/ 28 March 2024

TotalEnergies in Africa: A legacy of destruction

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This week, the French multinational oil and gas giant TotalEnergies celebrates 100 years in operation. (Ernest Ankomah/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

This week, the French multinational oil and gas giant TotalEnergies celebrates 100 years in operation. As we mark the centenary, it’s time to reckon with the true cost of its legacy. The company’s relentless pursuit of profit has come at the expense of Africa’s most vulnerable communities and irreplaceable ecosystems.

The company has a foothold in over 130 countries and operations that encompass the entire spectrum of the fossil energy sector, from exploration to production, refining to distribution. Yet, it’s in Africa where TotalEnergies’ actions have left some of the deepest scars. 

Since its first foray into the continent in 1956, TotalEnergies has driven and profited from the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil and gas. Across the continent, the company’s profits have come at an enormous cost to local communities and the environment. 

TotalEnergies is the biggest hydrocarbon producer in Africa. In Mozambique, its Cabo Delgado LNG project has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with communities facing violence, displacement and human rights abuses. By declaring force majeure in 2021, the company relieved itself of its commitments and contractual obligations while retaining the major benefits of being the project owner, prioritising profit over people’s wellbeing.

Moreover, the environmental impact of TotalEnergies’ projects is staggering. NGOs have estimated the total lifetime emissions of the Mozambique LNG Project at about 3.3 to 4.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, more than the combined annual greenhouse gas emissions of all 27 EU countries, making this project incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreement of limiting global temperature rise to 1.50C. 

What’s more, in the past three years, the country has been ravaged by Cyclones Idai, Kenneth and Freddy, which affected millions of people and left approximately 1 000 dead. Biodiversity hotspots such as the Quirimbas National Park, a sanctuary for hundreds of bird species, a variety of land and marine mammals, reptiles and thousands of species of flora, are under threat.

But Mozambique is just one among many examples. TotalEnergies’ ventures in Tilenga in the Albertine Graben, Uganda, and its involvement in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project pose further risks to communities and ecosystems. From land grabs to water pollution, the company’s activities jeopardise the livelihoods of millions and exacerbate the climate crisis. 

The projects have caused suffering in local communities due to issues such as compensation delays, the intimidation of those resisting it and the terms of compensation. They are expected to directly affect the land of around 118 000 people. Members of civil society and journalists who speak up about the harms of TotalEnergies’ projects have been intimidated and even arrested on several occasions.  

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline poses a threat to critical sources of water. Approximately 460km of the pipeline will be in the freshwater basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region. In the event of an oil spill, which is likely to happen, water sources that so many people depend on will be polluted. 

Extraction at the oil fields in Uganda will directly impact Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, posing a serious threat to biodiversity and rare and endangered species.

TotalEnergies’ plans for the Tilenga oil field include drilling about 130 wells within the boundaries of the national park. Moreover, important tributaries of the Nile flowing nearby will be affected. Communities have expressed their concern over the possibility of oil spills and other pollution affecting the river and having an effect as distant as North Africa. 

A 2022 study by the Climate Accountability Institute found the total emissions attributed to the 25-year operation of the pipeline totals 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making TotalEnergies a key contributor to Africa’s carbon footprint.

Despite mounting evidence of its destructive practices, TotalEnergies shows no sign of slowing down. Its pursuit of profit continues to trump concerns for people and the planet, perpetuating a cycle of exploitation and suffering. It’s time for countries to lead on a new vision that prioritises sustainability, justice and respect for both people and the planet. 

TotalEnergies’ century of exploitation must serve as a wake-up call, reminding governments of the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels and towards a future that is truly sustainable for all.

Charity Migwi is the Africa senior campaigner at Oil Change International.