A new report implicates French oil giant TotalEnergies in the bullying and intimidation of families living in the path of its proposed oil pipeline in East Africa.
The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, which would stretch 900 miles from eastern Uganda to the Tanzanian coast, threatens to displace more than 100,000 people and has drawn condemnation from activists, businesses, and governments around the world.
A new investigation from watchdog group Global Witness found evidence that representatives, contractors, and partners of TotalEnergies, which is spearheading the project, pressured locals into accepting poor compensation for their lands. The report, based on interviews with more than 200 people, found that some families reportedly waited years to be paid, by which time the price of land along the route of the pipeline had ballooned, such that they could not afford new land nearby.
One man in Tanzania, Swalehe Nkungu, said he was bullied into signing a contract without reading it, and then paid a sum too meager for him to buy new land. He used the payout to feed his family, and now, he said, “we have nothing.” Nkungu was later harassed by government officials for seeking the help of civil society groups. In the past year, he was interrogated on three separate occasions about his opposition to the pipeline, he said.
Global Witness alleges that officials undertook a “campaign of intimidation” against activists. In Uganda alone, 40 campaigners were detained over the past three years for protesting the pipeline, with some saying they were beaten in custody. And Global Witness says it found evidence that TotalEnergies was in communication with the Ugandan state leading up to the detention of activists.
TotalEnergies “strenuously” denied that it had bullied locals into accepting poor compensation or that it had helped engender a climate of fear and intimidation. “Threats or intimidation are not tolerated,” it said in a letter to Global Witness.