Congolese protesters demand cancelation of Soco oil permits

Posted on 27 March 2014

Activists argue that oil exploitation could pose a threat to essential fishing and agricultural jobs, and could enflame conflicts in eastern DRC.
Goma, DRC – Over 50 protestors assembled peacefully in the street Monday holding banners proclaiming “no to oil” in Virunga National Park. UK company Soco International PLC says it will begin seismic testing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) World Heritage Site next month.

Activists argue that oil exploitation could pose a threat to essential fishing and agricultural jobs, and could enflame conflicts in eastern DRC where peace has been achieved only recently.

Community groups appealed for greater investment to unlock the tourism potential of Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, home to critically endangered mountain gorillas, as well as for assistance to bolster the fishery and agricultural industries.

“Virunga National Park could be an engine for sustainable economic development for the country and future generations,” civil society groups said in a written statement.

One woman who sells fish caught in Virunga’s Lake Edward says her business has enabled her to afford an education she otherwise could not.

“We can’t tolerate seeing oil activities destroying our source of income,” she said. “What will we become without Lake Edward?”

“I’ve joined the protest because I want to add my voice to those of many of my brothers who live in fear regarding their future because of the oil project in Virunga National Park,” the fish-seller said.

Asked if she was concerned about speaking out publically in protest she said, “I’m not afraid, because I defend my right- the right to a healthy environment.”

Police on the scene of Monday’s protest ensured participants were able to express safely their opposition to oil exploration in Virunga. The event’s organizers noted that threats against some anti-oil activists have been recorded over the previous years.

A declaration issued at the protest complained that Soco did not provide communities with a sufficient amount of information about the risks of its operations, and that civil society views were not taken into account.

“The free, prior and informed consent of communities affected by oil activities in Virunga National Park has not been respected,” according to the written statement, which goes on to request the cancelation of Soco’s exploration permits.

Women against oil exploration hold poster, "Our law guarantees the protection of nature. And you?"
© Edgar Mbekemoja
Many women in the area run businesses selling fish, fruit or vegetables.
© Brent Stirton / Reportage by Getty Images / WWF
Anti-oil protester holds Swahili banner, "Drilling for petroleum in Virunga is dangerous for residents and the environment." Police ensure safety of participants.
© Edgar Mbekemoja