First they IGNORE YOU, then they LAUGH AT YOU
Author: Malik Dasoo First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you winmaking the case for civil disobedience in the time of climate and ecological collapse
On 12 October 2020, I with a fairly small group of innocuous protestors, took a letter of demands to Standard Bank’s offices on Baker Street, Rosebank. Along with the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and Voice of Poor Concerned Residents of Soweto, we demanded that Standard Bank withdraw its involvement in the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

EACOP is a 1,443km crude oil pipeline that will transport oil from Uganda to the port of Tanzania whereafter it will be exported abroad. Nearly a third of the pipeline will run through the basin of Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, on which more than 40 million people depend on for water and food production. Given the vast extent covered by this pipeline land acquisition and resettlement processes will result in over 100,000 people across Uganda and Tanzania being physically or economically displaced. This process has already begun with communities on the ground reporting a lack of transparency and delays in their compensation.

The world is experiencing a mass extinction event, the sixth in the recorded history of life on earth with the last being the Permian-Triassic extinction event which led to the extinction of dinosaurs. Ecosystems are being decimated by a rapidly changing climate and unrestricted development. The organisms that depend on them are being eliminated at an unprecedented rate.
PHOTOGRAPH: The Daily MaverickAt a time when the world needs more natural areas to remain natural and for us to protect our reserves of biodiversity, EACOP threatens to rip through one of Africa’s most biodiverse and important ecological corridors. On its route from Uganda to Tanzania, the pipeline will disturb nearly 2000 square kilometers of protected wildlife habitats including the Murchison Falls National Park, the Bugoma Forest and the Biharamulo Game Reserve. I had the fortune of visiting Murchison Falls and happened to be there as construction began for the roads that would accommodate the construction vehicles. The demolition of the forest is done by ‘bush rolling’ where large machinery is used to, for lack of a better word, bulldoze all vegetation in its path clearing and flattening the way for the creation of roads. There was no life along the areas where the construction had begun and the sheer contrast between the health of the land there and beyond it was frightening.

We are in a climate emergency. Global mean temperature has risen by 1.2 degrees centigrade with temperatures in Southern Africa rising at twice that rate. The last IPCC report has made it abundantly clear that if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we cannot allow for any new fossil fuel developments to emerge. EACOP, when operational, will produce 6 billion barrels of oil allowing for the generation of over 34 million tons of carbon emissions each year, which equates to more fossil fuels than many African countries produce in a year.

It would seem unthinkable that these three factors were not enough to convince the people in charge of the project to withdraw their involvement but there is huge money at play. It is unclear how much money the project will generate but its total cost is reported at $5billion, of which Total Energies have raised $2billion through the owners of the pipeline with another $3billion to be raised through external sources, such as Standard Bank.

PHOTOGRAPH: The Daily MaverickWhen presented with the demands, Wendy Dobson, Standard Bank’s head of Group Policy Advocacy and Sustainability justified their involvement by referencing Africa’s energy needs and historic responsibility towards climate change. She argued that investing in this project is how they ensure poor Africans get access to electricity and energy without needing to chop down forests for wood. She also argues that Africa has had little historic contribution to the climate crisis and deserves to exploit its oil reserves.

The problem with Wendy’s framing is that it ignores the purpose of the pipeline, which is to export oil abroad. This oil would not be used to service Ugandan or Tanzanian energy production, particularly not poor rural communities but rather to importing countries still reliant on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the issue of historic contribution only stacks up if the people benefitting from the project are those most in need. This is not the case in EACOP with companies owning huge equity in the project and government seeking to claim the rest. There is still no indication that the governments of Uganda or Tanzania of how the revenue generated will be used to service those in poverty.

Since our first protest at Standard Bank, we have gone back 7 times each time garnering a different response. First, Wendy ignored our demands, not giving us the promised formal response. Then she patronized us by churning out Public Relations soundbites that were not factual nor did they respond to our request. After that, Standard Bank hired 45 armed unnamed security personnel from 4 different security companies to ensure our protest was kept away from their doors. Subsequently, Standard Bank, on the days of our protests created access cards for building entrants to ensure only they got through while they barricaded the entrances and lined them with security forces. These security forces have pushed and choked us, held us to the ground, intimidated us by following us home and much more. Ultimately, this protest campaign follows a tried and tested formula for how social change happens. A group expresses discontent and it is ignored by the elite. Then, the protest escalates into direct action and the target institution undermines it in the media. The group escalates protests further which garners a violent response from the institution, which then receives spotlight and casts the perpetrators of that violence in a bad light. As protests escalate further and remain non-violent, the public gain sympathy for the protestors and the movement builds with pressure mounting on the target institution.
We are in the final throes of this process and need people to join us in demanding Standard Bank withdraw from EACOP.
There are few projects that violate social justice, ecological integrity and climate commitments so blatantly and stopping this sends a huge precedent around the world of what ordinary citizens can do to make meaningful change.