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‘No power to stop it’: optimism turns to frustration over east Africa pipeline

Promised an income, those affected by $20bn oil project are losing their land and resources instead

By Alex Tumuhimbise in Kijungu for Floodlight and Internews’ Earth Journalism Network A bumpy, mud-spattered road leads deep into Kakumiro district in western Uganda, where the longest heated oil pipeline in the world will pass through its homes, farms and wetlands.

The villagers in the Kijungu settlements welcomed the project when the route was announced in 2017, hoping that the government and companies involved would buy their land and change their lives for good. Their optimism has since given way to frustration. Adrin Tugume, 53, (pictured above) depends on her land to feed her 10 children and sell bananas, cassava, beans and maize. Although construction is not yet under way, she has been asked to stay off the portion of land where the pipeline will be built.

“I was stopped from using my land for three years. It is where we get food for our children. My land had several crops, trees and herbal medicines, which I use to treat people locally,” she said. “I am not happy at all. I wish they could get another route for this pipeline and leave our land. We are only going to suffer instead of gaining and getting our lives changed.”

Local residents say they have been offered a pittance for their properties, and their compensation has not yet materialised...

Map by the Guardian

Local activists fighting the project have been arrested and detained in recent months, and they say they are the target of intentional intimidation by the government. Ugandan authorities claim the group is violating registration laws for non-governmental organisations. The opposition to the project is not just about humanitarian concerns. The east African crude oil pipeline (EACOP) will transport oil 900 miles (1,450km) from the shores of Lake Albert on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Tanzania to the port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. In April, Uganda and Tanzania signed agreements with the French oil and gas company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

The pipeline will pass through the habitats of at-risk species. It could jeopardise community water sources and pollute the air, and its construction will be intrusive and noisy. In Shinyanga in Tanzania, local government authorities have admitted that environmental disturbance is inevitable.

The $20bn (£14.8bn) project – forecast to deliver 1.7bn barrels of crude oil starting in 2024 or 2025 – comes as world leaders are aiming to divest from fossil fuels. The pipeline will contribute to the climate crisis, locking in more oil use and planet-heating emissions for decades to come.

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