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11 Mai 2021

Jeffrey Barbee and Laurel Neme, National Geographic

Namibia & Botswana: Members of the public allege ReconAfrica is not properly consulting & informing communities of its project's potential impacts

"Oil company exploring in sensitive elephant habitat accused of ignoring community concerns", 11 May 2021

[...] members of the public—both in interviews and in statements submitted officially to company representatives—say ReconAfrica has not taken seriously the requirement to inform and consult the public about its plans. That’s both legally mandated and critical to ensure the voices of the people most likely to be affected by the project are heard, says Annette Hübschle, a Namibian-raised environmental social scientist and senior research fellow with the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

It allows “people to judge for themselves whether oil and gas development is the kind of socio-economic development they are seeking for themselves and their children,” she says. As has happened in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, Ecuador, and elsewhere, corporations often “fail dismally in apprising Indigenous peoples and local communities about long-term impacts of resource extraction and the clean-up once extraction processes have been completed.”  

To guard against that, Namibian law requires companies to ensure that members of the public are aware of the proposed project, fully understand it, and have a chance to raise concerns. This can be achieved by newspaper ads, notices on community bulletin boards, and public meetings...Numerous people and advocacy organizations have registered their concern with ReconAfrica representatives that the process has fallen short.

For example, pandemic travel restrictions and health concerns prevented some from attending public meetings, and at those meetings, the number of attendees was capped, says an official comment from Natural Justice, a human rights and environmental law nonprofit that supports Indigenous African communities. Namibia’s lack of broadband infrastructure, especially in the areas covered by ReconAfrica’s exploration license, has also been a barrier to informing Indigenous and rural communities and giving them an opportunity to give feedback, others noted.

Meanwhile, at public meetings, including a contentious hearing in Windhoek, company representatives sidestepped attendees’ questions. The company also canceled other meetings in remote, rural communities without explanation.

Gilmour, ReconAfrica’s spokesman, did not respond to questions about the public consultation process, notices, and meetings, but he said there have been “detailed consultation[s] with local communities and other stakeholders” and that ReconAfrica will “continue to keep an active and collaborative relationship in place with all interested parties.”...