“We Can’t Drink Oil”
In the face of growing threats to the safety of peaceful protestors, this week grassroots people of diverse religious backgrounds marched to demand an end to the heated crude oil pipeline project that would stretch 1,443km from Uganda’s Tilenga to Tanzania’s Tanga Port.
During public actions organized by GreenFaith Circles in Uganda and Tanzania, local people of faith who live along the route of the proposed pipeline condemned the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and rallied faith communities in demanding an immediate end to the project.
The march in Uganda was themed “Responding to Climate Change in Uganda” while that in Tanzania was “Planet Over Profit”. The marches were part of Faiths for Climate Justice (F4CJ), a global, multi-religious month of climate actions. In addition to calling for the end to the project, Ugandan and Tanzanian faithful demanded justice for affected communities and protection for the biodiversity whose habitats would be polluted by EACOP.
In the face of government intimidation which had led to youth activists being detained in recent days, 16 religious leaders from diverse faiths joined more than 150 members of GreenFaith Circles in Uganda on Tuesday from Pentecostal, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and other religious backgrounds. Participants marched from the Kabaale Church of Uganda to the nearby oil refinery in the Hoima District.
The location of the Ugandan protests was key because it is in the area of a refinery and central holding place for oil before it would be piped to Port Tanga. The refinery would produce toxic air pollution that causes respiratory disease.
Religious communities oppose the project because it would generate more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined national emissions of Tanzania and Uganda, the two climate-vulnerable African countries through which the pipeline would pass. EACOP would also displace thousands of poor farmers, threaten income and livelihoods, disproportionately impact women, endanger water supplies, degrade habitat and diminish biodiversity. Experts estimate that more than 100,000 people would be negatively affected.
Oketh Patrick, a Uganda based Seventh Day Adventist church elder whose land was seized to pave way for the pipeline, described the injustice that EACOP and its backers are inflicting on local communities. “My land was undervalued and payment delayed. It is now impossible for me to buy another parcel, because land has appreciated three-fold due to the oil discovery in Hoima. How do I get a home for my family? EACOP is destroying communities,” he said.
Emmanuel Okur, a Catholic Catechist, said: “The government of Uganda should opt for a project that will not destroy our environment. In my village trees and vegetation have been cut to create space for oil roads to Hoima International, and this has negatively affected our lives. We face harsh climate impacts and we have done nothing to create the problem. It is deeply unfair.”
Sheikh Uzelle Hassan from Kabaale Mosque said: “It is worrying that more community members will be vulnerable to effects of climate change. This threatens the way we worship and it is already negatively affecting our lives.”
Julius Iwgonza, a lay leader at Kigaage Church of Uganda, said the project had disrupted the livelihoods of community members. “The standards of living within our community have already been diminished and the church has also been negatively affected. Our church used to have access roads connecting to the main road but when the road heading to the Hoima International Airport was constructed, we lost it,” he said. “Why should we suffer when companies that are richer than God profit?”
Community members also note that TotalEnergies and national governments have failed to provide accurate information about the true impacts of the project. Wandera JohnBosco, a pastor at Kabaale Full Gospel Church said: “Very little information about the impacts of the project, on our community and on the environment is being translated into local languages for the people to understand”.
On Sunday in Tanzania, GreenFaith Circles held peaceful protests in areas where preparations for the crude oil pipeline project have disrupted local communities’ lives. Participants called on the Tanzanian, TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation and insurance companies contracted for the project.
Baraka Lenga, GreenFaith organizer in Tanzania, noted that growing numbers of local religious leaders were joining the campaign. “These leaders see that EACOP will cause people and biodiversity to suffer severe negative effects of climate change. The floods, drought, hunger and cyclones affect people of all religions,” said Mr Lenga.
The Tanzanian GreenFaith Circle members called on governments and financial institutions to finance renewable energy development, not oil and gas projects. “Our communities need energy for education, healthcare, and livelihoods,” said Simon Kimario, a youth leader at Mongoroma village Catholic Church. “Oil and gas will create suffering now and in the future. EACOP needs to stop.”
The procession in Mongoroma village, through which the pipeline would pass, was followed by a meeting with some persons affected by the project. Over 50 people participated in the walk, with more than 80 joining the capacity building meeting.
Mwajùma Bakari said: “My land was assessed and valued in 2018 at TSh500,000 (214.4 USD) per acre. I have received TSh500,000Tzs this year when the price of land has increased by more than 150 per cent. That means I cannot afford an equal size of the land I have been displaced from. There is nothing fair about this.”
Mr Lenga called on the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments to follow through climate change commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. “The two governments committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and should not invest in projects that will increase their carbon footprint. They must invest in renewable energy for the sake of our planet and our people,” he said.
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