In the midst of a debate on the misdeeds of the mega-pipeline project in Uganda and Tanzania, the French state has assured that it has never provided any support to TotalEnergies.
The green light was given: on February 21, Tanzania definitively accepted the launch of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). At the heart of the mega-project, the French multinational Total, which has been controversial for a long time. Because the EACOP will be an oil pipeline of more than 1 kilometers which will cross Uganda and Tanzania. And to reach the extraction objectives of 400 barrels per day, it was necessary to expropriate 200 people. An ongoing operation that worries NGOs, who are constantly alerting the French state. But the latter kicked into touch. "The French government is not there to denounce the projects of private companies", simply retorted the French Minister for Foreign Trade Olivier Becht, who notably went to Tanzania.
Since the privatization of Total in the early 1990s, the French state no longer has a say. In theory, nothing surprising: TotalEnergies owns 62% of the consortium which holds the license to operate the future pipeline, and the French State has held a fairly small share in the multinational's shareholding since 1992. However, the president Emmanuel Macron seems to be a VRP of Total during his travels in Africa. And if Paris does not want to denounce a project led by TotalEnergies, it is partly because the contracts between African countries and the multinational serve the interests of France.
A "major opportunity" for cooperation between Paris and Kampala
In the spring of 2021, when the Ugandan president was re-elected, Emmanuel Macron sent him a letter of congratulations and reminded him of the importance of the EACOP pipeline project. The latter, wrote Macron, is a “major opportunity (…) to expand cooperation” between Kampala and Paris.
In October 2021, the NGO Friends of the Earth released an investigation which revealed "the influence strategies deployed by Total to secure the support of the French authorities in the development of its mega-oil project in Uganda". The NGO deplored, for example, that "Total sponsors a large part" of the events of the "French Embassy in Uganda", which participated "thus in the greenwashing of the multinational, giving it a respectable image with the general public".
Difficult after that to denounce a mega-project, as bad for the planet and for the local populations as it is. More generally "the group defends its economic interests with decision-makers, by dangling income, jobs or prestige for the French State", continues the NGO, which considers that "the support given to Total by all branches of the French State — from the Elysée Palace in Paris to the Embassy and the Alliance Française in Kampala — is in flagrant contradiction with the commitments and values that France claims to defend”.
“It is not up to us to ban investments abroad”
Even if, in September 2022, the European Parliament denounced the mega-project and its consequences for the planet, there is no question for France of disavowing Total. Asked about relations between the multinational and the French government, Minister Olivier Becht assures him: “The question is whether we support it financially. The answer is no. Then, we are in a country, in France, of freedoms where companies, in particular which are global groups, continue to make their investments. It is not up to us to prohibit investments, especially when they are made abroad”.
An attempt at dissociation which does not necessarily hold water, when the minister continues: “It is not for me to give political support or a political red card to a company”. Because the contract signed by total for the EACOP project necessarily received support from France, even informal.