After several false starts, resulting in over 10 years of delay, the Uganda-Tanzania pipeline (formally the East African Crude Oil Pipeline – Eacop) took off after the partners in the project announced the final investment decision early in the year.
By end of 2025, they all said, the 1,444-kilometre-long pipeline would be delivering crude oil at the Tanzania port of Tanga. That still looks likely, but trouble is brewing in Eacop paradise.
The global campaign against Eacop by activists who say it’s a monstrosity in a climate change-imperilled world in which fossil fuel is frowned upon as the devil’s liquid, and that it would displace millions of people and ruin nature reserves, has gathered steam.
Early in the week, it was reported widely that Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, had grown cold feet and pulled out of financing Eacop. Deutsche Bank joined 15 banks that have committed not to finance the pipeline.
French energy giant TotalEnergies, which is developing the pipeline with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), has pledged to take steps to lessen the environmental and human impact of the project, but environmental campaigners don’t believe it.
Alive to the risks, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, a gentleman who isn’t a big fan of Western media, or press freedom, published a piece in the UK’s Telegraph making the case for the pipeline. Uncharacteristically moderate in his tone and argument, Museveni held that fossil fuel has a role to play in the transition to green energy, and pointed correctly to the problems that still plague clean fuel sources like solar and wind.
But he has an East African and democratic problem. One of the most effective voices against the pipeline is Omar Elmawi, coordinator of Stop Eacop. Elmawi is Kenyan, and lives and works out of a democratic land than Uganda, where he would have been violently silenced, or jailed, by now.
Furthermore, these environmentally sensitive times call for a type of leadership that Kampala has proved remarkably inept at.
Globally, there’s a powerful tie-up between green activists and campaigners on the wide range of other rights and freedoms. Unless you are Saudi Arabia, it is getting difficult to show up with the blood of democracy activists and the opposition at home on your hands, while looking for money partly made in or by institutions in democracies, to invest at home.
In fact, even Saudi Arabia is able to get away because it is making a big push on clean energy. It is even building a new city, Neom, a green metropolis that is being erected in a straight line for 160 kilometres, with no cars.
Uganda and Tanzania need to offer a green bargain to smooth Eacop’s path. At 1,444 kilometres, it is probably a little anachronistic today, and thus it needs a truly grand counter-narrative and action, to assuage its enemies.
If the two countries offered, and started to plant, say, one billion trees, or undertook a mega project to clean up the polluted Lake Victoria, they might strengthen their hands. However, a quick win would be to call the dogs off the opposition.
Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu has already put several dogs back in the kennels. Museveni could do with calling off at least a few puppies.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3