As the climate movement grows, state repression is also growing—especially in the Global South. Climate activists in Uganda, East Africa, are facing repression from the state and intimidation from fossil fuel bosses for fighting to protect the planet.
David, not his real name, is part of Students4ClimateJustice Uganda. He told Socialist Worker that he has faced brutal state repression since he took part in a protest to stop the environmentally destructive East African Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop) project going ahead.
“We feel like our lives are at risk,” he said. “My other friends are scared to talk but I know I have to keep speaking out.”
“In November, I and other students decided to march along the road from Nakawa, an area in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, to parliament,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We wanted to deliver a petition to parliament to stop Eacop. But at around 11pm, we were stopped by the parliamentary police. They asked us to explain why we were there. I said we were delivering a petition.
“The police started to squeeze us against the gates of parliament. They pulled us, and they hit our legs. The police asked us who our leader was and I said it was me. They said a friend and I could deliver the petition to parliament.
“But instead of taking us to parliament, they took us to a jail cell.” David said that inside the cell, police officers questioned and slapped them.
The seven activists were held in the police station for five days and then sent to Luzira Maximum Security Prison. Inside prison, David said that agents from TotalEnergies, the multinational behind Eacop and one of the largest oil firms, came to intimidate the activists.
Describing the corporation’s intimidation attempts, David said, “They’d threaten us and said we would not leave prison unless we stopped fighting against Eacop”.
The visit shows a multinational oil corporation in thralls with the cops. After almost a month in prison, David returned home after posting bail.
He and the other activists are due in court on 7 February.
“We came home from prison, and our houses had been ransacked. Some of our property was stolen. I could no longer pay my rent, so I started living with a friend. I’ve got nothing at the moment. I don’t even have enough to eat.”
Experts have described the pipeline project as a “carbon bomb” that would release over 379 million tonnes of carbon—25 times the annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania combined.
It could also lead to the displacement of upwards of 100,000 people from their homes. Yet the bosses and the politicians who want Eacop to go ahead argue that the project will lift millions in Africa out of fuel poverty.
In 2022 the European Union passed a resolution calling for an end to Eacop, stating that it would have disastrous consequences for people and the planet.
Uganda’s president, Yoweri Kaguta, responded to it by describing those who voted for the resolution as “insufferable, so shallow, so egocentric, so wrong.”
Supporters of the pipeline say it’s hypocritical for Western countries, who grew rich out of colonising half the world, to criticise developing countries for wanting to use their natural resources to grow their economies
But the repression of activists protesting against Eacop shows that, in reality, the lives of ordinary people don’t mean that much to leaders in the Global South.
So, as David rightly pointed out, the pipeline will wreck lives and only make a small number of people very rich.