KAMPALA – A planned pipeline to export oil from Uganda is likely to entrench the long rule of President Yoweri Museveni, opposition figure Bobi Wine said Tuesday, voicing his opposition to a project that's increasingly controversial over environmental concerns.
Wine, a singer and former lawmaker who ran for president in 2021, is the most prominent Ugandan to object to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline that has run into headwinds as activists pile pressure on France's TotalEnergies and its Chinese partner to pull out.
The European Union legislature passed a resolution last month urging TotalEnergies to delay work on the pipeline by at least a year, citing rights violations and environmental fears. Campaigners say the 897-mile (1,443-kilometer) heated pipeline — to link oil fields in western Uganda to neighboring Tanzania's Indian Ocean port of Tanga — violates the spirit of the Paris climate accord. They are trying to prevent the EU from providing any funds to the project.
Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, said last month that he supports the EU Parliament's stance, drawing anger from some here who charged that he's not sufficiently patriotic.
In an interview with the AP Tuesday, Wine denied the charges and asserted that Museveni would be “dangerous” with oil wealth at his disposal, noting that the forced displacement of villagers to make way for the pipeline would mirror his own mistreatment as a political activist.
“As we speak now, there are gross human rights violations that are going on,” he said. “It's important that we look into that. If Gen. Museveni (got) a nod (for the pipeline) without questioning human rights violations, then it would be an endorsement that human rights violations are actually policy here in Uganda.”
Uganda isn't ready to be an oil exporter with Museveni still in charge, he said.
“Until we have a leader that is accountable to the people, until the leadership is transparent and answerable to the people, until the leadership that we have is indeed a servant leadership, our oil can wait,” he said.
The oil pipeline is a sensitive issue for Museveni, who once spoke of “my oil” and whose government believes petrodollars will lift many of the country's 45 million people out of poverty. Reacting to the resolution by EU lawmakers, Museveni warned last month that if TotalEnergies "choose to listen to the EU Parliament, we shall find someone else to work with.”
Opposition to the pipeline has sparked indignation among other Ugandan officials who say stopping it would injure the country’s economic interests.
Uganda is estimated to have recoverable oil reserves of at least 1.4 billion barrels. TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation said in February that the total investment would be more than $10 billion.
Some oil wells will be drilled within Murchison Falls National Park in western Uganda. There the Nile plummets 130 feet (40 meters) through a gap just 20 feet (6 meters) wide and the surrounding wilderness is home to hippos, egrets, giraffes and antelope. The pipeline would then pass through seven forest reserves and two game parks, running alongside Lake Victoria, a source of fresh water for 40 million people.
The ecological fragility of the area that the pipeline will traverse is one reason why some activists oppose the project despite assurances from TotalEnergies that the pipeline’s state-of-the-art-design will ensure safety for decades.
Others like Wine, 40, say their political concerns are serious, too.
“We should fight so much to see that this Museveni is not empowered,” he said, speaking of Uganda’s potential oil wealth. “So we should fight so hard that Museveni does not get his violent hand on our oil. Once he gets his hand on our oil, we are screwed.”
Museveni, 78, who rose to power in 1986, is popular among some Ugandans who say his rule has brought Uganda relative peace and economic stability. But some others see him as a dictator similar to the ones who previously ruled Uganda. Museveni has had the constitution amended to remove the age limit for presidents, and he has resisted calls for him to say when he would retire.
Uganda hasn't had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from the British in 1962.