Civil Society Joins Hands for Oil & GasAcross eastern and southern Africa, commercial and competitively large deposits of oil and gas reserves have been discovered in Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. However, petroleum development in a context of limited policies and strong oversight institutions can be associated with serious environmental and social consequences of both a national and trans-boundary nature.
Civil society organizations have started mobilizing around these issues by pushing for greater transparency, social equity and environmental sustainability in petroleum decision-making, with slow but growing levels of regional collaboration across countries. However, many of these organizations remain seriously constrained by low technical capacity, low levels of funding, state persecution, limited access to information and a diminishing political space for freedom of expression.
It is with this in mind that WWF’s office for Eastern and Southern Africa – with support from Norad and WWF Norway and in partnership with these national CSO coalitions on petroleum – mobilized civil society organizations (CSOs) in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique for a first time collaborative meeting.
The CSOs unanimously agreed to work together to ensure petroleum development in eastern and southern Africa Africa contributes towards sustainable development in the region. “Petroleum development overlaps enormously with critical and important biodiversity conservation areas. Given the limited policy and institutional frameworks prevailing in our region, we are very excited that civil society has agreed to establish this collaborative platform on petroleum development,” said Mr. Niall O’Connor, WWF’s Regional Director for eastern and southern Africa.
The CSOs agreed to collaborate across national boundaries to: strengthening lesson-sharing frameworks; increase awareness on impacts of oil and gas developments; work together to generate better knowledge and credible data; build constructive engagement with various partners; and improve on capacity building.
National coalitions agreed to build a broader lesson-sharing network for CSOs involved in the oil and gas sector in the region. It was also proposed to collaborate more with national CSOs in oil and gas producing countries, outside East and Southern Africa, where a case in point was collaboration with CSOs from Southern Sudan, DRC and Angola. However it was agreed that for this to happen CSOs represented at the meeting will first need to consolidate their regional collaboration.
In addition to the traditional media, CSOs agreed to adopt new media platforms, such as social media, to improve information sharing in their advocacy work. To this end, it was agreed that there is need to have a regional communications strategy to support the awareness building process. This was proposed because all audiences are segmented and the channels to reach each of them are unique. In addition, CSOs also agreed that there is need to have capacity building on communication, in terms of packaging information for advocacy. In this regard they intend to make use of current social media and other mass-media platforms to advocate for better governance of the petroleum sector
CSOs agreed that in order to increase their legitimacy they must base their work on credible, factual and irrefutable information and expertise. This would help improve the effectiveness of their policy advocacy and legitimacy while engaging government and private sector.
“WWF believes that CSOs have an important role to play in ensuring that the voices of local communities who depend directly on the natural resources that could be affected by petroleum development are integrated into decision-making processes by both governments and petroleum companies,” observed Robert Ddamulira, WWF’s Regional Energy Coordinator for eastern and southern Africa. “I am therefore very happy that CSOs are finally joining hands across borders to share lessons and collaborate on ensuring petroleum development does not degrade the environment nor compromise the local livelihoods that directly depend on it,” he added.
It was noted that there are partnerships that CSOs should aim to build, especially with complementary government agencies. They agreed to improve constructive engagement and positive criticism of government and private sector and only take a hardline alternative where constructive engagement fails.
Members present also agreed that there is need for increased capacity building activities. This they said can be at both national and regional level.
Based on a clear understanding of the various CSO regional coordination arrangements, CSOs agreed to an interim regional coordination team comprised of a general assembly of national CSO coalitions on oil and gas; a steering committee, country representatives and a secretariat. Ms Irene Sekyana (CSCO, Uganda) was elected as an interim Chairperson, deputized by Mr. Steven Itela (Kenya Oil and Gas Working Group) while the Advocates Coalition on Development and Environment (Uganda) was elected as an interim secretariat for this regional group.
“We trust that with the right support and commitment CSOs in this platform will be critical contributors in ensuring that a balance between government, private sector and community’s needs are reached, in which the harnessing of petroleum resources will not compromise nature and the millions of local livelihoods which this very nature supports in our region,” concluded Mr. O’Connor.