Standard Bank’s financing of East African Crude Oil Pipeline is helping destroy rural livelihoods in Uganda

Comfert Aganyira is a human rights defender in the Lake Albert region in Western Uganda where she works with communities whose lives have been adversely affected by plans for the Tilenga, East African Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and other oil projects.

Standard Bank will hold its Annual General Meeting on 12 June 2023 and, as has been the case over the last several years, the bank is likely to come under fire for its role in financing the controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project.

The EACOP is a planned 1,443km pipeline that is intended to transport crude oil from the oil fields of Western Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. The pipeline has been described as a climate, biodiversity, and social bomb, due to its existing and potential impacts on people, nature and the climate. Consequently, 25 banks and more than 22 (re)insurers have already stated that they will not finance the project.

Despite this, Standard Bank remains a lead financial arranger for the EACOP. The bank continues to consider financing the project despite repeated calls from activists and affected community members not to do so.

In its March 2022 Climate Policy, the bank notes that it is “committed to balancing the challenges posed by climate change with the need to support access to reliable energy that supports economic growth and poverty alleviation…”.

Is the EACOP really supporting poverty alleviation, especially for host communities?

Allow me to share my story and you be the judge. My name is Comfert Aganyira and I live in the Lake Albert region in Western Uganda, where I work as a human rights defender.

The EACOP will begin its journey from the Lake Albert region and transport crude oil from upstream oil projects that include the Tilenga field, which is operated by France’s TotalEnergies, and the Kingfisher field, which is operated by China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

I work with communities whose land has been or is being taken for the EACOP, Tilenga and Kingfisher oil projects. My work brings me into close contact with people whose stories make me really sad. Just last month, I participated in a tribunal during which oil-affected communities in Uganda shared their stories.

Profit over people

Take Ms Magreat Nyakato for instance. Ms Nyakato is a single mother with children of school-going age. In 2017, TotalEnergies displaced her and her family from six acres of land. TotalEnergies offered her and other affected community members low compensation, which she rejected.

Ms Nyakato says that when this happened, Uganda’s then-Minister for Lands, Hon Betty Amongi, visited her community with many soldiers who were carrying guns. Ugandan ministers move with a small security contingent that guards them. It was therefore not abnormal for the minister to be accompanied by such a contingent.

However, because community members in rural areas are not used to seeing armed guards, Ms Nyakato said that the presence of the guards scared them and most of the people in her community accepted the compensation amount of UGX3.5-million per acre (approximately $935), which they had previously rejected, because it was low.

Ms Nyakato says that TotalEnergies gave her a small one-bedroom house on a small plot of land despite her large family. Due to her displacement, she suffered losses and damages such as loss of livelihood since she no longer has enough land to cultivate food to eat and to sell to generate an income. Her children also had to drop out of school because she could no longer afford the school fees which she had paid from the food she grew on her land and sold.

Ms Nyakato is not the only community member with complaints. Mr Jackson Kigwabya lives in Buliisa District where TotalEnergies is constructing a Central Processing Facility (CPF) for oil that will be transported via the EACOP. The construction activities have upended community members’ lives.

Mr Kigwabya says that Kamokore Valley in Buliisa District where he lives had never flooded in his lifetime. In May 2021 however, flooding happened. This is because TotalEnergies is setting up their CPF in a way that disrupts the natural flow of water. The floods, which TotalEnergies has failed to control, have led to massive destruction of property.

Mr Kigwabya reports that the floods swept away his livestock, which comprised 10 cows, 15 goats and countless chickens. His pit latrine and urinary shelter were also destroyed, as were his passion fruit plants. He also reports that his house was destroyed and that he has not been compensated for the damage.

Mr Kigwabya is not the only one to suffer damages from the floods which have been reported in the media and by non-governmental organisations. Households in about five villages have reported extensive damage to their gardens, with some losing acres of watermelon plants and hundreds of neem, moringa and pine trees, and tomato plants. Communities had hoped to sell these plants to make a living and now they have nothing.

Pollution sweeps in 

The community complaints I hear are not limited to loss of livelihood. Cases of air and water pollution have also been reported. Oil sector construction activities, especially around the Tilenga CPF Area, have led to dust pollution that has caused asthma in some children. Previously healthy children wheeze, cough and fight for breath while their poor mothers, who oftentimes cannot afford modern healthcare, search for solutions. Communities say that, while they were promised riches from oil, the only “riches” they are enjoying are dust and floods.

Needless to say, many community members who are affected by the EACOP, Tilenga and Kingfisher project describe oil as a curse that has left them landless, poorer, sicker and more indebted.

As Standard Bank holds its AGM, it ought to listen to the affected people. Do projects that take away people’s livelihoods, increase their indebtedness and household expenditure on health translate into economic growth? Do projects that stand to make the climate crisis worse, serve communities that are already vulnerable to climate change? Do export pipelines meet Africans’ energy needs?

It is time for Standard Bank to answer these questions with an honest “no” and instead invest in renewable energy projects.

This article was first published in the Daily Maverick on 1 June 2023.

By: Comfert Aganyira

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