Environmental Groups Call on DRC Govt to Stop Oil and Gas Blocks Auction

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has already launched the auction of 27 oil and gas blocks, but several environmental organizations are trying to thwart the plan.

"This is a setback for the reputation of a country that is a solution for our planet," Greenpeace said.

Thanks to the forests of the Congo Basin, of which it owns more than 60 percent, the DRC has presented itself as a solution to the climate change affecting the world. While the government is trying to convince people that this exploitation will respect the environment, local and international NGOs are calling for the cancellation of this project.

"The DRC has made commitments that it must respect, and this logging project goes against those commitments," said Patient Muamba, head of Greenpeace Africa's Congo Basin forests campaign.

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Women are digging the fields in Mali Africa on December 6, 2020. Environmental groups in DRC have called for the cancellation of the oil and gas block auctions. Ecole Légal Ségou/Creative Commons

He added that "the Paris Agreement requires all signatory countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 degrees and the DRC is a signatory, we must not increase pollution."

Olivier Ndoole, an expert on the environment in civil society and coordinator of the organization Alerte Congolaise pour l'Environnement et les Droits de l'Homme (ACEDH), believes that local communities will suffer with the decision.

"We disagree, not only because of the protected areas but also because of local land rights. The rights of local communities have been violated by this auction. There are many community lands that are not under the control of the Congolese state. Many local communities depend economically on these lands, for example, Block 5 on Lake Edouard, which feeds the entire province of North Kivu with fish," Ndoole said.

Eve Bazaiba, deputy prime minister and minister of the environment, has been hailed by several NGOs as a reformer in the environmental sector. But she is among the great progenitors of this project, according to several pressure groups. "The actions we are taking, including the exploitation of oil, are not to destroy the forests but for the survival of the country because we live in the forest, we live from the forest," she explained in a press briefing organized in Kinshasa for this purpose.

Job Creation and New Revenues

Kinshasa says it is to strengthen its budget and boost the country's economy. "The DRC has returned to its position as a leader in the field of the environment, but this does not exclude the exploitation of our resources for our development in compliance with environmental standards," Bazaiba said.

Her colleague, Didier Budimbu Ntubuanga, minister of hydrocarbons, added: "Don't give us any other intentions, we just want to create jobs for the Congolese. We have already launched the call for tender and in the end, we will select the companies that will participate in the sale of the blocks. There is a committee that has been set up for this, and you will see the great work it does.

Ndoole rejected this claim, saying that "80 percent of the rural population lives from agriculture, and it is this land that is affected by these farms. There is no alternative to these millions of Congolese who need to farm.

According to the environmentalist, the profitability of the exploitation of the oil blocks will be hypothetical in the long term. "These people are deceiving the population because the production model of oil companies says it takes around 18 years to have the products derived from oil, so the revenue we are talking about will only come after several years and not in the current government of President Tshisekedi.

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Children curiously listen in as interviewees tell their stories relating to the Congo conflict, the deadliest conflict since WWII. Environmental groups in DRC say that the sale of oil and gas blocks benefit the government and not the people. Flickr/Steve Evans

At the level of Greenpeace, they are asking for structural changes in the management of natural resources being exploited.

"When the question of means is put forward, it is surprising because the DRC exploits other natural resources but these minerals only benefit certain leaders and not the population. It is necessary to rethink the governance of resources, the Congo already has other resources that do not benefit the Congolese and this exploitation of the blocks will not escape this problem if changes in governance are not made. Only individuals will get richer and the average Congolese will continue to suffer more severely because they will have lost arable land and forests," said Patient Muamba.

A Procedure to Rethink

This procedure is also in violation of Congolese law, according to several analysts. This view is shared by Gratias Kibanja, a lawyer at the Goma Bar. "The law on the fundamental principles of the environment and the law on nature conservation contain provisions that prohibit the exploitation of hydrocarbons in protected areas," she says.

For Ndoole, "the prerequisites have not been made by the government, the law obliges the government to sensitize, give clear information to the population concerned before launching the process so that the population participate in the decision-making.

"We ask the government to promote other more ecological and non-polluting energies such as hydroelectricity. This will help create development at the grassroots level while protecting the protected air and land of local communities," he added.

Arm Wrestling Will Continue

All parties are holding to their views and each is sharpening their strategies and arguments for the future.

"I don't think that the government is going to ignore the legal provisions that have been drawn up and the needs of the population on the land. But if they insist on this idea, we will go to court to force the government to respect the procedure," Ndoole said.

"We protect our forests not because we are asked to but because it is our heritage. We need to tell the polluting countries to respect their commitments by paying the amount agreed for more than 10 years now. We are going to make sure that the Congolese benefit from their wealth while protecting the forests," said the vice minister and minister of the environment, who is only interested in the exploitation of oil and gas blocks.

"At Greenpeace, we will not stop saying that this project is a danger for the environment," Muamba said. "We ask the government to stop this project. We tell companies that want to invest in this field in Congo that it will have a very negative impact on the climate and biodiversity not only in the DRC but all over the world.

"We are going to put pressure, both nationally and internationally, on all the companies that are going to bid for this exploitation project so that they can withdraw."

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.