Representatives of faith communities in Uganda and Tanzania have expressed displeasure at the trauma that proponents of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project continue to cause to displaced communities, with specific concern over about 2,000 graves that are at risk of being displaced by activities under the project.
This follows a report by GreenFaith, an international multi-faith climate justice organization, which highlighted the insensitivity Express by the French firm TotalEnergies which is undertaking the Uganda crude oil pipeline project, through mistreatment and disrespect for the dead, as thousands of graves are at risk or were disturbed and mishandled for the sake of the 1,443-km EACOP pipeline project.
The findings in report dubbed “As if Nothing is Sacred” indicates that the affected families have pleaded with TotalEnergies to respect these sacred resting places, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Besides, there has been no compensation for the pain the affected families have endured since leaving their loved ones lying in graves that either have or may be disturbed as the pipeline’s construction proceeds.
The report affirms that majority of communities in East Africa bury their loved ones in their compounds, many of them in unmarked graves for different reasons ranging from poverty, religion, or specific cultural beliefs, and any disturbance of such graves poses psychological torture to family members.
In a statement at the commissioning of the report this week, religious leaders noted how they are “deeply saddened” by the revelation that the dead would not rest in peace in over 2,000 unmarked graves, which is akin to trashing everything sacred to an African. The EACOP project is undertaken jointly by governments of Uganda and Tanzania but eligious leaders contend that governments’ mandates come from the people and even when acting within its legal rights, a government should weigh the impact on communities that find these burial sites holy.
“In light of these issues, as highlighted in the GreenFaith report, we, as religious leaders, demand that the EACOP project stop. Our faiths are pro-life, and recognize the sanctity with which African communities regard their departed loved ones’ graves, besides the spiritual and cultural traditions of the affected communities. But in its quest for oil profits, TotalEnergies has disregarded the things that matter to our people, as if they are not sacred.” the statement reads in part.
“This is akin to neo-colonization. It is a psychological abuse to the affected, and the fact that their hands are tied, as TotalEnergies enjoys protection by Tanzania and Uganda governments, erodes any element of justice, compassion, and respect that our faiths advocate.” The document signed by Bp. Katerega Gastaves, Frida B Cheche, Aziz A Ling’wara, Zaida Kassim, Kamiri Fabiano states.
“Some things are sacred and transcend statutes. Our shared humanity calls us to protect what communities deem sacrosanct, even when inconvenient. We ask our leaders to reflect on their obligation to not just govern by law, but with wisdom, compassion and restraint.” The clerics noted.
The report notes that EACOP project has already caused the displacement of more than 100,000 people, and disoriented the community that relied on agriculture for livelihood. The wildlife habitats have also been messed up as a result of construction of a tarmac road in Uganda’s Murchison Falls, threatening the tourism industry and ecosystem as well as increased cases of human-wildlife conflict.
Oil drilling in Africa has had significant negative effects on the environment, communities, and economies. Oil spills and gas flaring have caused extensive environmental damage, besides soil and water pollution. Fish populations, for example, have declined due to pollution and habitat destruction. Other environmental concerns that come with such projects as EACOP are habitat destruction, water pollution, and air pollution. These will directly expose local communities to diseases, failed crops, and reduced life expectancy as is the case in the Niger Delta, where Shell has drilled oil since the 1950s. Projects such as EACOP also have the potential to fuel social tensions and inequality.
It is an open secret that oil drilling in Africa benefits oil companies more than grassroots communities. Despite generating revenue for some African governments, with a few temporary menial jobs for locals, living standards for the average citizen either remain the same or plummet. They lack education and skills training to take up the well-paying jobs at the sites.
“As religious leaders from Uganda and Tanzania, we therefore passionately call for an immediate end to EACOP. We stand against violation of sacred graves, displacement of communities, environmental degradation, and human rights abuses! We ask that the governments recognize that their secular power over the land should be exercised on behalf of the people. Though we know they have the ultimate authority, we need reconsideration of this project. Our ancestral burial sites are sacred ground. We need the sanctity of these resting places honored, even if the law grants the authority to disturb them. Some places should remain undisturbed for their cultural and spiritual significance. We appeal to the conscience of our leaders to reconsider this plan.” The statement adds.
In the statement, the clerics however cite a case of one Ugandan with for whom TotalEnergies refused to acknowledge the number of burial sites his family had. He told them of his 11 relatives buried in those sites, but the company at first said it only found five. Later the same people acknowledged eight graves, and eventually nine, each for which the family was compensated USh1 million (USD $266.50).
The clerics noted that TotalEnergies must recognize the sanctity of life and protect it but also demand justice for the affected.
“We demand the well-being of our communities and the environment. We demand an end to EACOP because of the severe spiritual and psychological harm it has and continues to cause families that bear the weight of allowing their loved ones’ remains to be mistreated in those unmarked graves on EACOP’s route. We cannot ignore the spiritual, traditional, and cultural wounds and trauma that this project poses to affected communities. This is Africa, where every heritage is sacred. This is us; we love to live not too far from our departed loved ones.” The Religious leaders denoted.
They also alluded to the fate of the activists whose effort to raise these issues has been met with state brutality while others walk in fear of abduction or harm. To add salt to injury, the clerics note that should EACOP proceed, it will increase the two countries’ carbon footprints by 25 times over the current annual emissions combined.