In November 2020, Natural Justice and three other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) based in Uganda and Tanzania filed a case challenging the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) at the East African Court of Justice. The applicants also filed an application for a temporary injunction to stop the construction of the EACOP until the host of environmental, social justice and climate justice concerns raised in the case is heard and determined.
Nearly two years since filing, the case has not advanced beyond the preliminary stages, and the injunction application has not been heard. The last court attendance at which the court was scheduled to hear the injunction application in March 2022 was postponed. This was due to the Tanzanian Attorney General’s Preliminary Objection challenging the court’s jurisdiction, which he argued needed to be determined first.
After the lengthy delay, the EACJ sitting in Kampala will hold a Scheduling Conference at which a timetable for dealing with the case will be set.
It is the Applicants’ case that the EACOP project contravenes various laws or treaties such as the EAC Treaty, Protocol for the Sustainable Management of the Lake Victoria Basin, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, African Convention on Conservation of Natural Resources, Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Respondents maintain that the project fully complies with all relevant laws and that proper mitigation has been put in place for any adverse effects.
Attempts by the project-affected people and their supporters to voice lingering and unaddressed concerns have worryingly been met with reprisals, including threats of deregistration and arbitrary arrests and detention of students. This deliberate attempt at muzzling opposition to this controversial project shows the need for such strategic litigation.
The fact that the ambitious and controversial pipeline project is yet to be constructed and communities are already feeling the negative impacts underscore the urgency to have this case heard before the EACJ. This week AFIEGO profiled some of the farmers who were forced out of their fertile lands to less productive lands, leaving them not only poorer but also risking the country’s food sovereignty. At the same time, others have had their lives altered following failures by the relevant authorities to compensate them despite compulsorily moving them out of their land.
Never mind that the proposed route for the pipeline goes through very sensitive biodiversity areas, including rivers, lakes, and wildlife habitats, undermining the agricultural sector, tourism sector, blue economy, and growth of the much-needed renewable energy sector.
If one considers recent extreme weather patterns like the flash floods that have cost the Nigerian economy millions and left thousands of Nigerians with losses and damages or the extreme drought situation in the horn of Africa, Ethiopia and even parts of Kenya, it’s unbelievable that global south governments are not united in pushing the ongoing negotiations at COP27 to focus on loss and damage and Uganda and Tanzania are instead pushing for multinationals to make immoral profits from new fossil fuel projects in the continent at the expense of the communities already burdened to adapt to climate change.
Often, the push by citizens to challenge their governments to refuse global north companies keen to invest in harmful projects is a David vs Goliath affair that can only find justice in courts. We, therefore, trust the litigation process to give the vulnerable communities an opportunity to be heard – give facts about why they’re opposed to this project, the potential harm to their biodiversity and why it would be in everyone’s best interest to divest to renewable energy projects.