Call to cease oil activity around oldest natural park in Africa

January 26, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

By

Darell Maurice

The British NGO Global Witness calls on the Congolese and Ugandan authorities to “prevent” any oil activity near the Virunga National Park, the oldest park in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a statement released last week.

This call, according to Global Witness and signed by some sixty other Congolese organizations, international and environmentalist NGOs such as Greenpeace, urged UNESCO and governments in Kampala and Kinshasa to “conclude an agreement to prevent the exploration and extraction of oil and related activities in the Virunga Park area,”

“In this agreement, all exploration permits in force in this area, as well as any plans in granting new ones, should be canceled,” according to the statement published by Global Witness, a NGO specialized in the fight against the pillaging of natural resources in developing countries.

At stake, say the signatories, is to “preserve the integrity” of the park on the borders of Uganda and World Heritage of Humanity (in the “at risk” category).

Since suspecting the presence of oil in Virunga, UNESCO repeatedly stated that the exploration and exploitation of oil were “inconsistent” with the settlement of the World Heritage Committee, and called Kinshasa to cancel three exploration licenses on Virunga Park stretches in the province of North Kivu along the border with Rwanda and Uganda, and home to several endangered animal species, including the mountain gorilla.

Following intense international and local mobilization, the French group Total, holder of one of the exploration blocks (Block III ) is committed not to enter the perimeter of the park, but it  recently resumed the exploration activities in the vicinity of the reserve, according to sources.

The British company Soco, holder of Block V, which encompasses much of the southern half of the park, in 2014 achieved, despite numerous protests, seismic testing within the grounds of the park.

In November the Congolese authorities indicated that the results of this study attested to the presence of oil in the area. Soco have completely withdrawn from the case after the expiration of their license and have not applied for its renewal.

North of the Total block, blocks I and II , straddling Lake Albert but without directly bordering Virunga, were awarded to the company Oil of Congo, owned by Israeli businessman Dan Gertler, close to Congolese President Joseph Kabila. Oil of Congo announced in August 2014 that they have detected the presence of 3 million barrels of oil in its scope of research.

On the other side of the border in Uganda, Kampala authorities also attributed exploration licences, including those today held by Total and the Chinese group CNOOC.

In the past, Kinshasa highlighted the need to exploit the oil that could be in Virunga in the name of economic development of the DRC, the vast majority of the population languishing in misery.

To date, no downstream oil exploration in the park has been given by the authorities. Opponents to drilling argue that in a region beset by chronic violence, this would ignite the armed conflicts that have devestated North Kivu for over 20 years.

 

 

 

 

 

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Darell Maurice

Darell Maurice is a Journalist based in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city Kinshasa and works for Canal7kintv. He also blogs here.

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