On the occasion of the general meeting of the French oil company Total, the boss of the company, Patrick Pouyanné, promised that the Total project in Uganda and Tanzania would generate a “net gain in biodiversity”. Statements that question, while environmentalists have been attacking the project for years.
This Wednesday, May 25, the French oil and gas company TotalEnergies held the general meeting of its shareholders in Paris. An assembly that caused a stir. Demonstrators, mostly environmental activists, tried to prevent the meeting from taking place.
According to French media, a small group of shareholders have tabled a resolution demanding that Total comply with the Paris Climate Accord. The French major alone emits between 1% and 2% of the carbon dioxide generated in the world – around 460 million tonnes.
In Africa, Total is often criticized. In particular because of the hegemony of the company due to agreements concluded for decades, dating from French colonialism for some of them. But while the continent is suffering from global warming, Total is also criticized for the ethics of its projects, which ignore respect for fauna and flora, and create human disasters.
Last year, because of the terrorist offensive in northern Mozambique, Total had to abandon its gas project in Cabo Delgado, estimated at $20 billion. In view of the change of regime in Tanzania, since the death of President John Magufuli, the French company has decided to fall back on a different project: the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
What hides Total's tenacity in Uganda and Tanzania?
The EACOP has been in the works since 2016. The pipeline is, however, only part of Total's project. Indeed, the Ugandan oil exploitation project “Tilenga”, with its 419 wells, is the basis. And Total very quickly found itself confronted with the demands for transparency from presidents Yoweri Museveni and John Magufuli.
Then, it was the turn of the consortium which finances the project, including in particular the banks Credit Suisse, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Barclays… “The project was too hard to defend” from an environmental point of view, comments the newspaper Les Echos. Naturally, it was then the NGOs that acted. Survival, Friends of the Earth, and four Ugandan NGOs denounced the risks of Tilenga and EACOP. The group of organizations had even summoned Total in summary proceedings. Wasted effort.
In the end, Total therefore spent more than six years reassuring investors and opponents, had to go through a partnership with the Chinese oil company CNOOC and sell an additional 10% of shares in the double project to the Ugandan and Tanzanian national companies, in order to reach the implementation stage last February.
However, the reservations of NGOs on the potential damage of the project on the ecosystem, as well as the compensation of the displaced populations which is still awaited, are still topical. For this reason, the Chairman and CEO of Total, Patrick Pouyanné, tried to convince public opinion of "the group's transparency and environmental commitment to these projects in Uganda and Tanzania", writes the French media RFI.
Another lie from Patrick Pouyanné?
“The announcement in February 2022 of the launch of this development marks our commitment, which aims to be exemplary in terms of sustainable development. Low-carbon oil project, value creation for countries and local communities, net gain in terms of biodiversity, these are our commitments. Our commitment is to apply the best international standards and to be transparent about all the actions we implement,” Pouyanné said on Wednesday. He promised to restore 1 hectares of forest, double the number of rangers and reintroduce the black rhino to Murchison Falls Park, one of the largest in Uganda and Africa.
Which recalls a similar promise from the boss of the French major, last year, which turned out to be a lie. In April 2021, Patrick Pouyanné announced: “Faced with opposition, the only strategy is absolute transparency. The Board of Directors has decided to publish all the audits, all the studies. (…) the only good policy for groups like ours is to answer with facts. This may not be enough to convince everyone, but we cannot be blamed for hiding things”.
However, these audits and studies are still pending. On the side of civil society, many shortcomings of Total are constantly denounced. Activist Richard Orébi ensures that, on the ground, the thousands of people displaced by the Total project are still waiting for their compensation for the land ceded. But, also, that a particular promise from Patrick Pouyanné looks more like a threat.
“They say they want to double the number of rangers, but that doesn't make much sense. We already have rangers and that hasn't stopped the park in this protected area from being encroached upon. For me, doubling the number of rangers will go against activists like us, civil society, journalists. It's to block our entrance to the park and prevent us from knowing the things that are done inside, ”worries Orébi.