TOTAL CEO Patrick Pouyanne Condemns Myanmar Atrocities While Ignoring Uganda’s Crimes

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TOTAL CEO Patrick Pouyanne. Photo: Linkedin 

[Open Letter]

Patrick Pouyanne, CEO


Dear Mr. Pouyanne, 

You are either a hypocrite and liar, or you just don’t believe that Africans are worthy of human rights consideration.

Let’s contrast your recent statements opposing the on-going atrocities by the military junta in Myanmar with your activities in Uganda, including cozying up to military dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni. 

TOTAL’s shareholders including major investors like First Asset Management, T. Rowe Price, Franklin Advisers, and others must be concerned about your duplicity. 

When the military overthrew the legal civilian government in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 there were immediate demands by local and global activists for TOTAL to cease operations there.

In an April 4, 2021 Op-Ed you defended TOTAL. You referred to the ongoing atrocities against unarmed civilians by the “repressive” regime. You said TOTAL will suspend new activities for oil operations. Yet, you wrote, TOTAL would continue paying the $4 million monthly royalties to the junta due to contractual obligations.

However, to mitigate the harm of continuing to provide funds to the regime, albeit under legal requirements, you also wrote, “since I feel that I cannot take the decision to discontinue production, in compliance with our ethics, our firm commitment to human rights and our ambition to be a responsible company, I am today deciding to donate to associations working towards human rights in Myanmar, the equivalent of the taxes that we will effectively have to pay to the Myanmar state.”

Did you really mean this or were those words merely for public relations? If you believe in human rights for the people of Myanmar should’t you maintain the same standard for Ugandans? So why did you rush to Uganda to sign on April 12, 2021 a multi-billion dollars agreement to produce and transport oil via a pipeline that will run through Tanzania? 

You did this even while the international community has been condemning ongoing campaign of kidnappings, torture, and murders by Gen. Museveni’s regime. Surely, you must be aware of these atrocities since they have been covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Al Jazeera. 

As part of fiduciary obligations to TOTAL’s shareholders, you must follow political developments in Uganda. You must know of the campaign of terror and bloodshed by Gen. Museveni before, during, and after the January 14, 2021 elections which were so blatantly rigged that the U.S. in an April 16, 2021 statement declared that it was “neither free nor fair.  The U.S. also announced that it was imposing visa restrictions on Ugandan officials for the ongoing human rights abuses and the election rigging. 

The names of the sanctioned officials were not disclosed. Human rights activists hope the list includes Gen. Museveni himself and his son, Gen. Muhoozi Kaenerugaba, who heads the Special Forces Command (SFC) which has been carrying out the abductions and killings. 

Earlier, the European Parliament, after a debate during which members condemned atrocities by the Museveni regime, on February 11, 2021 recommended that member countries impose Magnitsky sanctions—which includes asset seizures— on Museveni regime officials. 

Here are other recent egregious crimes by Museveni’s regime: 

On November 18 and 19, 2020, more than 100 Ugandan civilians were massacred. They were peacefully protesting the arrest of leading opposition presidential candidate Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine. The regime itself admitted to murdering 54 people. 

Thereafter, opposition candidates and their supporters were routinely fired upon by Museveni’s security forces, resulting into more loss of life. Even journalists were beaten or shot. Uganda’s police commander Gen. Martin Okoth-Ochola defended the crimes, saying journalists were beaten for their "own sake” to dissuade them from traveling to dangerous areas.

Two days before the January 14 vote Gen. Museveni ordered complete shutdown of the internet for weeks. Yet, on January 16, when no data could be transmitted from the nearly 35,000 polling stations Museveni acolyte Simon Byabakama, chair of the so-called election “commission” all of whose members are hand-picked by the dictator declared him “victor” with 59% to Bobi Wine’s 35%. A tally by the independent Uvote app showed that candidate Bobi Wine beat Museveni by 20 points, 54% to 34%.

Gen. Museveni is not the legitimate leader of Uganda. You should therefore know that he is not in a position to sign a multi-billion dollars oil pipeline deal with TOTAL. 

Since his defeat at the polls Gen. Museveni has escalated the campaign of abductions. He wants to maintain a permanent state of terror in the hope of pre-empting possible popular uprisings against his military regime. The U.S., EU, the United Nations, and human rights organizations have all condemned the atrocities. Yet you, Mr. Pouyanne, motivated purely by profit and greed, have closed your eyes. You continue to pretend as if all is fine in Uganda. 

How can anyone believe you mean what you say about Myanmar while at the same tying entered into business relations with Uganda’s brutal and corrupt Gen. Museveni? Please don’t offer any excuse about  “this is Africa” and “the standards are different.” These are purely racist notion. Don’t you think victims of Museveni’s crimes—and their family and loved ones—value their own lives? Black Lives Matter, whether in the U.S. where citizens are now fighting against police brutality, or in Uganda where people are resisting military dictatorship. 

If you really care about human rights, here are some suggestions for you:

1. Suspend involvement by TOTAL in oil-related activities in Uganda until the campaigns of kidnappings, torture, and killings by Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kaenerugaba end, and until a legitimate government assumes power. 

2. Suspend activities to secure financing for the oil pipeline whose cost is estimated from $2.4 billion to $3 billion. In any event, many major banks who are opposed to the political risk and destructive impact on the environment have rejected TOTAL’s invitation to participate including Credit Suisse, Barclays, and others. The U.K. Export Finance (UKEF) also ruled out involvement.

3. Make a similar financial commitment to Ugandan human rights organizations as you did to those in Myanmar. In Uganda these organizations are working to: free thousands of civilians still languishing in military detention centers; pay treatment for victims subjected to abuses including genital electric shock; secure legal representation for victims; and, pay for funeral expenses for those killed by the regime.

4. Consider this moment as a learning opportunity and start focusing on carbon neutral energy plans to steer TOTAL into the modern era on behalf of its shareholders.

Finally, you must be aware that it’s impossible to have peaceful and successful energy operations in any country governed by a military dictator. Nigeria provided the clearest example, when the youth disrupted Royal Dutch Shell’s operations, including the pipeline, when the company worked closely with brutal dictators such as Gen. Sani Abacha. Shell's reputation never recovered after the Nigerian military regime executed human rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa.

TOTAL and Uganda won’t benefit if your company creates similar conditions in Uganda under Gen. Museveni’s regime. 

Uganda is one of the youngest countries in the world. TOTAL must invest in the future not the past. 


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