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Oil Activism Earns AFIEGO Award As Students Protest Against EU Parliament

Hundreds of high school and university students on Thursday marched in Kampala to deliver a petition to the European Union Delegation against an EU Parliament Resolution on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.

The procession from Kololo Independence Grounds featured students from different schools carrying placards with a uniform message; European Union, Leave Our Oil.

The demonstration came on the same day that an environmental activist group, the Africa Institute for Energy Governance, AFIEGO was rewarded for its environmental activism, especially regarding oil activities in the country.

Yusuf Welunga, the President of the Uganda National Students’ Association, UNSA, says the petition was aimed at compelling the EU to stay away from interfering with the oil and gas developments in Uganda.

“UNSA handed in a petition to the European Union against the resolution of the EU parliament stopping Uganda from exploiting its oil. It was received by the Deputy Ambassador of the EU corporation Uganda. H. E.  Guillaume Chartrain,” Welunga confirmed.

He says the country cannot afford to allow frustration of the biggest project that would transform the country.

The student’s petition also reminded the EU that the lack of access to basic needs like adequate education, health, and nutritional care is a result of a lack of resources, a problem that the oil and gas industry seeks to resolve.

Some of the students in the demonstration called on foreign countries, especially the west to give a chance to Uganda to exploit the remaining natural resources, having lost a lot during colonial days. 

The annual reward by Swedish-based human rights group, Right Livelihood, recognized AFIEGO as one of the four “change-makers in 2022”, out of 175 nominees from 77 countries.

Earlier this month, the EU Parliament sparked a debate in Uganda after passing a resolution that the governments of Uganda and Tanzania suspend the implementation of specifically the EACOP project.

The parliamentarians proposed a one-year wait for the government to look for an alternative route that would guarantee the safety of the environment and the protection of human rights.

The governments and the joint venture companies have since rejected the suggestions and accused the EU of attempting to frustrate the Ugandan oil industry.

AFIEGO, alongside other civil society groups, has been at the forefront of pushing for the rights of the people affected by the projects in western Uganda and along the pipeline route, including adequate compensation and resettlement as well as for cultural and environmental conservation.

Ole Von Uexkull, the Executive Director, Right Livelihood said the awards are aimed at promoting peace and human rights through identifying and promoting persons committed to championing their agenda.

The organization says that using advocacy, media campaigns, and legal action, AFIEGO has stood with communities to “oppose extractive projects seeking to exploit Uganda’s oil reserves discovered in 2006.”

In particular, they cite AFIEGO’s “efforts to stop the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which would transport Uganda’s crude oil to a port in Tanzania”.

The 1,400-kilometre pipeline route cuts through 178 Ugandan and 231 Tanzanian villages, and the activists say this will cause mass displacement, and environmental harm and further exacerbate the climate crisis. 

Uexkull also hailed AFIEGO and other organizations in Uganda for what he called courage that enabled them to withstand government harassment and arrests of activists, in their bid to be a voice of the people. 

The activities of the civil society have drawn condemnation from government officials who accuse them of seeking to fail the projects. But they have also been commended by others as demand for accountability in the industry, while at the same time representing a voice for the poor.

AFIEGO Executive Director, Dickens Kamugisha hopes that these international awards will help change the way authorities respond to their activism.

“For the work that we do here in Uganda, you need to be encouraged, you need to be motivated. We face a very hostile environment, including arrests.

When the government knows that there are people around the world who appreciate our work, they think twice about attacking us or our communities. So this Award means that we can help many more communities,” he says.

On whether the government should stop or continue with the projects, Kamugisha says Uganda should not be investing in oil and gas production, especially after having signed the Paris Agreement on Climate change.

He also casts doubt on Uganda’s ability to fulfill the commitments to transform the economy using oil when countries richer in resources have failed for decades. 

Kamugisha says that it might not be prudent or viable to abandon the oil and gas industry developments due to the investments already made, but that there is a need for the government to listen to different voices like the EU parliament.

In response to President Museveni’s vows that the projects will continue, Kamugisha says Uganda cannot get alternative investors now and so the best way forward is to engage the different in dialogues and address the concerns of Ugandan and the international community.

However, he also warned that the heavy investments in oil and gas projects using borrowed money could be a time bomb for the economy because the national debt stock might be too much to bear.

Other 2022 Rights Livelihood Laureates are Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman of Somalia, Oleksandra Matviichuk and the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) of Ukraine, and Cecosesola of Venezuela.  

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