
Dialogue hardly takes place
According to Kamugisha, dialogue with Total and the Ugandan government is limited, which makes the work even more difficult. As the Ugandan lawyer explained at the media conference, an attempt was made to conduct the dialogue with Total and to hold appropriate meetings. However, they have been ignored, as the Ugandan government has done before. For example, only the first relocation plan was received, but not the second. However, the first plan shows that the crop compensation rates would be far too low in relation to the actual harvest value.
Rare species, international wetlands
The Murchison Falls National Park is the largest protected single area in Uganda. It is home to lions, buffaloes, elephants and cobs, a species of antelope common in Uganda. A special feature is the rare Rothschild giraffe and the also rare shoe beak. Nile crocodiles, hippos and many birds live under the Murchison waterfall.
The park has a sad past. After the beginning of the idi Amin Dada government, corrupt officers took over the management of the park, and hundreds of elephants were slaughtered with machine guns for their ivory. Lions and leopards were also almost wiped out. Black-mouthed and broad-mouthed rhinos were completely wiped out. In the recent past, the wildlife population has increased again and the tourist infrastructure has been expanded.