Zambesia: UNPO condemns oil and gas company ReconAfrica's interest in exploiting resources of the Kavango Basin
The Canadian-based oil and gas company Reconnaissance Energy Africa, also known through its subsidiary ReconAfrica, has come under scrutiny since their 2020 announcement of drilling explorations in the Kavango Basin, which was approved by the Namibian government. The area, which encompasses a licensed region of more than 34.000 square kilometers, is a famous UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a diverse ecosystem of plants and animals. The drilling projects are endangering not only what National Geographic describes as “one of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems” but also negatively impacts more than 200,000 people, including Zambesians, who are indigenous to the lands.
The Zambesian nation existed pre-colonization but was declared as part of the British sphere of influence in 1885, and later part of its territory was included into the German protectorate. Nowadays Zambesians find themselves split between Namibia and its neighboring countries but identify themselves within Namibia as indigenous people. However, the people have through colonization and the independence of Namibia lost their traditional lands, and lack legal status, which grants them decisions over their economic, social and cultural rights. This leaves Zambesians facing various challenges, primarily the restitution of their land but also environmental degradation, which the oil drilling will further impact.
The people of Zambesia, alongside other indigenous people residing in the Zambesian territory, as well as environmental activists, human right defenders, and experts have spoken out against the plans from ReconAfrica, citing devastating environmental consequences. Furthermore, the drilling are raising risks to the natural water supply of the region, with concerns of fracking and wastewater contamination, endangering the largest inland delta of the world. There is currently no available data showing how the drilling have insofar affected the natural water supply, but environmentalists fear the destruction of the natural environment and with it the livelihood of thousands of people. Despite environmental concerns, the Namibian government supports the activities, with the minister of mines and energy, Tom Alweendo welcoming the potential investment gained through the cooperation with ReconAfrica. He recently argued infront of community members in Kavango East, that international civil organizations are spreading negative rhetoric and those who voice environmental concerns are Europeans and Americans, whose economies grew through oil drilling in their countries. His concern lies with the livelihoods of Namibians, as the country suffers under high numbers of unemployment. Further, he states that environmental problems will arise but the environmental management act, as part of the Namibian constitution, should be respected throughout the drilling explorations. The Namibian environmental commissioner Timoteus Mufeti, has further granted ReconAfrica an extension of the company’s Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) allowing them to continue drilling wells.
The stance of the Namibian government towards ReconAfrica lead to various community leaders and environmental activist groups, together with the Namibian Legal Assistance Center (LAC) to lodge an urgent appeal with the High Court of Namibia, objecting the extension granted to ReconAfrica. The appeal was denied. Zambesians have voiced, that the Namibian government is not taking the concerns of Zambesians and the potential impacts of oil extraction in the Kavango basin, which forms part of Zambesia, seriously. They have insofar been excluded from any consultation, nor have received transparency or any information regarding how their lives and rights will be impacted. Instead environmental organizations, the local community and journalists are restricted from entering the operation sites and have faced several threats and intimidation. A family at Mbambi, Kavango East have taken their case to court, claiming ReconAfrica has destroyed their crop fields, and thus their livelihood. Meanwhile, there have also been reports of human rights defenders being detained by the police on their activism against ReconAfrica.
The UNPO condemns the lack of transparency and the threats faced by Zambesians and other communities impacted by the oil explorations. We call upon the Namibian government and ReconAfrica to respect the newly declared universal human right, which declares “Access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” for all. UNPO wants to remind both of the international frameworks in place against human rights violations, carried out by business activities.