Lack of knowledge hampers full picture of oil and gas project

31 March 2021 | Environment

KENYA KAMBOWE



KAWE

Villagers situated close to the ReconAfrica oil and gas exploration sites say they are not on an equal information footing about the potential drawbacks of the project.

Pressure groups and institutions have objected to the likely harm of exploration for oil and gas by ReconAfrica in the Kavango East Region, claiming that the company would conduct hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and possibly contaminate underground water reserves.

Damian Hausiku, headman of Makandina village, situated just a few kilometres from the drilling site at Kawe, told Ewi lyaNooli that in the absence of expert knowledge they cannot air serious concerns, compared to those made by critics of the project from Namibia and across the globe.

“What concerns can we raise when people are talking about something you have no knowledge about? We are not experts in these kinds of things. To ask if I was consulted, I cannot give an absolute response because our knowledge is limited,” Hausiku said.

He added that communities, especially those living in poverty, do not have access to platforms to raise concerns. Moreover, he says the community turn to local and regional leaders and traditional leaders for guidance, and if they are convinced that all is well, there is no room or need to complain. He explains that the community are not empowered to question the views of their leaders or to debate experts.

Hausiku also questioned the lack of consultations on previous projects that harmed the environment, such as the timber cutting by Chinese nationals.

He said although community consultations took place, they cannot say they were consulted properly if they only heard afterwards of the potential damage the project could have on the environment.

Jobs

Hausiku argued that due to widespread poverty and high rates of unemployment, the promise of job opportunities at the exploration sites will likely attract attention from the villages.

ReconAfrica’s liaison officer, Alois Ngende, a former political heavyweight, was recently quoted that criticism of the project was anti-poor and anti-development.

“You don’t want Kavango’s to realise their dreams to become rich one day,” Ngende was quoted saying.

“What you journalists are doing is that you are trying to kill development in this area.”

Ngende was also spearheading the meetings with communities. Concerns have been raised that he is advancing the agenda of his employer at the cost of sharing the full scope and impacts of the project.

Meanwhile, Hausiku says the community is not opposed to the project, as they are in dire need of jobs and improving their livelihoods.

He said the government should take full responsibility when things go wrong as they are granting companies the licences to explore and mine in the country.

“As a community, a poor one for that matter, it does not make sense for us to go against development but if the government is convinced that there won’t be repercussions, they should take the blame. All we want is a better place for our children to live with ample opportunities,” Hausiku said.

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