CIVICUS speaks about recent developments involving the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project and civil society’s efforts to stop it with Zaki Mamdoo, Campaign Coordinator of Stop EACOP.
Established in 2020, Stop EACOP is a coalition of Ugandan environmental and climate justice organisations that oppose the pipeline project due to the significant threats it poses to protected ecosystems, water resources and community lands across Tanzania and Uganda.
What are your coalition’s aims?
Our aim is to halt the construction of EACOP to avert the catastrophic environmental and climate consequences associated with the pipeline and safeguard human rights and communal territories.
To achieve this, we employ a multifaceted strategy: heightening public awareness, exerting pressure on financial institutions and raising their reputational costs so they distance themselves from the project, mobilising impacted communities and rallying to force governments and oil corporations to suspend the project.
A cornerstone of our approach is engaging with young people. Our partner programmes in both Tanzania and Uganda are focused on youth. We proactively seek out young people in various initiatives, including security training sessions. Recently, we’ve identified student leaders from various universities who had organised to spread awareness about the project’s impacts among their peers. We are actively pursuing funding and other opportunities to bolster their efforts.
Internally, we give space to youth representatives to contribute their perspectives. We’re committed to amplifying young voices and offering avenues for their growth and development as activists. A reflection of this is that I am 26 years old and trusted with the leadership as campaign coordinator.
How has the situation evolved since we last spoke over a year ago?
There have been significant changes over the past year. Drilling has started in one of the most important biodiversity hotspots. One of the companies leading the project, French energy conglomerate Total Energies, has launched oil drilling in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, home to diverse animal and bird species, including elephants, giraffes and lions. Its ecological significance is heightened by the presence of the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Wetland System, essential for Lake Albert fisheries.
The pipeline threatens the park’s biodiversity and tourism appeal. It will also have economic impacts, as the park is a major contributor to Uganda’s economy, accounting for 59 per cent of exports and having generated over US$1 billion in revenue in 2022.
Negative consequences are already evident, with displaced elephants damaging crops and posing threats to human lives in nearby communities. Tragic incidents involving elephants have already occurred in Buliisa district, where the park is located.
This is clearly just another a case in which profit is prioritised over environmental and socioeconomic considerations.
Our demands, however, remain unaltered: we adamantly call for the project’s complete cancellation due to its intolerable environmental and human risks. And while governmental authorities have largely remained unresponsive, we’ve achieved progress with financial institutions. Remarkably, 27 banks have already denied funding for EACOP, and an additional 23 major insurers and reinsurers have declined to support the pipeline.
What restrictions do Stop EACOP activists face?
We operate in fairly restrictive environments in which the freedom to protest is often violated. Recently, for instance, four of our activists were forcibly arrested on charges of ‘inciting violence’, transported in police vehicles and kept in jail overnight for protesting against the pipeline in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
The activists, three women and one man, were protesting peacefully, but their arrests were unnecessarily violent. It must be emphasised that only four protesters were involved, so the degree of force applied was clearly excessive, yet not entirely unexpected. Historically, Ugandan authorities have responded aggressively to any demonstrations perceived as anti-government, in line with a dictatorial regime indifferent to public sentiments or alternate viewpoints. This reaction is not unprecedented, although it’s intriguing that the government seems threatened by even small-scale protests like this four-person event.
But this won’t stop us: we will continue to demonstrate peacefully. Several of our members maintain a fund to secure bail or engage lawyers whenever activists are arrested. We arrange legal representation and explore the possibility of anticipatory bail when possible. However, given the sporadic nature of these protests, support is often provided post-arrest. We’ve also partnered with organisations that specialise in security training so that we can provide tools for advocates to voice their concerns without jeopardising their personal safety.
How do you connect with the global climate movement?
We connect with climate activists worldwide by sharing experiences and strategies and providing each other with support across borders. Global solidarity strengthens our efforts, so we appreciate any form of international backing for our cause.
What lies ahead remains uncertain, but as demonstrated in numerous instances globally, when we come together to back local communities as they advocate for their rights and a more promising tomorrow, there is a potential to counter even the largest of corporate giants effectively.
More than a million people have already raised their voices against EACOP. We believe that together we can stop it.
Are you planning to engage with the upcoming COP28 climate summit?
We’re deliberating on the optimal way to participate in COP28 to pressure world leaders to address the pipeline project directly and divert funding away from new oil and gas developments. I will be there to represent the campaign.
Despite controversies surrounding the summit’s leadership and lack of an enabling civic space in the host country, the United Arab Emirates, we are hopeful that substantive progress will be made. But we recognise that lasting change will require continued people-powered mobilisation. We’re committed to sustaining our fight for climate justice and environmental preservation in East Africa.
Civic space in Uganda is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.