“Our first meeting with Total they said, ‘Your standard of living will be elevated, you will no longer be poor.’ Now with the oil project starting, we are landless and are the poorest in the country.”
— A 48-year-old woman supporting seven children, whose land was acquired for the Tilenga oil project, March 2023
The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is one of the most significant fossil fuel infrastructure projects currently under development globally, connecting the Tilenga and Kingfisher oilfields in western Uganda with the port of Tanga in eastern Tanzania. As planned, the Lake Albert Development Project will include hundreds of oil wells, hundreds of kilometers of roads, camps and other infrastructure, and a 1,443-kilometer pipeline, the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world. An estimated 246,000 barrels of oil will flow each day for the projected 25 years of operation.
The first wells have been drilled in the two oilfields, infrastructure development is underway, and compensation under the land acquisition project along the pipeline corridor has been paid for 93 percent of impacted households according to TotalEnergies. In total, over 100,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania will permanently lose land to make way for the pipeline and Tilenga oilfield development, according to calculations based on project documentation.
French fossil fuel giant TotalEnergies is the principal company involved through its two East African subsidiaries, TotalEnergies EP Uganda, the operator for both EACOP and the Tilenga oilfields, and TotalEnergies East Africa Midstream. Other partners in the Tilenga oilfields (the “Tilenga consortium”) are the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) and the state-owned Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC).
EACOP is owned by a UK registered company EACOP Ltd, whose shareholders (the “EACOP consortium”) are the majority shareholder TotalEnergies EP Uganda, UNOC, the state-owned Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC), and CNOOC.
Despite numerous public statements, policies, and plans from TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries to identify and mitigate negative impacts in the project, the situation on the ground for many families who are losing land is grim. Based on over 90 interviews that Human Rights Watch conducted in early 2023, including with 75 displaced families in five districts of Uganda, this report documents the devastating impacts on livelihoods of Ugandan families from the land acquisition process.
The land acquisition process has been marred by delays, poor communication, and inadequate compensation.
Critically, Human Rights Watch found that affected households are much worse off than before. Many interviewees expressed anger that they are still awaiting the adequate compensation promised by TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries in early meetings in which company representatives extolled the virtues of the oil development.
Families described pressure and intimidation by officials from TotalEnergies EP Uganda and its subcontractors to agree to low levels of compensation that was inadequate to buy replacement land. Most of the farmers interviewed from the EACOP pipeline corridor, many of them illiterate, said that they were not aware of the terms of the agreements they signed. Those who have refused signing described facing constant pressure from company officials, threats of court action, and harassment from local government and security officials.
Many families, particularly along the pipeline corridor, said that they were not being offered the option of replacement land and instead were pressured to accept cash settlements that were below the cost to replace land. For those living in the Tilenga oilfields who have withstood the pressure and insisted on replacement land in line with international standards, have had their land expropriated through the Ugandan courts that have deposited compensation funds in lieu of replacement land. Residents who did sign say the compensation amounts received are far below what they need to purchase replacement lands. Those families, who have purchased replacement land with their compensation, have typically bought less land, with poorer soil quality, located farther away, and with land costs steadily increasing in many of the areas of proposed oil development, partly due to land speculation.
TotalEnergies EP Uganda also took three to five years after initial property evaluations were carried out to pay compensation. According to TotalEnergies, this was due to delays in “finalization of the various legal and legal documents necessary for land acquisitions” and Covid-19 constraints.
In a June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch, TotalEnergies stated that the “Tilenga and EACOP projects continue to pay close attention to the respect of the rights of the communities concerned,” and reiterated their view that compensation paid met the standard of “full replacement value.” TotalEnergies also outlined additional measures taken in response to delays, including a 15 percent per year “uplift" allowance that was “aimed at mitigating the effects of these delays on the PAPs in their daily lives” and details of the livelihood program that is planned to operate for “at least 3 years after land acquisition or until livelihoods are fully restored.”
However, these delays in payment, lack of replacement land, and inadequate compensation have left many families poorer and unsure about the future. Many described being largely self-sufficient before the oil project began, using revenue from coffee, bananas, and other cash crops to pay for school fees and other household expenses. During the delays, many farmers understood they were not permitted to access their land to tend perennial crops, depriving them of crucial income. Residents described how the delays impacted their food security, buying food they would have grown previously to feed their families by resorting to selling household assets, including livestock, or borrowing from predatory lenders at excessive rates to pay their expenses. Families described their inability to pay school fees and anguish over their children or grandchildren dropping out of school.
Unkept promises about relocation of burial sites, improvement in quality of life, and lack of clarity about future livelihood support around Tilenga have further eroded trust between affected communities and the oil companies.
TotalEnergies’ practices so far on EACOP’s land acquisition process have been inconsistent with its expressed commitment to uphold relevant international standards. TotalEnergies has repeatedly stated its commitment to International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard #5 on Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement; the Equator Principles, a financial industry benchmark for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects; and other international human rights standards in its land acquisition programs, including in its June 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch.
IFC Performance Standard #5 requires that adequate compensation be paid, that it is paid in a timely manner, and that livelihoods must be restored or enhanced from pre-disturbance levels.
In response to numerous civil society criticism of the EACOP land acquisition program, TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries have developed various land acquisition policies and plans to guide it to meet these commitments. However, Human Rights Watch found that there is a significant gap between TotalEnergies’ commitments to pay adequate compensation and restore or enhance livelihoods and the reality on the ground. Interviewees repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that compensation amounts received were not adequate to purchase replacement land and said they were worse off than they were previously. The delays in payment of compensation also caused significant hardship and impacts on livelihoods.
Beyond the human rights harms to the communities directly affected by the land acquisition process of TotalEnergies EP Uganda, the project raises broader environmental concerns in the area. The EACOP pipeline and oilfields will disturb some of Africa’s most sensitive ecosystems, including Murchison Falls National Park and the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site. Pipeline ruptures, inadequate waste handling, and other pollution impacts would cause significant damage to sensitive ecosystems – to the land, water, air, and the species that rely on them.
These potential harms are not unique to EACOP but are illustrative of fossil fuel projects around the world, including the Niger Delta in Nigeria, the United States, and numerous other places. What distinguishes EACOP in this regard is the scale of the project and the sensitivity of impacted ecosystems.
Lastly, and equally importantly, the EACOP project will contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate crisis from the burning of fossil fuels. The full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of the project are estimated by the Climate Accountability Institute at 379 million tonnes of CO2E – more than the annual emissions of Australia.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other experts warn that no new fossil fuel projects can be built if we are to reach Paris Agreement goals and limit the worst impacts of climate change. EACOP will be an ongoing disaster for the planet, contributing to the climate crisis that impacts a range of human rights, and therefore should not be built.
Opposition to the EACOP project is widespread. Civil society groups in Uganda and Tanzania have called on the pipeline not to be built, as has a 2022 European Parliament resolution, and various UN Special Rapporteur statements. Legal challenges in Uganda, France, and at the East African Court of Justice, some of them ongoing at time of publication, have added to uncertainty about the project’s viability.
Finance for the EACOP project is still not in place, with TotalEnergies reporting in March 2023 that it still needs to secure 60 percent, or US$3 billion, for the pipeline to proceed. At the time of publication, at least 24 financial institutions and 23 insurance companies have publicly stated an unwillingness to support the project due to its climate, environmental, or human rights risks. Financial institutions, insurance companies, and others face reputational damage by supporting EACOP because of these risks, including through its land acquisition program that does not meet international standards and causes human rights harms to the affected communities.
Whether or not EACOP is completed, TotalEnergies EP Uganda and other companies involved in financing, construction and operation of the project should ensure that the livelihoods of affected households are restored or enhanced to pre-project levels in line with international standards.
While Uganda has significant energy needs, it has other energy options. It does not need fossil fuels to tackle energy poverty. The country has abundant renewable clean energy resources it can develop to reach economic development goals without further impoverishing those in the way of the pipeline and contributing to further climate change.
Uganda has signed onto numerous agreements that commit it to build a future for clean energy. Financial institutions and countries committed to taking action to tackle the climate crisis by limiting fossil fuel development should help Uganda embrace its sustainable renewable energy potential through direct finance and other forms of support. The increased availability of finance and other forms of support to help Uganda tackle energy poverty through renewable clean energy development will simultaneously disincentivize the development of Uganda’s fossil fuel sector.
To the Owners and Operators of the Tilenga and EACOP Consortia, TotalEnergies and its Subsidiaries, CNOOC, UNOC and TPDC
- Take all necessary measures to ensure that the enjoyment of rights of everyone who has lost land is not harmed as a result of the project, and that compensation levels be aligned with international human rights standards.
- Upgrade compensation amounts to ensure they are in line with international human rights standards and best practices for land acquisition. Review past compensation practices to ensure that amounts paid reflect the cost to replace land at the time compensation was paid and promptly provide supplemental compensation to reflect changes in replacement cost. Promptly publish the results of this review.
- Pay additional allowances as necessary to make up for lost revenue from multi-year delays and miscommunications about restrictions on land access and maturation of trees.
- Issue clear instructions to subcontractors to ensure the option of land-for-land compensation is offered, and to ensure adequate time and resources are built into land acquisition processes to explain in local languages what is being proposed, the contents of the forms, and to permit affected people to ask questions.
- Take all necessary measures to prevent subcontractors from using any form of intimidation to coerce Project Affected Persons (PAPs) into signing documents, including, but not limited to, implied threats of legal action.
- Significantly increase the amount budgeted and activities to be undertaken to restore and enhance livelihoods from pre-disturbance levels including provision of school fees for a period of time given delays in compensation payments and the increased costs of replacement land since livelihood restoration plans were developed.
- Offer to acquire so-called orphaned land or compensate for decline in value and restrictions on access.
To the Government of Uganda
- Provide adequate oversight to ensure TotalEnergies, partners, and their subsidiaries are compliant with the approved Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) and implement planned livelihood restoration and enhancement activities in a rights-respecting way in compliance with international standards.
- Ensure increased livelihood restoration support given lost income from delays and significantly increased replacement cost since rates provided.
- Increase land and crop compensation rates on an annual basis to reflect rapidly changing costs of replacement land, inflation rates, and revenue generating potential of crops.
- Adopt and implement a robust and rights-respecting climate mitigation policy consistent with the best available science – which would include the cancelation of the EACOP project – and focus energy sector development on a rapid, just and equitable implementation of renewable clean energy.
To Financial Institutions and Insurance Companies Considering Providing Support to TotalEnergies, its Subsidiaries or Partners
- To combat the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and its effect on climate change, do not provide support, financial or otherwise, for development of EACOP or associated projects. Publicly state a commitment to not fund EACOP.
This report is based primarily on 94 interviews conducted in March and April 2023. Of these, 83 were with individuals living in Sembabule, Lwengo, Rakai, Bulisa, and Kyotera districts in Uganda who have been impacted by the land acquisition program in the Tilenga oilfields and along the EACOP pipeline corridor.
All 94 interviews were in person. To gain as broad a perspective as possible, we interviewed men and women with a wide range of backgrounds, ages, livelihoods, and with different experiences of the compensation process. Out of the 83 interviews with affected people, 52 were men and 31 were women. Seventeen were over the age of 60. Ten of the interviews were with women who headed households.
In addition to the 83 affected individuals, we also interviewed 11 people who were not displaced but had other firsthand experiences with the land acquisition process, including local village chiefs, school principals, nongovernmental organization representatives, and activists.
Some interviews were conducted in English, but most were translated from local languages into English. No one interviewed for this report was offered any form of compensation. All interviewees were informed of the purpose of the interview and its voluntary nature, including their right to stop the interview at any point, and gave informed consent to be interviewed.
Some interviewees who have been interviewed previously by the media or civil society groups have reported experiencing harassment or intimidation from oil company subcontractors or government officials. Consequently, all interviewees have been assigned pseudonyms.
Throughout the research, Human Rights Watch took various precautions to verify the credibility of interviewees’ statements. Unless otherwise specified, all the patterns of abuse described in this report are based on a variety of independent sources including interviews and secondary material.
We reviewed dozens of nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports, media articles, government documents, social media posts, compensation documents, and project documents from EACOP.
This report focuses on two consortia: the “Tilenga consortium” made up of TotalEnergies EP Uganda, the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), the Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC); and the “EACOP consortium” comprised of TotalEnergies East Africa Midstream, CNOOC, UNOC, and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC). In both cases, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies – TotalEnergies EP Uganda – is the majority owner and operator.
Human Rights Watch wrote letters with our findings and queries to TotalEnergies on May 26, 2023, and Atacama Consulting, Newplan Group, CNOOC, UNOC, and TPDC on June 2, 2023. TotalEnergies responded on June 15, 2023. Atacama Consulting responded on June 22, 2023. Human Rights Watch met with UNOC on June 21, 2023. Written responses from Newplan Group, CNOOC, UNOC, and TPDC had not been received at the time of publishing. Human Rights Watch’s communications are included in Annex A. TotalEnergies’ and Atacama Consulting’s responses are included in Annex B.
Human Rights Watch chose to research and report on EACOP because the oil project poses significant risks of human rights harms to the local population, has major climate change implications, and incurred actual harms on people whose lands were needed for the development during early implementation of the project. EACOP is important as part of the broader discussion about fossil fuel infrastructure amidst a rapidly changing global energy context and devastating harms from the worsening climate crisis. The livelihood risks and the consortia’s approach to managing risk are illustrative of issues around land acquisition for many fossil fuel infrastructure projects globally.
While this report is about EACOP’s impact on livelihoods in Uganda, over 70 percent of displaced households for the EACOP pipeline are in Tanzania, where 1,147 kilometers of the pipeline are located. Other reports have documented similar impacts in Tanzania as those described in this report.
The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)
The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a 1,443 kilometer pipeline intended to transport crude oil from the Tilenga and Kingfisher oilfields in western Uganda to the port of Tanga on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline for export. The pipeline is designed, constructed, financed, and will be operated by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Limited (EACOP Ltd.), incorporated in the United Kingdom. The pipeline’s shareholders, the “EACOP consortium,” are TotalEnergies EP Uganda (62 percent), Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) (15 percent), Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) (15 percent), and China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) (8 percent). TotalEnergies EP Uganda, a wholly owned subsidiary of TotalEnergies is the operator for the land acquisition program for the pipeline.
Two oilfields will produce the oil transported by EACOP. The Tilenga oilfield in western Uganda will produce 204,000 barrels per day from about 400 oil wells on 31 well pads, including the drilling of 130 wells on 10 well pads in Murchison Falls National Park. The Tilenga oilfield is owned by the “Tilenga consortium”: TotalEnergies EP Uganda (56.67 percent), CNOOC (28.33 percent), and UNOC (15 percent). TotalEnergies EP Uganda is the operator. The second oilfield, Kingfisher, along the shores of Lake Albert, is operated by CNOOC and will produce 42,000 barrels per day from 31 oil wells on 4 well pads. A series of access roads, feeder pipelines and other associated infrastructure connects well sites to a Central Processing Facility in each oilfield. A long-planned refinery in Hoima close to the Kingfisher oilfield is expected to refine up to 60,000 barrels per day for distribution to Ugandan and regional markets, reducing the need for the import of fuel products through the port of Mombasa, Kenya, 1,150 kilometers away by road. Most of Tilenga and Kingfisher oil is destined for export outside of Africa regardless of whether the refinery ever gets built. When completed the pipeline would be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world.
The financial advisors for the pipeline, essentially those institutions that are to arrange and structure loans or other methods of financing, are Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and Standard Bank of South Africa. Financing for the pipeline is yet to be finalized, although in March 2023, a TotalEnergies official stated that the company anticipates that funding should be in place by the end of 2023. At time of publication, 24 financial institutions and 23 insurance companies have indicated they will not provide finance or insurance. Taken together, the “Lake Albert Development project” will cost an estimated $10 billion.
The first well was drilled at Kingfisher in January 2023. In Tilenga, construction on roads, camps, the Central Processing Facility and other infrastructure is ongoing.
The oilfields lie in one of the most sensitive and ecologically diverse areas of the world, at the crossroads of Lake Albert, Africa’s seventh largest lake and the headwaters of Africa’s main basins for the Nile and Congo Rivers; the Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest protected nature reserve; and the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar wetland system. It is estimated that over one million people in the Murchison watershed depend upon it for fishing and water, while Lake Albert alone is the largest contributor to Uganda’s fishing industry, sustaining an estimated 43 percent of the country’s fisheries.14 Over one-third of the pipeline, over 400 kilometers, runs alongside Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria — a primary water source for more than 40 million people. The pipeline will pass through seven forest reserves and two game reserves covering 295 kilometers of conserved and protected lands.
The Land Acquisition Program
Thousands of households are impacted by the land acquisition program. In the Tilenga oilfields, 5,511 households will lose significant portions of their land to feeder pipelines, well pads, roads, the Central Processing Facility, and other infrastructure. In Kingfisher oilfields, 680 households will lose land. In total, 13,305 households (3,792 of them in Uganda and 9,513 in Tanzania), will lose land within the 30-meter EACOP pipeline corridor and from associated infrastructure (camps, pump stations, access roads, etc.). EACOP will also require the relocation of 599 houses, 1,550 graves, and a number of schools and other buildings according to project documentation. Most of these households are small-scale farmers growing banana, coffee, maize, beans, cassava, and other crops on small plots of land.
Land for EACOP and the Tilenga oilfields is being acquired under the provision of the Ugandan Constitution on “compulsory land acquisition” for land that is “necessary for public use,” according to EACOP’s government-approved Resettlement Action Plan (RAP). Article 26 requires “[p]rompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.”
In Tilenga, operator TotalEnergies EP Uganda hired Atacama Consulting, a Ugandan environmental consulting firm, to facilitate land acquisition. TotalEnergies EP Uganda hired the Newplan Group, a company headquartered in Uganda, to facilitate land acquisition along EACOP. These firms facilitate all aspects of the land acquisition process, managing compensation and the transfer of lands to the Ugandan Land Commission. The land is then leased back from the Ugandan Land Commission to the operators for 66 years as per the Host Government Agreement. In addition to Atacama and Newplan, residents who spoke to Human Rights Watch described TotalEnergies EP Uganda representatives as being present at most public meetings and many of the in-person visits, particularly in Tilenga.
There are various plans, policies and assessments that outline TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries’ approach to the land acquisition process. For the pipeline corridor, there are 5 different Resettlement Action Plans in Uganda and 12 in Tanzania that outline the process and approach to compensation and livelihood restoration in Uganda and Tanzania.
Land Tenure in Uganda
There are four types of land tenure in Uganda: customary, freehold, leasehold, and mailo, and each is present along the EACOP pipeline corridor. Customary tenure allows for individual, household, and communal ownership of land managed in accordance with the traditions, customs, and norms of the community. Freehold is essentially titled land, and usually involves the holding of land in perpetuity. Leasehold land is where the holder grants rights to another party to occupy and use land for a defined period, usually in exchange for payment. Mailo is a land tenure system unique to Uganda. It is similar to freehold except it derives from the Ugandan aristocratic class and is limited to Central Uganda. According to TotalEnergies EP Uganda, the “the valued Project affected land for compensation” along the pipeline corridor is 41 percent mailo, 19 percent freehold, 19 percent leasehold, 17 percent customary, and 4 percent unknown. Mailo is the dominant land tenure system in Kyotera, Rakai, and Lwengo districts. In Sembabule district, freehold is dominant, and in Bulisa district, customary land is dominant. Leasehold is more common in Sembabule and Bulisa than in the other three districts examined.
In total, over 118,000 people live in the households losing land to the project. Project documents repeatedly refer to “Project Affected Persons” (PAPs), a term that is used by journalists, government officials, and activists alike. “Project Affected Persons” dramatically understates the number of people, especially children, affected by the project, as it refers to households, not individuals. TotalEnergies in their June 15 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch also use the term “Project Affected Persons” in quantifying the number of households whose land needs to be acquired. TotalEnergies states that the land acquisition program involves 19,098 households. This is a higher number of households than what was used to calculate the number of impacted individuals by Les Amis de le Terre France and Survie. Average household sizes in the areas of the pipeline, and in particular in Tilenga, are high with many individuals reporting more than 10 children and economic activities from land acquired often supporting far more than that.
According to TotalEnergies’ June 15 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch, 97 percent of compensation agreements in Tilenga have been signed and 97 percent had been paid out as of the end of May 2023. For EACOP, 96 percent of compensation agreements have been signed and 93 percent paid out in Uganda. According to TotalEnergies’ 2023 Climate and Sustainability report in Tanzania, 98 percent had been signed and 97 percent paid out as of the end of 2022.
TotalEnergies has set aside $45 million for the land acquisition program for the pipeline, including $15 million for compensation and $15 million for livelihood restoration according to its Resettlement Action Plan. This represents less than 1 percent of the estimated cost of the pipeline.
TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries have repeatedly stated a commitment to comply with international standards and best practices including International Finance Corporation Performance Standard #5 on Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement (“IFC Performance Standard 5”) and the Equator Principles. Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles). TotalEnergies in public statements has committed to respecting the UN Guiding Principles, alongside the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
“Before our land was taken for the CPF [Central Processing Facility], we used to grow cassava, groundnuts, and maize. This is what I grew my 11 children and my 30 grandchildren on. Now that land is all gone. Now I fetch firewood and sell in Waseko on the side of the road [8 kilometers away] and we have to do some fish trading to have a few things to eat. Now our children are not going to school, we have heavy debts… [T]his is development they say? We are now poor.”
— Woman, 79, living adjacent to the Central Processing Facility in the Tilenga oilfields, who lost all 5.5 acres to the Central Processing Facility, March 2023
The IFC Performance Standard applicable to TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries are clear. Those displaced from their land must have their livelihoods restored or enhanced and compensation is required for loss of assets at replacement cost. TotalEnergies has repeatedly stated it will comply with these standards and has affirmed repeatedly that “compensation is proposed to meet full replacement value.”
Multi-year delays in compensation payments, compensation amounts below the cost of replacement land, a series of procedural problems, all poorly communicated have left many households substantially worse off than before the land acquisition process started.
EACOP has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on various human rights of the affected people, including to food, health, livelihood, and education.
While livelihood restoration programs have yet to be implemented by TotalEnergies EP Uganda following land acquisition, many livelihoods, particularly around Tilenga oilfields, have been devastated by the land acquisition program. Significant effort will be needed by TotalEnergies EP Uganda to restore or enhance livelihoods. These efforts will need to be far greater than what has been envisioned and is contained in Livelihood Restoration strategies in the Resettlement Action Plans and in other documents.
“Let’s say someone wants your cow. You agree on a price of 3M [million ush] but they don’t pay for five years. And for that five years you have to take care of the cow but aren’t allowed to use its milk. It makes no sense.”
— Cattle rancher, 50, from Sembabule district, describing delays in compensation, March 2023
Most lands were initially evaluated in 2017-2019. Compensation was not received until three to five years later, in 2022 or 2023. Considerable hardship accrued from these delays that were also poorly communicated amidst confusion over ability to access crops during this time.
In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, TotalEnergies state that delays were “related to the finalization of the various legal and legal documents necessary for land acquisitions, [and] the implementation schedule for these acquisitions was impacted by the constraints induced by the Covid-19 pandemic (confinement, limitation of travel, in particular between different regions)."
Inconsistent Approach to Uplift Allowance
In response to the delays, TotalEnergies announced that it would apply an uplift of additional financial compensation of 15 percent per year for the period between valuation of the inventory and payment in Uganda. TotalEnergies in its June 15, 2023 response to Human Rights Watch stated “These measures were aimed at mitigating the effects of these delays on the PAPs in their daily lives.”  In practice, most people interviewed by Human Rights Watch only received 30 percent (two years of 15 percent) even though compensation delays, in many cases, were between three and five years. One man said: “This was grossly inadequate to make up for several years of diminished or no revenue from lost land.” Another man said: “For three years, I did not access my coffee plants. Two kids dropped out of school. My revenue went from 4 million [ush] to 1 million [ush] a year. They gave me 30 percent.”
Lost Access to Perennial Crops
Properties were initially valued between 2017-2019 and oil company representatives told people the land would be acquired “very soon,” “quickly,” or within “six months” at public meetings. They were told they could only access their land from that time to grow “annual” crops (maize, beans, etc., typically ready in three months) and that they should not access land to tend perennial crops (coffee, bananas, cassava, vanilla, and other cash crops). There was a range of understandings among farmers whether this meant they could not access perennial crops for harvest or merely could not tend to the perennial crops – to weed, prune, and fertilize them. There was also confusion around the “cut-off date.”
IFC Performance Standard 5 defines “cut-off date” as “the date of completion of the census and assets inventory of persons affected by the project. Persons occupying the project area after the cut-off date are not eligible for compensation and/or resettlement assistance.” However, many farmers understood it to be the date after which they could not access their land either for annual or perennial crops.
Human Rights Watch found no cases in which government officials or company officials enforced these prohibitions. However, a large majority of interviewees, particularly along the pipeline corridor, told Human Rights Watch they stopped putting time and money into crop maintenance because they understood the land would be taken imminently and many did not harvest perennial crops in line with their understanding of the prohibitions.
For residents of most displaced households with whom Human Rights Watch spoke, compensation was only paid out in 2022 or early 2023 – a delay of between three to five years. This delay meant many households had diminished revenues from selling bananas, coffee or other cash crops for several years, but had not received compensation that would have allowed them to pay for household expenses that previously came from selling these cash crops.
TotalEnergies and its subsidiaries have acknowledged the lack of clarity around farm access, confusion around what the “cut-off date” meant, and issued a series of clarifications through public meetings, radio broadcasts, posters in key locations in villages in local languages, and other means to clarify that annual crops could still be grown but perennial crops could not be accessed. TotalEnergies, in its June 15 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch said: “It was intended from the outset that the PAPs would retain full use, ownership and possession of their land until compensation is paid and a notice of departure is issued.” Atacama Consulting in its June 22, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch stated, “PAPs were informed and encouraged to continue using (farming mainly) their land until they receive due compensation and are issued with the Notice to Vacate (NtV) by the Tilenga Project.”
Many others did harvest their cash crops but did not tend to these crops, resulting in drops in yields – often as much as 50 percent less than before. One 32-year-old man in Kyotera district said his income, which supports 10 children, dropped from 6 million ush/year ($1600) to 1 to 1.5million ush/year ($260 t0 $400) because he was prevented from accessing his coffee trees and banana plants, while a 55-year-old man from Rakai district whose land provided for a large family including 20 children, said his household’s annual income dropped from 3 million ush to 1 million ush ($800 to $260) in three years due to his inability to tend his coffee plants.
The IFC Performance Standard 5’s Guidance Note states that “the time between the establishment of the cut-off date and compensation of displaced individuals and communities should be limited. Losses generated by this restriction of land use should be compensated for by the client.”
Maturing of Cash Crops During Compensation Delays
In most districts visited, evaluators characterized trees (particularly coffee or banana) as either immature (i.e., nonproductive) or mature (i.e., productive). Mature trees are compensated as much as 10 times higher than immature trees, presumably reflecting their income-generating potential. In Bulisa district, a banana plant is considered mature if it is more than two years old. Many interviewees complained that between the time of initial evaluation (2017-2019) and when compensation was received (2022-2023), the trees that evaluators had classified as immature had since matured and were income-generating, but their compensation was not reevaluated to reflect this. For some households, this resulted in considerably less compensation than they otherwise would have received and resulted in compensation far below what they would receive from selling the crop. One man, whose income supported 13 children, said:
I had over 350 coffee trees they said were seedlings, and I would only get 8,600 ush [$2.30] each. And then I heard nothing for three years, now they are ready to pay compensation. Now those trees produce beans, and we use them to pay school fees. They are supposed to pay [for] mature trees [at] 80,600 [ush], but they refuse to update the compensation monies. I will lose the revenue from the trees and will get 3.1 million ush [$830] for these instead of 28 million ush [$7,500].
Human Rights Impacts of Delayed Compensation
Right to Education
Nearly half of the households that Human Rights Watch interviewed said that the loss of income from delays made it difficult to pay household expenses. Some expenses could be deferred until compensation payments were received, but school fees and related expenses are a regular and significant expense, particularly given many rural households have large families.
Atacama Consulting in its June 22, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch stated: “The RAPs 2-5 annual progress monitoring report released in June 2023 showed that majority of the PAPs used their compensation to pay school fees/buy school uniform for their children.”
To deal with the loss of household income, some households chose to send their children to less resourced, cheaper schools (often government schools). Others borrowed money from local money lenders to pay school fees often at interest rates of more than 30 percent per month. Some sold household assets including livestock to pay for fees, and some had children drop out of school. Human Rights Watch documented 37 cases spread across 17 families where children dropped out of school because of delays in compensation payments between 2019-2023. One 42-year-old woman said: “We had five children go to school and they got top marks. But with no coffee money anymore, two had to drop out in 2021 because we couldn’t find a way to pay the fees.”
One 16-year-old girl who had dropped out of Senior 1 in secondary school because her family could no longer pay school fees said: “I miss school. I learned so much and learned English. My best subject is mathematics. I still want to go back to school and want to be a midwife when I finish school.”
Others feared that even with livelihoods eventually restored, children may never go back to school. One 73-year-old woman said: “Two grandchildren [who were in our primary care] dropped out [in 2021]. I now have the compensation money and can pay fees but now that they have a taste of working they will never go back.”
Some of those interviewed who found ways to keep paying school fees, either by selling household assets or by using their EACOP compensation in 2022 and 2023, worry about their future ability to pay because of large debts.
Many households borrowed money at very high interest rates, often from informal money lenders in their communities after being denied access to their regular and relatively predictable revenue streams from cash crops and believing that they would soon receive significant cash payments. In about one-third of the cases Human Rights Watch documented in which individuals borrowed money, the borrowers were required to pay principal plus 100 percent with no fixed repayment dates. In other cases, borrowers were charged monthly interest rates of between 10 percent and 50 percent. One man who lost nearly all his land to the Central Processing Facility said: “I had to pay school fees and buy food for my children. Finally, I had to borrow 22 million [ush, $590] at 30 percent per month. I still owe 100 million [ush, $2,680] but I don’t even have 100,000.”
Interviewees often described routinely borrowing money before EACOP, but their relatively predictable revenue streams made this manageable, they said. They told Human Rights Watch that their diminished cash crop revenue and the delays in compensation have made the amounts they have had to borrow increase dramatically while their ability to pay the money back has decreased. The delays in compensation, high interest rates, and inability to otherwise repay debts meant that a significant quantity of compensation monies end up going to money lenders and not toward livelihood or asset restoration. One man said: “I had no debts when I had land. When I knew the compensation was coming but lost access [to my land] I borrowed 5 million at 30 percent per month. Now I owe 28 million.”
“If you want to buy something you come to me and I tell you how much it is and we negotiate. But they just dictate the rates, really low rates, and give you no choice. They are thieves!”
— 62-year-old man in Rakai district, March 2023
According to the vast majority of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the compensation paid for both land and crops were substantially below replacement cost. Crop compensation rates are set at the district level and land rates in different locations are set by the national government. A 74-year-old man from Rakai district said: “If selling to a neighbor, I sell at 5 million [ush, about $1340], but they gave me just 2.5 million [ush, $670] for the [two acres of] land.”
Another man said: “If I wanted to sell to my neighbor, then I would, and I would get 30 million [ush, about $8100] so 16 million [ush, about $4320] is not fair.”
In its correspondence with Human Rights Watch, TotalEnergies said:
“Rates for land properties and permanent buildings are decided on the basis of market analyses carried out by a registered valuer and approved by the Chief Government Valuer (CGV). Rates for crops and temporary structures are set by the District Land Boards (DLBs). […]
In addition to this compensation rate, PAPs receive a disruption allowance of 30% in Uganda and 7% in Tanzania (in accordance with Tanzanian law).
In addition to the time frame related to the finalization of various legal documents necessary for land acquisitions, the implementation schedule for these acquisitions was impacted by the constraints caused by the Covid-19 pandemic (confinement, limits on travel, particularly between different regions). In order to take this time frame into account, TEPU and EACOP decided, in conjunction with the Ugandan and Tanzanian authorities, in June 2020 to apply additional financial compensation (15% per year in Uganda and 12% in Tanzania) for the period between the inventory of the assets affected and the payment.”
In Kyotera and Sembabule districts, local NGOs and groups of EACOP-affected people pushed the district government to increase rates, and they were increased in 2021. But they were still below the costs for replacement land, even taking into account the disturbance allowance and “uplift” allowance. In some cases rates varied widely between districts. For example, in 2022 a mature coffee tree in Kyotera was 33,000 ush ($8.80), while in neighboring Lwengo district it was 88,400 ush ($23.70).
Interviewees told Human Rights Watch that when asked about compensation offered, TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s subcontractors said they should complain to the district government because that is where rates were set. A local community monitor in Rakai district said: “I speak to the oil people [TotalEnergies EP Uganda and NewPlan] about low rates. They blame the district constantly. ‘What can we do?’ they say. ‘We cannot make our own. We follow theirs.’”
Low compensation amounts have been raised repeatedly by numerous NGOs and flagged as a risk in EACOP’s own Human Rights Impact Assessment.
Atacama Consulting in their June 22, 2023 letter described undertaking market research on land rates in September 2022 in nine villages in Bulisa district and found “both increasing and decreasing land values in comparison to the approved land rates adopted for the compensation purposes.”
They found that:
[I]n general, there is the potential for inflation in land prices in villages that are close to the industrial area and alongside newly paved roads. This inflation is a normal feature of construction projects and usually only lasts during the Project construction phase. Land markets stabilize as landowners are able to understand the long-term circumstances for the land market. In other areas, land appears to be available at rates equal to or lower than the Tilenga project’s compensation rate.
Inability to Acquire Replacement Land
Under IFC Performance Standard 5, a company must provide “compensation for loss of assets at full replacement cost.” TotalEnergies states in its June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch that the principle of “full replacement value” “was applied by the projects in both countries.” TotalEnergies does not elaborate further on how the various compensation payments, including the uplift allowance, meet the requirement of “full replacement cost.” Atacama Consulting in its June 22, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch stated that “The Tilenga project established that, upon addition of the statutory disturbance allowance (30%), the proposed Land Rates for the different affected villages and approved DCR were indeed at full replacement cost.”
Numerous interviewees described not being able to buy adequate replacement land with the compensation they received, due to the high costs of alternative land. What land individuals were able to purchase was usually smaller, had less cash crops on it, poorer soil, or was far away from where they lived, incurring additional transportation costs.
One man who had been supporting 13 children from his land said: “We are forced to sell at pre-oil prices and forced to buy at oil prices. I was given [assessed] 5 million/acre [$1,300] in 2018. But by the time they paid my compensation in 2022, land had gone up so much and was 15 to 20 million/acre [$4,000 to $5,300]. We can’t buy replacement land with these low rates. They didn’t change them.”
Village chiefs and numerous residents attributed the rising cost of land to land speculation, inflation, available land being acquired by industrial companies, and to a combination of a tight supply and increased demand due to oil development. In addition, some interviewees described prices going up when a seller found any potential buyer had “oil money.” One 57-year-old mother of six said: “When they know you have oil, 3 million ush [$800] land becomes 10 million ush [$2650].”
Threats and Intimidation to Obtain Consent
Several interviewees described feeling threatened by TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s subcontractors, often at public meetings, that if they were not willing to sign the different agreements, then the courts would take their land. Interviewees had different understandings about whether this meant they would receive compensation or not should the court award land to the project. Going to court for a rural Ugandan is an expensive and intimidating prospect. One man said: “The moment they threaten you with court, you quickly agree. I have no money for a lawyer or know how to go to court. I don’t know any NGOs that can help. So you agree to avoid these problems.”
Atacama Consulting in their June 22, 2023 letter acknowledged that while land can be expropriated for “public use” by the Ugandan government, “[t]his however, is not a threat of court action. […] It is however understandable that, some PAPs may have interpreted the GoU’s right of compulsory acquisition under the Law and the possibility of court action, as pressure threat. This is not the intention or design of the disclosure process.” They also stated that “[t]he RAP team procedures and implementation do not include pressure as this is not necessary. […] PAPs are free to choose their path.”
Many interviewees said that they did not want to sign the agreements. They eventually signed after what they described as feeling various forms of pressure by TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s subcontractors, including having very limited time to ask questions or their inability to understand the contents of forms. In addition to the threat of court, when they raised concerns, many described being told by TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s subcontractors that “your neighbor signed, why can’t you?” They also described a heavy emphasis on only the positive side of compensation, that is, the large lump-sum payment, with little attention on the negatives of loss of land and livelihoods. One 79-year-old man said: “In my heart I said no, but because I thought government would be hard on me, I gave in and signed.”
Interviewees also described feeling intimidated by a series of four-wheel-drive vehicles that would pull up at their isolated farms, without prior notice, and begin counting or measuring their crops with little communication about why they were there. A number of people also said that the presence of government and security officials at public meetings contributed to an aura of intimidation.
However, the situation was quite different for people living at the Tilenga oilfields who refused to sign compensation forms and accept what was being offered. They described a steady barrage of visits from Atacama, TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s community liaison officers (CLOs), and private and government security officials. One man said: “They regularly harass me. One time the [government] soldiers stopped me on that road right there [pointing to a road close to a house and the central processing facility] and kept me there for two hours asking why I was against the oil project.”
Atacama Consulting stated in their June 23, 2023 letter that, “It is always emphasized to staff that it is not just about having documents signed but ensuring that the PAP understands the reason as to why a specific document is signed.”
Some interviewees, particularly along the EACOP corridor, said that they were not aware of what they were signing at different stages of the compensation process. Most had no legal representation at these different stages, although TotalEnergies in its June 15, 2023 letter stated that third-party legal counsel was available for PAPs for provision of legal advice. No interviewees told Human Rights Watch they were aware of the option of third party legal counsel. Atacama Consulting in their June 22, 2023 letter stated: “On the team, that engages the PAPs, there is a legal counsel (i.e., lawyer) that notifies the PAP of his rights including the right to refuse to sign if they are not comfortable with the contents of the documents.”
Literacy rates in many of the areas along the pipeline corridor, particularly among farmers, are very low. Forms are in English, a language few speak or read in rural areas along the pipeline corridor, and not local languages. A few interviewees received basic translations of the forms, after asking TotalEnergies EP Uganda or subcontractor officials for clarification, but most were not even offered this service. TotalEnergies in their June 15 2023 letter stated that “Illiterate PAPs or PAPs more comfortable in other languages benefit from additional support and assistance from translators from the local community.” Atacama Consulting in their June 22, 2023 letter stated that they tried “to ensure that there is an interpreter/translator to help interpret contents of all documents presented to PAPs in their local language.” They also described the steps they took to ensure there was effective translation.
In many cases, interviewees said they were unable to respond to basic questions from Human Rights Watch about the land they had lost or the number of trees counted because they could not read the forms they had signed. They asked Human Rights Watch researchers to assist in explaining information on forms. Some said that it was only after they had signed that they realized they had given away their land at below replacement cost rates or that there were problems with the crop inventory on the forms. This was usually after friends or local NGOs had offered to explain the forms. One man summarized what many described: “If you are wise you can benefit from the oil, but if you are illiterate like us it will be a problem. They take advantage and your land is gone.”
Interviewees identified some procedural concerns with the land acquisition process that have contributed to a range of harms.
Lack of Option for Land-for-Land (“In Kind”) Assistance
International standards set out that “in-kind” compensation, including alternative land, is the preferred option for development related displacement. TotalEnergies in its June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch states that “PAPs with a house or land can choose between monetary compensation and in-kind compensation such as housing and replacement land.”
While Human Rights Watch research found that “in-kind” support was routinely offered for loss of a primary house, very few people said that they were offered replacement land, particularly along the pipeline corridor. A number of interviewees said they would have accepted replacement land if it was offered to them, while others were satisfied with cash regardless of what was offered. The EACOP Resettlement Action Plan states that “project support for securing replacement agricultural land would be offered only to potentially vulnerable PAPs and those with limited remaining land (≤0.5 acres or lose ≥80% of land parcel) with customary land tenure only.”
At the Tilenga oilfield, where families lost the largest amount of land, most individuals were offered the choice of cash or “in-kind” compensation. A number of those who chose “land-for-land” compensation have been subject to additional delays, poorly communicated, and in some cases, court action to acquire land. These individuals have had their land acquired, have not received replacement land, and had compensation monies deposited in bank accounts for them.
Atacama Consulting in their June 22, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch stated that “all PAPs who lost land as a result of the Tilenga Project were offered in-kind compensation as an option.” They also stated that PAPs who chose “land-for-land” were:
“[…] requested to identify land of their preference, the identified land is subjected to site suitability checks such as ensuring access to social amenities, future development checks, productivity of the land in terms of arable capability and legal due diligence checks so as to ensure the replacement land does not have any incumbrance.
One of the biggest frustrations expressed by those who live around the Tilenga oilfields was the designation of their homes as “secondary houses” instead of “primary houses.” Many people around Tilenga oilfields live in large extended families and have large, varied land holdings used for cattle rearing and cultivation. Many people have multiple structures for various reasons, including because they have large extended families or they may live at depending on the time of year. Only “primary houses” are eligible for “in-kind” assistance, namely rebuilding of the house in a different location, while secondary housing is compensated at lower compensation rates than primary structures. This was problematic for a number of displaced people as they had structures classified as secondary houses by TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s subcontractor yet told Human Rights Watch that was the only home they lived in year-round, resulting in less compensation and no offer of that house being rebuilt elsewhere. One man said: “I haven’t lived anywhere else for five years, yet they consider it secondary. So they won’t rebuild it, and the money they gave is half of what it would cost to rebuild.”
Human Rights Watch visited a variety of houses that EACOP had rebuilt and viewed many others. Generally, people’s experiences have been positive and the new houses are at least as large, better built, and contain amenities that did not exist in previous houses, such as solar power and rainwater collection.
In some locations, the pipeline corridor is unreasonably close to homes, sometimes just three to four meters away. Interviewees said that TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s subcontractors told them they were unwilling to acquire those houses and compensate and rebuild or compensate for disturbance due to construction. A number of interviewees were told if there were cracks or other damage to housing from pipeline construction (like there has been in Tilenga) they would be compensated for damage and at least one was told they would be relocated to temporary housing during construction.
Inadequate Compensation for Grave Relocations
Practices around compensation and relocation in relation to graves varied widely across and within the five different districts and among different evaluators. Graves in the area vary from concrete tombs with ornate headstones to various unmarked graves. TotalEnergies EP Uganda and its subcontractors often arranged for relocation of graves themselves in consultation with affected family members, particularly when new houses were also being built. Some compensation was offered for rituals required for reinternment of loved ones according to different belief systems, but usually far below the actual costs, adding to the frustration with low compensation, delays in payment, and subsequent challenges paying for household expenses.
In Tilenga, according to Atacama Consulting, there is no “cash compensation for affected cultural heritage assets including graves but rather, provides in-kind facilitation/support in the relocation of the affected cultural assets from the project area to a relocation area selected by the PAP themselves.”
Interviewees said the relocation and reinternment of remains of loved ones was stressful and lack of adequate compensation for rituals around reinternment exacerbated the stress. Several commitments made by TotalEnergies EP Uganda and their subcontractors about compensation have not been met, according to community members interviewed.
A 48-year-old father of 10 in Rakai district described the relocation of his mother’s grave: “The relocation was fine but they only provided 600,000 ush in compensation, while the cost of the [reinternment and rituals] was 1.2 million ush. My mother [her remains] had to be moved for their project. Why should I be out of pocket for that?”
In most locations, land acquired for the pipeline corridor is a 30-meter right-of-way. This effectively bisects many land parcels, often leaving small parcels of land “orphaned” from other portions of land that contained people’s homes. A number of interviewees said that TotalEnergies EP Uganda was not willing to acquire these lands or offer compensation for this “orphaned land.” TotalEnergies EP Uganda reportedly told people that it would consider acquiring that land “at some point in the future.”
However, the Resettlement Action Plan states that TotalEnergies EP Uganda’s approach: “will be to compensate for unviable residual land pieces but not to acquire these small pieces of unviable residual land.” There are standards under Ugandan law to allow for the compensation of “orphaned land.” TotalEnergies, in its June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch, stated: “After the determination of the land to be acquired by the project, small plots of land, called ‘orphan land,’ may sometimes remain. In this case, a compensation offer is made. For example, in the framework of EACOP, an offer is made when the remaining land is 20% or less of a PAP's plot or less than 0.5 acres (outside a town or municipality).”
Residents also said that these pieces of land had effectively lost much of its resale value, and they could not sustainably use it for certain livelihood strategies (particularly cattle rearing). TotalEnergies in its letter to Human Rights Watch stated that the “the loss of value of orphan land will be established during and after construction. In fact, the valuation and compensation of these lands will therefore be carried out during and after construction.”
Inaccessible Grievance Mechanism
TotalEnergies has a grievance redress mechanism that, according to TotalEnergies’ June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch, meets the effectiveness requirements of principle 31 of the UN Guiding Principles. However, Human Rights Watch found that interviewees were generally unaware that this formal process existed despite TotalEnergies stating in their June 15 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch: “To date, 785 complaints have been registered on Tilenga and 759 have been processed; on EACOP, 1,207 complaints have been registered and 1,159 have been processed.” In contrast, Atacama Consulting in their June 22, 2023 letter stated: “While grievances have been lodged using the Tilenga project’s formal grievance mechanism which allows for, within its escalation levels, independent third parties, that can assist in mediating grievances, no PAPs have raised grievances with the Project's process or approach.”
Four of the seven individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had submitted grievances through this mechanism – often through local NGOs – have not had their complaints resolved. They said that they received an acknowledgment of the complaint but no communication since that they were aware of. Some of these complaints go back to 2018.
Impacts on Livelihoods and Next Steps
While all of EACOP’s Resettlement Action Plans describe livelihood restoration as coming after land acquisition is complete, the delays in compensation, low compensation amount, and other procedural challenges have devastated livelihoods in a short period of time. Most interviewees, including those who have received compensation, said that they were now worse off than before their land was acquired.
Many interviewees said that they were previously largely food self-sufficient prior to losing their land. Shortfalls were made up by purchasing food with cash crop revenues (coffee, bananas, vanilla, etc.). After losing their land to EACOP they were forced to routinely buy food, either by selling household assets or incurring more debt, without the revenue generating land needed to pay back that debt. “My land was my bank,” said one man. “It was my source of income. Now I buy food, I didn’t before.”
The compensation process has left people with less land, and with replacement land that is usually smaller, less productive and farther away. This has endangered household food security, while delays have led to increasing debt burdens, children dropping out of school, and considerable frustration over the compensation program. Many residents described receiving food rations recently as an interim measure to help with some of the decline in income but also described it as inadequate to support families either because it was not provided consistently or was not of sufficient quantities. Atacama Consulting in its July 22, 2023 letter stated the “food package” was developed using a tool that plans, calculates, and monitors “the nutritional value of food assistance… with the quantities based on calculations linked to the socio-economic data available of the PAHs [Project-Affected Households.”
The Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP) is included in the government-approved Resettlement Action Plan and includes various options for restoration or enhancement of livelihoods including training for improving agricultural production, financial literacy training, and vocational training. TotalEnergies reiterates these options in their June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch. 
Any livelihood restoration program, unless its ambition and funding are dramatically scaled-up beyond what is envisioned in the EACOP Resettlement Action Plans originally drafted in 2018, is going to have significant challenges restoring livelihoods to pre-disturbance levels and avoiding impacts on various rights, including the rights to food, education, and health. TotalEnergies in their June 15, 2023 letter to Human Rights Watch underscore that livelihood restoration programs are to be “implemented for at least 3 years after land acquisition or until livelihoods are fully restored.” Despite this, there has been a lack of clearly communicated timelines from TotalEnergies EP Uganda to PAPs on when these forms of desperately needed livelihood support will be provided.
Interviewees described being hopeful the project will improve their lives during initial phases of consultation. One man said:
According to the sensitization [early community meetings], I love the project. …They promised a future from level one [in living standards] to four. We put our hope in them…the oil should make us better off, not make us worse off. [I am] holding out because Total promised in that first meeting an improvement in living standards and I want them to keep their promise, but they’re off to a bad start.
Future Risks Posed by EACOP
“We don’t want another Niger Delta.”
— 51-year-old man in Waseko at the Tilenga oilfields, March 2023
An industrial project of EACOP’s scale that involves oil wells and pipelines that cross numerous sensitive ecosystems and land critical for the livelihoods of 100,000 people risks significant human rights harms. Among the serious concerns are spills from pipelines and drilling, inadequate handling of drilling muds and other wastes, impacts on biodiversity from the removal or disturbance of wildlife habitat in a variety of protected areas, air pollution from dust and harmful emissions in the oilfields, and impacts on water from hundreds of stream crossings, particularly within the watershed of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, whose basin supplies water to 40 million people. Many interviewees also expressed concerns about the influx of thousands of workers from outside of local communities during the construction phase housed in camps and the potential social problems that could result.
Some foreseeable impacts can be minimized if properly assessed, appropriate mitigations developed, and mitigations properly implemented. The severity of these foreseeable impacts on the rights of those affected depends in large part on how effective the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments are in establishing protective laws and ensuring companies are respecting them. Many of the above risks were analyzed in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) prepared by EACOP Ltd, which was legally mandated as part of the regulatory process. But as independent assessments of the ESIA have noted, some mitigations are not prescribed in the ESIA, including spill response plans. Despite missing such vital information, Ugandan and Tanzanian regulators approved the ESIA. Granting regulatory approval before mitigations are developed for potentially serious impacts raises concerns about the abilities of Ugandan and Tanzanian regulators to adequately oversee the mitigation of potential impacts.
In 2019, E-Tech International, a US-based environmental consulting firm, carried out an evaluation of the ESIA and identified serious problems in TotalEnergies’ approach to assessment, concluding, among other things, that “Total EP Uganda has chosen a least-cost, high impact development model for the Tilenga Project in the face of the profitability risks associated with the venture,” casting further doubt on their ability to mitigate future impacts using best practices.
Residents routinely expressed these concerns to Human Rights Watch. One man said: “They tell us this will be life-changing, that we will be rich and that in the future the pipeline will not rupture. How can we trust them on that when they can’t even compensate us properly? Our trust with them is broken.”
Some interviewees familiar with the impacts of fossil fuel production in other countries, notably the Niger Delta in Nigeria, expressed anxiety about the potential impact of oil spills, ruptured pipelines, and other harms. One woman said that a local man went to oil-producing parts of the Niger Delta and later described what he had seen: “He saw the impacts firsthand – the spills, the crime, the security, the social problems, the poverty. This is what we don’t want. But we are worried when they try to reassure us, when they have taken our land for so little.”
Others, particularly around the Tilenga oilfields, described their fears of the influx of thousands of mostly male workers from outside their districts and potential social problems that could bring. “We know from elsewhere there are…more HIV and other diseases, more alcohol, more drugs, more gender-based violence. We already see more of it in the early times of this development, but we know it will get much worse.” Numerous individuals living close to planned work camps along the pipeline corridor expressed similar sentiments about potential social problems.
Residents also expressed concerns over the early impacts of the Tilenga oil development, including from increased dust and noise. One woman said:
The dust and noise are everywhere. I have two kids who have longstanding health issues. When the dust is bad they hide. I found them one time in nearby cassava fields coughing and wheezing and scared to come out. We live within 10 meters of one of the roads. This will only get worse. They promise our lives will be better? All we have so far is dust in our lungs and crops and noise in our ears.
One person whose fields were flooded following an uncontrolled release of water that had accumulated in the central processing facility following heavy, but not entirely unforeseeable, rains in March 2023, said: “They come here [to Tilenga] promising us everything. We believed them. Now we are landless, the compensation money is gone, what fields we have left are flooded and dust fills the air. Is this development? Our trust is broken. Oil is a curse for us.”
A project of EACOP’s scale in such sensitive ecosystems where hundreds of thousands of livelihoods are largely dependent on land and water resources has the potential for very significant human rights impacts. The ability of TotalEnergies EP Uganda to mitigate these impacts is in question when the ESIA – the main tool for assessing and mitigating impacts – lacks basic information on mitigations yet is approved by governments that are simultaneously regulators and equity partners, where concerns have been raised about TotalEnergies choosing a “least-cost” model, and where early attempts at mitigating potential impacts are flawed as described in this report. Both Uganda and Tanzania restrict freedom of expression for both the media and civil society groups, making it more difficult to raise concerns about sensitive issues like oil development impacts. Oil development in Uganda is a potential disaster in the making with all the ingredients in place for serious future harms.
The Climate Crisis and the Future of Energy in Uganda
The burning of fossil fuels is driving the climate crisis, devastating people and communities around the world, including in Uganda. In 2021, the usually conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) said that no new oil, gas or coal developments could be built if the world was to reach the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also stated that for governments to meet global climate targets there cannot be new oil, gas, or coal development.
If built, fossil fuels produced from the EACOP project will be a major emitter of greenhouse gases. A November 2022 report by the Climate Accountability Institute that evaluated the full lifecycle emissions from EACOP concluded EACOP would produce 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2E) over its lifetime, more than the annual emissions of Australia.
Uganda has committed through various agreements and mechanisms to pursue clean, renewable energy, often in partnership with other nations. Uganda is a party to the Paris Agreement, and in its 2022 Nationally Determined Contribution update makes only one mention of EACOP: as a greenhouse gas mitigation measure from refining its own fuels instead of transporting imported fuels by road from Mombasa, Kenya.
Like all fossil fuel projects, EACOP risks locking in decades of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to the climate crisis that is one of the greatest threats to human rights globally, including in Uganda. It should not be built. If it does get built, along with the climate harms, there are significant risks of future localized human rights harms in both Uganda and Tanzania in addition to the local harms already realized and documented in this report.
There are other ways for Uganda to meet its energy needs and economic development goals. Uganda has enormous clean renewable energy potential, particularly solar and hydropower. The solution for Uganda’s energy deficit needs not be spending billions of dollars on infrastructure for an energy source of which the demand is dropping and which is associated with devastating local and global human rights harms. With appropriate investment and support from its international partners, Uganda is well positioned to be a renewable energy powerhouse living up to the various commitments it has made on embracing its renewable energy potential – and the jobs and economic development that go along with it.
This report was researched and written by Felix Horne, senior researcher in the Environment and Human Rights division at Human Rights Watch. Satellite imagery analysis was developed by Leo Martine, senior geospatial analyst, Technology and Human Rights.
The report was reviewed by Richard Pearshouse, director of the Environment and Human Rights division; Jim Wormington, senior researcher in the Economic Justice and Rights division; Oryem Nyeko, Uganda and Tanzania researcher in the Africa division; Antonia Juhasz, senior researcher in the Environment and Human Rights division; Sylvain Aubry, deputy director, Poverty and Inequality, Economic Justice and Rights Division; Elvire Fondacci, advocacy coordinator in France; Juliane Kippenberg, associate director in the Children’s Rights division; Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Divisions; Bridget Sleap, senior researcher on rights of older people; Aniete Ewang, Nigeria researcher in the Africa Division. James Ross, Legal and Policy director, Sara Salama, Associate General Counsel in the General Counsel’s Office, and Tom Porteous, deputy Program director, provided legal and program review for Human Rights Watch.
Additional review was provided by Diana Nabiruma, senior communications officer, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO).
The report was prepared for publication by Travis Carr, publications officer. Hellen Huang, associate in the Environment and Human Rights division, provided production assistance and support.
Human Rights Watch is deeply grateful to all the courageous community members who so generously shared their stories with us and our invaluable local partners.