Avoid climate anxiety despite campaigns brutality

By Lynet Otieno | Jan 28, 2023

One Bob Barigye has not been traced more than four days since he was arrested for holding a panel discussion on the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project.

This happened as Uganda issued a licence for oil drilling at an event graced by President Yoweri Museveni.

The fight to stop the $5 billion investment on the would be world’s longest heated crude oil pipeline (1,443km long) has caused anxiety and distress, although it is projected to “improve East Africa’s economy”.

For stakeholders – TotalEnergies (62 per cent), CNOOC (8 per cent), Uganda National Oil (15 per cent) and Tanzania’s equivalent at 15 per cent – there is no turning back. In fact, any attempt to publicly express dissenting opinion on the project in Uganda leads to arbitrary arrest. This also happened for nine university students last October.

For some opponents of the project that will run from Uganda’s Hoima to Tanzania’s Tanga port, it now seems a lost battle. There was hope when in 2022 the European Union parliament condemned the human rights abuse involved.

Hope was rife as several banks and insurance companies vowed not to fund EACOP, being a fossil fuel project.

Had all the lenders and insurers spoken with one voice, things could have been different.

Added to the urgency with which many want justice for persons affected by such projects, the overall wish that global warming is tamed and the drought, flooding, crop failure, climate-induced food insecurity, migration, conflict and diseases avoided can get mental.

In 2021, for instance, a study by University of Berth and others, titled “Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon”, established that many aged between 16 and 25 were opting not to have children for fear of how the climate crisis would affect their offspring.

But, this is also a time for anti-EACOP campaigners to give themselves a pat on the back. Like late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai’s proverbial humming bird, they did not sit and watch when EACOP was planned, and all the milestones achieved.

Like the humming bird that ignored other endowed animals that could have put out the fire faster, the activists carried water in their little beaks and tried to put off a fast consuming fire.

Whether the EACOP fire is stopped or the forest burns, there will come a moment of reckoning, and the humming birds will stand on the right side of history.

If the EACOP beneficiaries could just be a little bit patient, the same money invested on the project could save Africa increased carbon footprints and instead enable just transition for the nearly 600 million deprived of electricity.

And it is not yet time to hang the boots, because it isn’t ever over until it really is.

People have lost land and were poorly compensated. The fisher community in the lake basin and the others along the pipeline still risk oil spillage dangers, and already several biodiversity habitats are affected.

It must not be well with anyone’s soul for now. Maybe someday some of these giants will see the light. It is also worth noting that this is a fight not against any villain, but the choice of fossil fuel when renewable energy sources lie unexplored.

As we push for the release of activist Bob Barigye, for the rights of the silenced majority, hope must stay alive.

Even Prof Wangari Maathai did not take the world to where she would have wished, but she did something.

The game may have just begun.

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