Virunga activist refuses to be silent about oil threat
It is in these terms that Fiston Kakule, a medical student at the University of Goma, describes his opposition to the plans of UK oil company Soco International PLC to explore for oil in a Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) World Heritage Site. The future doctor says his interest in conservation grew from the link between environmental change and the emergence of new diseases.
“I was born and grew up in North Kivu province,” Fiston says. “I’m proud - and all our populations are as well - to have the Virunga National Park in our zone. We all benefit from fisheries resources of Lake Edward.”
Local communities that depend on Virunga for their livelihoods are not aware of how oil exploitation could impact on the park or people’s wellbeing, Fiston says.
Out of concern for the future of the park and its important resources, Fiston joined an environmental youth organization called MERVI to help get the word out about the dangers of oil extraction.
The oil company told people that it will bring jobs and development to the province, but Fiston worried that residents were not being informed sufficiently about the possible risks of oil exploration on their health, their livelihoods and their society.
Our message: the truth
Fiston says, “Our role as residents of North Kivu province is to tell people the truth regarding oil exploitation impacts on the park, essentially on the natural resources, agriculture, fishing, people’s health.”
Evidence from the DRC coastal city of Moanda demonstrates what potentially could go wrong if oil extraction is allowed to go ahead. Promises of jobs were not kept, and fishing zones have been severely polluted.
MERVI seizes all opportunities to alert people about the threats posed by the oil project, even going door to door with pamphlets in French and Swahili. Fiston says that the organization once planned a community meeting with fishermen, but was prevented from peacefully assembling even though it had the proper permits.
Despite risks to their personal safety, Fiston and other activists continue to speak out against oil. Earlier this month seven people were arrested during a protest against Soco, and others have reported threats and intimidation.
“Even once I am a doctor, I will continue to fight against the oil project in Virunga until we get the right result,” Fiston says. “That means the cancellation of all oil permits issued in Virunga National Park. For the wellbeing and the future of my communities, and the integrity of Virunga National Park, I will not be quiet.”