Fake bird murder exposes true horrors of TotalEnergies in East Africa


Shocking “fake publicity stunt” shames oil giant for real deadly pipeline

September 14, 2021

PARIS — On Monday, before a chic ballroom full of journalists and business leaders, representatives from supermajor oil company TotalEnergies unveiled RéHabitat, a “habitat-equivalency” conservation program that would rescue animals living along the route of their impending giant East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) by relocating them to “more sustainable” habitats in France.

To demonstrate, wildlife handlers performed a publicity stunt in which a French rooster ceremoniously welcomed a silvery-cheeked hornbill freshly transported from East Africa. But things took a shocking turn when the rooster violently attacked and murdered the helpless African bird in a bloody flurry of feathers—to the horror of attendees and livestream viewers around the world—transforming the event into a devastating metaphor for the destruction that TotalEnergies’ EACOP will bring to East Africa.

Watch the video here. View photos and graphics here. See coverage by AFP, L’Obs, TV5 Monde, Energy Voice, and lots of Twitter hubbub here.

When the feathers cleared, RéHabitat was revealed to be an elaborate hoax orchestrated by American trickster-activists The Fixers, an emergent faction of The Yes Men. The “birds” were in fact lifelike puppets, and the company representatives were actors—but the danger EACOP poses to some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems and local communities is very real. When Natalie Whiteman and Jeff Walburn of The Fixers learned about EACOP, they knew they had to take action.

“Total claims to be a responsible energy company while engineering ecological collapse on a massive scale. We’re just helping them be more honest about what they do,” said Whiteman.

The satirical RéHabitat program was designed to highlight TotalEnergies’ investment in greenwashing its image while simultaneously expanding dirty oil and gas projects all over the world. As well, the action was meant to implicate banks—including Standard Bank, ICBC, and SMBC—for sponsoring the pipeline and the ecological devastation it will create.

“Since Total spends so much money to misrepresent themselves, we see it as an urgent duty to represent TotalEnergies more transparently—as the imperialist destroyers and profit-hungry extractors they are, nowhere more horrifyingly than in East Africa with the Tilenga and EACOP projects,” said Walburn.

TotalEnergies is developing two mega-oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania: 

  • The Tilenga oil project plans to drill more than 400 wells, including 132 inside the Murchison Falls National Park, the biggest and oldest protected area in Uganda, in the Great Lakes region, to produce 200,000 barrels of oil per day.
  • The 1443 km-long EACOP would become the longest heated oil pipeline in the world, and would go through wetlands, protected areas, and fragile ecosystems from Hoima in Uganda to Tanga harbor in Tanzania.

Both projects are linked to human rights violations, and are already causing the eviction of more than 100,000 people, mainly farmers who have been deprived of their land for more than two years now, even before receiving any compensation.

At the local and international level, civil society is strongly mobilized against these two projects. Yesterday, several organizations had agreed to play along with the hoax on social media.

Juliette Renaud, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth France, said: “For two years now, we’ve been denouncing the ongoing human rights violations and risks of irreversible environmental damages of Total’s projects in Uganda and Tanzania up to French courts. But the only response from the company has been to develop a communication strategy to greenwash its activities once more. The truth is very simple: these projects should be immediately abandoned and Total should be held liable for their dramatic consequences, and forced to provide effective remedy to the affected communities.”

Charity Migwi, Regional Campaigner at 350Africa.org, said: “TotalEnergies’ business model has been causing devastating impacts to the environment, widespread biodiversity loss, and the destruction of all forms of life, not to mention their active role in accelerating climate change. They have lied and conspired to oppose regulation to protect their profits. We can no longer stand by and watch our future being destroyed. TotalEnergies needs to change their business model from a toxic pollutant to keeping fossil fuels in the ground by exiting from the Tilenga & EACOP projects in Uganda and Tanzania.”

Join the fight to #StopEACOP here and here.