Fishermen and farmers express extreme discontent over Soco plans in Virunga

Posted on March, 20 2014

"We don't want Soco," Virunga fishermen say
Residents of two communities near Virunga National Park’s Lake Edward last week publicly declared firm opposition to the oil exploration plans of a UK company. Citing the critical economic importance of the lake and surrounding farm land, the two groups issued statements against oil exploration by Soco International PLC.

Over 100 fishermen and women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo town of Kyavinyonge said they would never accept activities that put their livelihoods at risk. The fishermen stressed that it is vital to protect Lake Edward’s ecosystems, plants and animals to ensure survival of the fish stocks upon which they depend.

In a separate statement, a coalition of farmers based in the town of Kiwanja said that it has never been consulted regarding the oil project, and that as opposition grew, intimidating tactics allegedly were deployed to suppress resistance. The farmers called for the cancelation of Soco’s permit in Virunga, noting that the World Heritage Site is protected by national laws and international treaties.

Soco says it soon will start seismic surveys in Lake Edward, and reportedly will prohibit fishing in some areas during the 2-3 months of testing.

Banners hanging above the fishing town’s main street read, “No to Soco in Lake Edward fisheries" and “We Kyavinyonge fishermen refuse oil exploration in our Lake Edward. We don't want Soco in our place.”

An independent economic analysis of Virunga National Park commissioned by WWF found that 50,000 people depend on Lake Edward for jobs, fish and freshwater. The area’s fishing industry generates an estimated US$30 million per year, according to the study.

A French language banner reads "No to Soco in Lake Edward fisheries"
© Kyavinonge Fishermen
A Swahili banner reads “We Kyavinonge fishermen refuse oil exploration in our Lake Edward. We don't want Soco in our place.”
© Kyavinonge Fishermen