Africa’s newest oil pipeline. When Two Elephants fight, the people get trampled

November 30, 2022

     By Duncan Green     

My former student Christopher Liberty got in touch and asked to post this piece.

Debates about the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and the EU’s move to halt the project dominated headlines in the lead-up to COP 27. Most discussions have focused on the future macroeconomic and environmental effects of the project, in addition to the EU’s meddling in matters of Uganda and Tanzania as sovereign states. However, certain issues, which are equally pressing, were side-lined. For instance, the present impact of the EACOP project land acquisition, including human rights violations, exploitation, delayed compensation, violence, and the wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders. 

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) will run from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda’s Albertine Graben to the Chongoleani Peninsula (near the port of Tanga in Tanzania). Costing between $3.5 – $ 5 billion, it is designed to transport crude oil over 1,443 kilometres between the two East African countries. The project’s preliminary construction work is well under way; once completed, the EACOP will be the world’s longest-heated oil pipeline.

Figure 1: EACOP will stretch from Lake Albert in western Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. Source: Yale Environment 360

Although only preliminary construction activities are under way, route planning and land acquisition have already had significant negative impacts on East African society. Project land acquisition efforts have already led to the displacement and resettlement of 13,161 people across 64,000 hectares. 

According to the Assessment of East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and Associated Facilities’ Compliance with Equator Principles and IFC Performance Standards report, there are shortcomings in project-related assessments and consultation processes, threats and retaliation against human rights and environmental defenders, improper land valuation, and compensation processes. 

Several community and civil society advocates who have publicly criticised, or merely conducted research into the projects’ impacts, have faced threats and attacks, including harassment and arbitrary detention. These and other socio-economic factors have not only severely affected the rights of activists and community leaders but also the livelihoods and food security of landowners, in addition, people affected by the project are terrified of speaking out.

Current debate – elephants fighting

Dominant EACOP debates have focused on speculations about the project’s future impact and the European Union Parliament’s jurisdiction neglecting its present consequences.  It is therefore important to draw attention to the evolving impact of EACOP and institute appropriate mechanisms to ensure that the project Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) is implemented correctly.  

On the one hand, attention is on the potential environmental repercussions of the project and calls for urgent action to prevent the effects of climate change. Omar Elmawi, the coordinator of the Stop EACOP Campaign during his submission at the COP 27 notes that EACOP is a ‘carbon bomb’ that will be emitting over 34 million tons of Carbon dioxide every year for the next 20 years that it is going to be operational. On the other hand, there are political concerns regarding the European Union Parliament’s calls to halt EACOP. The Ugandan Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Tanzania’s Energy Minister Januari Makamba criticised the EU, each arguing that the European Union is meddling in the domestic affairs of two sovereign nations after the EU parliament’s motion condemning the EACOP.  

Several pan-African institutions, notably the African Union Watch, warned the European Parliament against getting involved in a way that impedes Africa’s development after the European Union Parliament passed a vote condemning the project and calling for its suspension. They add that the EU Parliament lacks the legal authority to speak about the implementation of economic development projects in Africa.

Other Afrocentric commentators cite Ha-Joon Chang’s Kicking away the Ladder, a book that argues that Western economic powers are denying developing countries access to the same development trajectory they took, which included industrialisation facilitated by the massive extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. Whilst Western countries expect developing countries to abandon their fossil fuel projects to save the planet, Chang’s argument captures the irony of how wealthy nations did not pursue such climate policies when they were ascending the economic ladder in the nineteenth century.

Photo credit: Oxfam

Blind spot – Human rights violations of Project Affected People

In this context, one poignant and powerful African saying comes to mind: “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” Displaced people’s voices continue to be drowned out by headlines that focus solely on macro-debates concerning geopolitical issues between the EU and Uganda and Tanzania. According to the EACOP RAP, more than 90% of the pipeline route travels through rural areas, and the majority of the project’s affected families or individuals rely on agriculture for a living. The initial notification of the farming limits and the compensation delays have negatively affected households. Due to project land acquisition terms, affected farmers were forced to grow only seasonal crops, which significantly reduced their revenue.

There have also been allegations of violence, intimidation, exploitation, and corruption in the route-mapping and land valuation exercises, leaving communities frustrated by the lack of accountability. These unheard voices matter in defining the progress of EACOP since they represent the majority of the communities most affected by the project.


The debate about the future economic and environmental implications of EACOP is necessary, but it should not ignore the ongoing injustices and human rights violations that project land acquisition is meting out to local communities. As we call upon all stakeholders to honour their climate change and environmental responsibilities; as we critically examine the geopolitical tensions between the EU and the two East African countries, we must also ensure that EACOP parties implement the Resettlement Action Plan according to international standards and per human rights principles.

November 30, 2022
Duncan Green