Africa Faith Leaders Condemn Mistreatment of Graves by Total

Ugandan and Tanzanian Faith Leaders’ Statement on As If Nothing Is Sacred Report Revelations
Stop disturbing our departed relatives’ graves as if they are not sacred”

We, representatives of faith communities in Uganda and Tanzania, who are also divinely tasked to ensure peace of mind for communities in grassroots, express our displeasure at the trauma that proponents of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project continue to cause our communities.

We are deeply saddened by the revelations of a report commissioned and released by GreenFaith, an international multi-faith climate justice organization, and aptly dubbed “As If Nothing Is Sacred“. We demand immediate resolution of the disturbing issues the report highlights, including that over 2,000 graves are at risk or were disturbed and mishandled for the sake of the 1,443-km EACOP project.

It was traumatizing enough that TotalEnergies, supported by Uganda and Tanzania governments, displaced thousands of families along EACOP’s route. But the finding that even the dead would not rest in peace in over 2,000 unmarked graves is akin to trashing everything sacred to an African. The majority of communities in East Africa bury their loved ones in their compounds, many of them in unmarked graves either due to preference, poverty, religion, or specific cultural beliefs. Any disturbance of such graves poses psychological torture. When exhumation must happen, even due to a court order, rituals apply. When our dead rest in peace, quite literally, the living go about their daily routines in peace as well. No one wants to be haunted!

The affected families have pleaded with TotalEnergies to respect these sacred resting places, but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. These families have shared invaluable information about the locations of unmarked graves, only to be met with negligence and a loud silence. Besides, there has been no compensation for the pain they have endured since leaving their loved ones lying in graves that either have or may be disturbed as the pipeline’s construction proceeds. This has compounded the emotional and spiritual trauma among the affected families and communities.

One Ugandan in this meeting has told us that 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).

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.

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 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 been messed up, including as a result of construction of a tarmac road in Uganda’s Murchison Falls, threatening the tourism industry and ecosystem. These acts have caused increased cases of human-wildlife conflict.

Many are the activists whose effort to raise these issues have been met with state brutality. They walk in fear of abduction or harm. To add salt to injury, should EACOP proceed, it will increase the two countries’ carbon footprints by 25 times over the current annual emissions combined.

How sad that the EACOP stakeholders, led by TotalEnergies at 62%, will stop at nothing to get profits, even if it means traumatizing generations! 

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.

Oil drilling in Africa has had significant negative effects on the environment, communities, and economies. Oil spills and gas flaring won’t stop in the Niger Delta and 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.

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.

Governments’ mandates come from the people. Even when acting within its legal rights, a government should weigh the impact on communities that find these burial sites holy. 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.

TotalEnergies must recognize the sanctity of life and protect it. We 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.

May our collective efforts be blessed and guided by the divine as we strive for a more just and sustainable future.