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What’s Next For The Struggle To Stop The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline

Above photo: A protest targeting the financiers of EACOP. Twitter/StopEACOP.

Climate activists in East Africa and abroad have momentum.

But stopping the world’s longest heated crude oil pipeline will require greater risk and deeper solidarity.

In 2006, oil speculators finally stumbled upon a long-sought reserve under Lake Albert in midwestern Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni, who had already been in power for 20 years, eagerly declared that production would commence in 2009. He argued that oil drilling would spare Ugandans from biting poverty — despite the government projecting zero revenue from the project for decades to come.

Still clinging to his despotic throne today, Museveni and his bankrollers and business partners — namely TOTAL, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and the neoliberal regimes of Uganda and Tanzania — have been unable to commence production. The proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, or EACOP, would be 900 miles long and cut through Uganda and Tanzania, including lands inhabited by pastoralists and waters used by local fisherfolk.

These communities, stretching between Lake Albert and the small Indian Ocean port city of Tanga, have long histories of rich ecological understanding capable of helping us survive the troubling climate catastrophes ahead. A heated crude oil pipeline capable of discharging upwards of 200,000 barrels per day is perhaps the most crassly violent project that could erode this knowledge and leadership.

The stagnation of the construction of EACOP can be partially attributed to internal discord and malfeasance between its stakeholders. But a few climate justice outfits have also poked thorns into the side of the EACOP overlords.

One such group is Rise Up Movement, a collective of young African climate activists articulating the doom such a pipeline poses to Africans and the world. With allies from and other major climate campaigning organizations, young climate activists under the banner of #StopEACOP have been able to secure pledges from major banks and insurers across the world not to finance the pipeline. The latest target is Standard Bank, whose headquarters has already been disrupted by Extinction Rebellion organizers. These pushes for divestment have slowed EACOP’s production timeline.

“We must continue on and remain committed,” said Evelyn Acham, one of the first Rise Up members brutally arrested in Kampala for protesting climate abuse three years ago. She courageously did so while interning with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, notorious for mass land grabs on behalf of foreign investors and multinational corporations.

Acham’s invitation to persevere is far from naive; it comes just a few years after a major victory by small town working-class organizations and climate activists in neighboring Kenya, who forced the financing withdrawal of the world’s biggest bank from a massive coal project.

However, a global development project undertaken by transnational corporations requires more than local activism; it demands resistance on the many fronts the project permeates. That’s why it’s important that EACOP has garnered lots of attention in the ever-expanding planet-wide climate justice movement.

Resistance on TOTAL’s home turf in France has been particularly creative. Climate activists laid down sticky tape to draw lines through French communities to outline a fictitious pipeline and incite public outrage around the finance sector’s lack of adherence to voluntary standards for managing social and environmental impact known as the Equator Principles. They also bird-dogged President Emmanuel Macron, who shifted blame to the private sector despite having been one of the most vocal global political leaders endorsing the project. This is a sign that among world leaders, affiliation with EACOP is increasingly understood as shameful.

However, these piecemeal actions and campaigns have not been enough to stop the project, as EACOP stakeholders are determined to see it to completion. Without fierce resistance on the ground to make the pipeline too expensive and unviable, over 100,000 East Africans will suffer displacement. And this dirty infrastructural project will have many other grave economic and ecological consequences.

Direct action collective Solidarity Uganda, where I am an active member, has been training and organizing communities for nonviolent resistance in midwestern Uganda since 2019. These efforts focus largely on land and resource sovereignty, especially targeting the state and private sector actors behind EACOP.

In preparation for the pipeline, there have already been forced evictions “in Bukinda, Katikara, Kizirafumbi, Kijayo and Kapapi, with empty promises of totally insufficient compensation,” said Solidarity Uganda community organizer Bruce Mugisha. “A lot more courage from communities around the Albertine drilling area will be needed to stop the impending doom of EACOP.”

Mugisha has been advising the organizers of a 21-month, 2,000-person occupation of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner’s office in relation to a community land dispute along Lake Albert. Communities had been displaced without due process by the Office of the Prime Minister to make way for a refugee camp (one of the Museveni government’s key fundraising strategies). After members of parliament failed to rectify the issue, the occupiers dismantled their encampment and have swarmed the homes of these elected leaders for the past four months.

It’s hard to imagine that with drilling and pipeline construction commencing, those who have put up such a steadfast fight against displacement won’t continue to rebel. A reawakening in the Bunyoro region — famed for the Kabalega’s resistance to colonial rule — could be just around the corner.

Veteran anti-pipeline activists know that it’s much better to get ahead of development projects than to cry foul after the fact. However, militaristic fearmongering by host states and developmentalism propaganda has led to a lack of disruptive action by East African communities and climate activists in the areas most affected by EACOP. The #StopEACOP campaign will require a dose of courageous direct action to stop or slow the project.

The Niger Delta — where TOTAL and other mainstream oil and gas giants have pillaged communities for generations — is a testament to this unfortunate reality.

“For decades, the Niger Delta women who have suffered the worst burdens of our fossil fuel crises have led the struggle against the corporates,” said Niger Delta climate activist Magdalene Idiang. “For nearly 70 years, their resistance put an end to land grabbing, secured the repossession of some lands, changed the government, and reinstated peace in a very militarized region.”

These transformations didn’t arrive through polite appeals to fossil fuel executives or political leaders. Ogoni women had to occupy oil terminals, which inspired the subsequent occupation of six Shell flow stations by youth in western Niger Delta. Nonviolent actions were militant and confrontational. They included work stoppages by the transport, oil and public sectors, monkeywrenching, a two-week seizure of four deep sea platforms by oil workers, an eight-day general strike against fuel hikes and the blowing up of physical infrastructure.

None of these actions can take place without deep understanding of the inherent tragedy of a pipeline, and a wealth of solidarity across the intersections of society. With East Africa fragmented by colonial borders, organizers will have to focus on building trust and cooperation within communities most directly affected by EACOP. Members of communities ravaged by pipelines have a duty to people living along the EACOP corridor. They will need to articulate the short-term costs of resisting a pipeline, namely the inevitable repression they will face. But they also must speak to the long-term costs of not resisting, including widespread devastation of local health, economy and ecology, as well as irreversible global climate harm.

In the meantime, the campaign cannot relent on the financing front. By 2019, fossil fuels ranked last among all industries for major investments in the U.S. Given the increasingly high-risk nature of the industry, this is a sign that the Extinction Rebellion-style shutdowns of banks considering investing in EACOP will only help. More can also be done to target specific executives at these banks and find climate justice allies who work at the investment companies considering EACOP.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed all of the industry’s frailties,” said oil policy analyst Antonia Juhasz in an interview with Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua for their recent book “Not Too Late.” “When Russia went to war against Ukraine, the global community’s response demanding an end to fossil fuels was unlike any I’d ever seen.” In 2024, climate warriors everywhere have a timely opportunity to pull on-the-fence investors over to their side.

If constructed, EACOP will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline on the planet — an atrocious blight on this decisive decade for climate change and the planet’s future. The next phase of #StopEACOP will demand even greater courage and risk among comrades and the most directly impacted communities in East Africa. It will also require deeper commitment and solidarity from beyond the region to target TOTAL, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and all of their potential insurers and financiers.

Phil Wilmot is director of Solidarity Uganda, an organization that trains and helps organize East African movements for civil resistance. He researches, consults, and writes about movements throughout Africa and is also author of “A Wolf Dressed in Sheepskin: A White Guy’s Dilemma in a Ugandan Jail Cell.”

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