Pipelines in the Greater Virunga To Be, or Not To Be, that is the Question

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep. (Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

Probably many of you know (or not) that the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Uganda are planning to build a pipelines system for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline is a 1,445 kilometer pipeline system that will connect the oilfields in Hoima (Uganda) to Tanga (Tanzania). The construction of the pipeline is expected to start in early 2018; needleless to say that this pipeline will come close to many environmental sensitive areas, such as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National park both protected areas and World Heritage Sites in Tanzania, Queen Elisabeth National Park in Uganda and several important wetlands that lie in the route of the pipeline, including Lake Victoria, Lake Makat and many others.

But opening oil transportation in this region of the world will also increase considerably the pressure on Virunga National Park. Even if Total has officially stated not to explore or exploit oil within the boundaries of Virunga National park; they haven’t relinquished their exploration rights in Block 3 and if they continue as planned[1], one day they will need to transport the oil from the limits of Virunga National park to an exit route. The closest will be the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, and guess who is financing most of this pipeline? Total.

This will mean that a system of pipelines will have to be built around the park, in the best of the cases, or in the park in the worse. Increasing even more the odds for an environmental disaster in the making. And what about the presence of armed groups in the region? Do you think they will not want to profit from this new resource and continue funding their activities and conflict? Nigeria is a very good example of how wrong oil exploitation, unaccountable oil companies, pipelines and an expendable youth go together. Oil bunkering not only threatens the economy but has devastating impacts on the environment, the life and health of the affected communities.

The strange thing about all this, is that in the US, Canada we see the emergence of movements such as #NoDAPL or #NoKEYSTONEXL. All are fighting and mobilizing American tribes, Indigenous networks and communities against these developments, simply because we know that oil pipelines come at a great social and environmental cost, that there is no extraction without pollution and that there is no pipeline without ruptures and spills. It is not a question if they will leak but when. If the US has recorded more than 7,978 oil spills between 1986 and 2014 and accounted for more than 512 fatalities, what is going to happen in countries like Uganda, DRC or Tanzania? Some of these countries have already allowed drilling in protected areas, in the heart of the Pearl of Africa, and others are considering doing it in our most outstanding natural heritages, what make us think they will invest in the replacement of aging pipelines and will conduct regular inspection in remote areas full of militias?

The question is not so much about Pipelines in the Greater Virunga To Be, or Not To Be, the question is why are we not investing, when we still have time, in the building of a local, national and global movement against these developments in Africa.

Why leading conservation and development actors in the Great Lakes are not “drawing the line” but seem to be trying to accommodate oil, pipelines, parks and communities. Often forgetting that Nature has also the right to say NO.

Why not give Nature a say about Free Prior Informed Consent. Have we asked planet Earth if she wanted one more spill, one more leak, one more ridicule compensation just because we want to “engage” with the oil sector.

The answer is simple: No pipelines in the Greater Virunga, we need to shift to renewable energy sources.


[1] In February 2016 they conducted a 2D seismic survey across Block III