SEARCH FOR OIL MAY ‘KILL THE VIRUNGAS’
Information has been unearthed that another UNESCO World Heritage Site is under increasing pressure, this time the Virungas in the Congo DR. Dominion Oil has been cited as one of the main culprits behind this youngest assault on Eastern Africa’s ecosystems, and the regime in Kinshasa is said to be in cahoots with them, already scheming how to reduce the size of the national park so as to freely permit oil exploration to commence without the ‘burden and troubles of doing it in a park’ according to a source in Goma.
Congo has in recent years torn up existing contracts for oil exploration blocks and re-advertised some of them while others are said to have quietly been given to ‘companies in friendly countries’, willing to dig deep into their pockets while not bothering with such issues as human rights, anti corruption measures, transparency, good governance and environmental protection.
Congo’s Virunga National Park, part of the transboundary ecosystem which is habitat to the endangered mountain gorilla, has in past years seen the highest ratio of poaching of these animals and is often suspected of paying lip service towards conservation goals, when participating in trilateral discussions and talks. Two regular sources in Kigali and Kampala, well acquainted with the conservation work for the gorilla national parks in the three countries, did comment that while their direct counterparts do try to uphold conservation ideals and joint decisions, especially those individuals posted in the Virunga National Park, it is their political masters they suspect in Kinshasa who are alleged to obstruct and water down implementation of resolutions, being willing stooges of politically more influential and senior figures linked to mineral exploration in that country.
Dominion and another company have reportedly denied having any gorillas in or near their allocated exploration blocks but the key question, why oil exploration blocks were initially extended into clearly demarcated national park areas, have not been answered and collusion if not worse is also expected there. Pressure by global conservation groups, similar to the anti Serengeti Highway coalition, is said to be building up fast and local, regional, African continental and international NGO’s and individuals are busy digging up more information, which could implicate the oil exploration companies and the regime in Kinshasa in such a way that they wished they never had touched the Virunga area.
In past years the mining of coltan and gold made often headlines during the height of the civil war in Eastern Congo, when militias carved up areas of interest and forced villagers to become slave miners for them, so that they could trade the valuable materials for more weapons, ammunition and other supplies. At one point even sections of the UN forces in Eastern Congo were implicated to have traded actively in minerals for turning a blind eye on militia activities or letting them ‘repossess’ confiscated weapons caches.
Existing law make oil exploration in national parks presently impossible but exceptions can be granted for ‘scientific purposes’ which it is understood Dominion has been seeking permission for, while the other option would be to amend the law or substantially reduce the size of the park, robbing the gorillas of yet more of their natural habitat.
Watch this space.