Dar es Salaam. A new report has revealed that the construction of the controversial East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has disturbed and risks disrespecting over 2,000 graves along the project’s construction route from Uganda to Tanzania.
Titled As If Nothing Is Sacred, the report by the US-based international, multi-faith climate justice organisation GreenFaith also documents that the project has routinely disregarded the pleas of local families to respect graves.
It also ignored information which families or community members shared about the location of unmarked graves and provided inadequate, delayed, or no compensation for the harm caused.
“Family members and local communities have suffered emotional and spiritual trauma due to these actions and project officials’ lack of consideration,” the 39-page report, which relied on public documents and information gathered through field research, states.
The 1,443-kilometer (897-mile) pipeline should start transporting oil in 2025 and ferry 246,000 barrels daily at peak.
TotalEnergies, the French fossil fuel giant, has a 62 per cent stake in the planned conduit that, once complete, will be the world’s longest heated pipeline.
State-owned Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) and Uganda National Oil Corporation each have a 15 per cent interest, while the rest is owned by China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of China’s largest national oil companies.
However, the project faces heavy resistance from environmental and human rights activists, who claim that it will be responsible for numerous negative impacts, which include the mistreatment of graves.
Activists have pointed out that the oil project would displace over 100,000 people, create toxic contamination along its route, degrade farmland and wildlife habitat, and threaten drinking water supplies for three million East Africans.
Also, people living along the pipeline route have made numerous reports of threats of violence and human rights violations. Activists also fear that the project will generate greenhouse gas emissions that are 25 times the annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania combined.
A spiritual violence
Some Tanzanians and Ugandans affected by the project told GreenFaith that the disturbance and the risk of desecrating graves have inflicted painful spiritual and psychological harm, with some describing what happens as “spiritual violence.”
Musa Ahmed, a Muslim with traditional beliefs from the Hanang district in Manyara, told researchers that he feels he won’t get a chance to practice the required burial customs as the project will support neither traditional nor religious practices.
“Our younger generations are going to miss important cultural aspects on grave relocation,” the report quotes him as saying. “I think the government might be also discouraging it. I still do not understand reasons for avoiding assessment in my land.”
John Asiimwe, a Catholic from the Kagera region, pointed out the significance of the graves and the need to protect them, telling researchers that in their culture, they believe that when one builds and decorates the grave of their beloved ones, they continue to pray for you in heaven so you keep on receiving blessings.
“Religious requirements for burial and reburial are important for Roman Catholic believers because our faith teaches us that those prayers said during burial ceremonies are important for cleansing sins of the deceased person, particularly when their souls are still in Purgatory,” the report quotes him as saying.
“So, religious requirements are very important because they pave ways to heaven for departed souls,” he explained. “Moreover, the Roman Catholic faith teaches us that the more you pray for departed souls, the more you increase their chance to resurrect with Jesus.”
The new report comes at a time when Tanzania and Uganda plan to start the construction of the pipeline early next year.
The pipeline construction manager, Ahamed Arafat, was quoted in Uganda’s New Vision newspaper on November 13, 2023, saying that the plan is to finish construction work in December 2024.
Meryne Warah, Global Organising Director for GreenFaith, called on all concerned and responsible people to oppose the pipeline’s construction, saying it poses a great danger to the environment and people’s rights.
“It is traumatising enough that TotalEnergies, supported by Uganda and Tanzania governments, has already displaced thousands of families along the proposed pipeline’s route,” Warah said in a statement.
“But the finding that even the dead cannot rest in peace is disrespecting something deeply sacred to Africans,” she added.