TotalEnergies to Review Land Buyouts in Contested Africa Projects

This photograph shows a general view of TotalEnergies’ well pad under construction inside Murchison Falls National Park in western Uganda on February 22, 2023.

PARIS — French energy giant TotalEnergies on Thursday said it had launched a review of its land acquisition practices for controversial $10-billion projects in Uganda and Tanzania slammed by environmentalists.

TotalEnergies is pushing ahead with its Tilenga drilling project in Uganda and the 1,443-kilometer (897-mile) East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) to transport it to the coast in Tanzania in the face of opposition from activists and environmentalists.

“This mission will evaluate the land acquisition procedures implemented, the conditions for consultation, compensation and relocation of the populations concerned, and the grievance handling mechanism,” the statement said, adding that it would submit its report by April.

Tilenga targets oil under the rich Murchison Falls nature reserve in western Uganda with a planned 419 wells, triggering fears for the region’s fragile ecosystem among the people who live there and environmentalists.

Drilling began in mid-2023 and production is slated to begin in 2025.

TotalEnergies, which is working with Chinese oil company CNOOC on the project, says that its 6,400-hectare acquisition plan affects “19,140 households and communities owning or using plots of land and includes the relocation of 775 primary residences.”

“To date, 98% of the households concerned have signed compensation agreements, 97% have received their compensation, and 98% of households to be relocated have taken possession of their new homes,” the company added.

Resistance to the project has rallied opponents of fossil fuel development as well as conservationists and those fearing the effect on local populations.

Human Rights Watch called in July for the plans to be halted, saying in a report that it had already “devastated thousands of people’s livelihoods in Uganda.”

The oilfield would “ultimately displace over 100,000 people,” it charged.

Four environmental groups — Darwin Climax Coalitions, Sea Shepherd France, Wild Legal and Stop EACOP-Stop Total in Uganda — filed a criminal complaint in France in September accusing TotalEnergies of “ecocide.”

A first case filed in 2019 was thrown out last year by a Paris court, while TotalEnergies says the Tanzania-based East African Court of Justice has also rejected a complaint.

Other aid groups and 26 individual Ugandans filed a further French civil case in June calling for “reparations.”

TotalEnergies said Thursday it had named Benin’s former Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou to lead its land acquisition assessment, calling him a “recognized expert in African economic development.”

Zinsou has worked with TotalEnergies in the past through his consulting company.

Source: VOA, 4th January 2024