Stop oil exploration and exploitation activities in the Greater Virunga and, end conflicts and bloodshed in the Albert basin communities
OPEN LETTER BY ENVIRONMENTAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS FROM THE GREATER VIRUNGA TO PRESIDENT JOSEPH KABILA OF DRC AND PRESIDENT YOWERI MUSEVENI OF UGANDA.
By this letter, we, environmental and Human Rights civil society groups of the Great Lakes region, take this opportunity to express our appreciation and support of your efforts to ensure sustainable management and utilization of natural resources including the shared resources between Uganda and DR Congo. We also thank you for supporting national, regional and global initiatives to fight climate change and global warming, as well as promote equity and social justice in the region for the common good.
After our recent experience sharing trip to Nigeria, between 4th and 10th November where we got an opportunity to meet and discuss with oil affected communities in the Niger Delta and engaged with fellow civil society and government officials from across Nigeria, we have found it necessary to write this letter and remind you of the dangers of oil exploitation in Africa. Through the above experience sharing visit to Nigeria, we came to understand that without transparency, openness, accountability, strong institutions, respect for the rule of law, democracy and Constitutionalism, oil exploration and exploitation activities remain the single biggest challenge to achieving durable peace, security, stability and development in poor but oil rich countries and communities.
More often than not, oil exploitation in Africa has continued to cause irreversible environmental and other human social negative consequences. As we write this letter, we condemn the killing of security forces and people in Kasese district-Uganda and call upon the government to urgently bring to book all those responsible for the senseless loss of life and destruction of property. These killings is a big reminder of the challenges that continue to cause misery to our people in the border areas and oil, if not well handled, may worsen the situation by fueling the means to sustain and strengthen such conflicts.
Indeed, Your Excellences, the Nigerian experience clearly indicate that if the DRC and Uganda governments started exploiting oil in the Albert basin border areas, the development activities would commence in a situation lacking in strong institutions, absence of a framework for a clear joint oil management, absence of a clear mechanism for the utilization and benefit sharing of cross border resources, disrespect and poor implementation of international treaties and bilateral agreements regarding hydrocarbon and other NRs exploitation. Mistrust and suspicion among communities on one hand and between the two sister countries on the other, disrespect and disputed international borders-especially the Lake Albert part, contradictions in the laws governing cross border resources, high influence from multinational companies and many other challenges. Such a situation would make it impossible to manage and utilize oil and other resources for social and economic justice and development, and it’s a big concern for us.
Considering that Uganda is in the process of commencing oil production through building of pipelines and a refinery in the Albert basin and has signed or is still negotiating with all the East African countries and DRC to jointly own the above oil development infrastructure, we, the civil society, find it necessary to appeal to you, Your Excellences to take urgent action to improve governance conditions in the region.
We note with concern that oil developments in both DRC and Uganda are taking place and others being planned in and around highly sensitive biodiversity resources of transboundary and international importance. These resources include fresh water sources such as Lake Albert, the River Nile, Lake Edward, as well as Murchison Falls National Park, Virunga National Park, Mount Rwenzori Forest and National park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and many others. The above biodiversity resources which form the integral part of UNESCO World Héritage and Ramsar sites constitute the Greater Virunga area that is shared between DRC and Uganda, and the Lake Kivu that DRC shares with Rwanda. It is therefore fitting to point out to you that there is fear among the communities across the two borders that the on-going and planned individual and collective oil development activities in the region will negatively affect the key biodiversity resources particularly the lakes, rivers, forests and wetlands which sustain both the social and economic livelihoods of all of our people.
DRC represented by the Congolese Minister of Hydrocarbons and Rwanda represented by the Rwandan Minister of Natural Resources at a meeting on 10 November 2016 in Goma signed an agreement to govern cross-border exploitation of the methane gas and oil from the Lake Kivu. And Uganda and the DRC have already signed related agreements on oil covering Lake Albert and other border areas including the Ngurdoto agreement of 2007. Unfortunately, all the above agreements have been concluded without the participation of communities who depend on those resources for survival and perhaps, it’s the reason why the implementation of such agreements has remained difficult.
Your Excellences, we call upon you to shift your policies and investments from oil and use them to boost our economies through exploitation of renewable resources as a means to provide the much needed clean energy to meet the energy needs of the citizens and also use it as a means to combat climate change effects and other global challenges.
Your Excellences, through this letter, we ask you to urgently take action on the following:
- Avoid and or stop individual and joint ongoing and planned oil activities of exploration and exploitation in form of drilling, flaring, refineries, pipelines and others in the areas of Virunga, Queen Elizabeth, L. Edward and all biodiversity resources in the border areas.
- Implement the Ngurdoto Agreement of 2007 by committing to promote social, cultural, economic and political cooperation in order to achieve peace, security and prosperity for all at national and across borders. Further, review the above agreement to strengthen environmental safeguards.
- Delay and or avoid licensing of new oil blocks in the Greater Virunga area, stop all planned individual and joint oil exploration and extraction activities to give a chance to develop renewable energy resources as a source of clean energy for the two countries and to comply with the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Compliance with the Paris Agreement will our countries combat climate change problems by reducing the use of fossil fuels.
- Promote tourism as the engine of economic diversification and key in the growth of the local and national economies;
- Firmly commit to refrain from any exploration of petroleum and mining on the whole of the landscape of the Greater Virunga.
Both Uganda and DRC central and local governments should undertake individual and collective steps to promote peace and security of people and property in the border areas.