Stop the new oil drilling threat to Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park

January 21 2016

RoadFree along with a broad alliance of 59 organizations from Africa and the World calls for UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach a deal to stop new oil drilling licences from being awarded in Virunga National Park and the surrounding area.

Over 60 environmental and tourism groups today called for UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach a deal to stop new oil drilling licences from being awarded in Virunga National Park and the surrounding area. Groups, including  Global Witness, Greenpeace and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and RoadFree are warning that a new oil licence, for which the Ugandan government is currently inviting bids, could have a devastating impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to some of Africa’s most iconic and endangered species including some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Next month the Ugandan government will receive bids on six new oil licences, all of which include protected areas and one of which shares a lake with Virunga National Park. Lake Edward is at the heart of Virunga’s precious ecosystem, but lies across the Congolese and Ugandan border. 

 “Drilling for oil in Lake Edward may have a devastating impact on both Virunga and the local people and wildlife in Uganda” said George Boden, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness and a spokesperson for the group.  

“Oil activity in one part of the lake will affect all of it – the wildlife  who call the lake home aren’t aware of these national borders. There are also over 200,000 people who are dependent on Lake Edward for food. UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and Congo need to act urgently to stop oil exploration in the entire lake for good.”   
The groups are also calling attention to the potential damage to Uganda’s growing tourism sector. Queen Elizabeth National Park, which also forms part of the oil block in question, is responsible for a third of all visits to Uganda’s national parks. Tourism currently accounts for 8% of Uganda’s GDP. 

“Drilling in this area is bad for the environment and bad for business. It may cause irreparable damage to one of Uganda’s key tourist attractions and to Uganda’s growing tourism sector. Given the global downturn in oil prices Uganda should protect other growing areas of our economy. Lake Edward could be worth a lot more to both countries as an area of outstanding natural beauty,” said Onesmus Mugyenyi, the Deputy Executive Director at ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment) Uganda. 

In 2014 British oil company Soco International carried out seismic testing for oil on the Congolese side of Lake Edward, in Virunga, prompting widespread local opposition and an international outcry.  The struggle over their oil licence was recorded in the Oscar nominated documentary Virunga, which was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Following the outcry Soco committed to no further involvement in its oil block in Virunga and announced in November 2015 that it no longer owns the block’s licence.   

The Congolese government has not commented publicly on the future of oil block 5, which covers Virunga National Park, since Soco’s announcement. Global Witness and other NGOs are concerned that the Congolese government may seek to re-draw the boundaries of the World Heritage Site in Virunga in order to allow for drilling in this oil block.  
For further information please contact George Boden, +44 (0)7808 767 134, Jean-Luc Blakey +44 (0) 752 527 7460 or Onesmus Mugyenyi or +256 772 423 449. 
Notes to Editors: 
1. Further information on Global Witness’ campaign to prevent drilling in Virunga can be found here. 2. According to the Ugandan Petroleum Authority the deadline of submission of bids by oil companies to the government of Uganda is the 26th of February. 16 companies have been shortlisted. The Ugandan government is issuing six new oil licences all of which include protected areas. The Ngaji block includes the Uganda side of Lake Edward and parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park. More information can be found here. 3. For a map of the areas being allocated in the Ugandan oil licencing round see here.  4. UNESCO wrote to the government of Uganda in August 2015 stating that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage Status and reminding them of their obligation to protect sites outside their own jurisdiction. At the time of writing UNESCO had not received a response. 5. In December 2015, the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling for the protection of Virunga from oil activities and noting the significant threat posed by the Ugandan licencing. For more information see here. 6. Global Witness published the report ‘Drillers in the Mist’ in September 2014, which laid out evidence that British oil company Soco International and its contractors had made illicit payments, appeared to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence fostered by government security forces in eastern Congo, as they sought access to Virunga for oil exploration.   7. In June 2015 Global Witness also published cheques showing that Soco International paid tens of thousands of dollars to a Congolese military officer accused of bribery and of brutally silencing opponents of oil exploration in the park. 8. Soco’s controversial quest to explore for oil in eastern Congo was the subject of the Oscarnominated documentary ‘Virunga’, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

9. The groups who have signed the joint statement are:  

Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l'Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA ) DRC Descartes Mponge Malasi Action Coalition for Climate Change  Enock Nimpamya  Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha  Advocates for Natural Resource Governance and Development (ANARDE) Frank Tumusiime   Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) Dickens Kamugisha  African Wildlife Foundation Kaddu Sebunya - President Association pour le développement des Initiatives paysannes (ASSODIP) - RDC Janvier Sawakaka Asyanut Safaris  Babra Adoso Vanhelleputte Australian Rainforest Conservation Society  Dr Aila Keto. AO - President Biosphere Expeditions Dr. Matthias Hammer - Executive Director Bob Brown Foundation  Jenny Weber Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)  Paolyel MP Onencan  Civic Response On Environment & Development (CRED) Bashir Twesigye - Executive Director  CJDH-RDC  Fortunat Maronga   Community Development and Conservation Agency (CODECA)  Asiku Micah Conservation Action Trust  Francis Garrard - Director CREDDHO Semakuba Corneille  Earthworks  Jennifer Krill Ecological Christian Organisation  (ECO Uganda)  Charles Kabiswa  eCountability  Bill Butcher- Director Elephants Alive  Marlene McCay - Founder and Chairperson  EST Jean Marie Mangaya  Fauna & Flora International  Mark Rose - Chief Executive Officer FECOPEILE Josué Mukura Gaia Foundation Liz Hosken  Global Rights Alert Winfred Ngabiirwe  Global Witness Patrick Alley - Founder Greenpeace Victorine Sirri Che Thöner Greenwatch Irene Ssekyana IDPE Bantu LUKAMBO Jeunesse du Monde République Démocratique du Congo Mr Tibère Kajemba Dunia        Lake Albert Biodiversity Conservation Alert  (LABCA)   Mugume Michael   Matoke Tours  Willem Johannes Kok - Managing director Mid-western region Centre for Democracy & human rights (MICOUD)  Lawrence Kangula  Mutanda Lake Resort Willem Johannes Kok - Managing director Nature Uganda  Archilles Byaruhanga  New Eden Christian Foundation  Canon Baluku New Progressive Alliance Ed Griffith  Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) Robert Tumwesigye  Publish What You Pay – Uganda (PWYP-U) Noreen Nampewo - National Coordinator Rainforest Action Network  Lindsey Allen - Executive Director Rainforest Foundation Norway  Lars Løvold - Director Rainforest Foundation UK Simon Counsell - Executive Director  RCGW Kisuba Muliro Rousseau  Real Agency for Community Development(RACD) Banturaki Benard ROADFREE  Kriton Arsenis - Founder Save the Elephants Iain Douglas-Hamilton - Founder & CEO  Save Virunga Save Virunga Team SEA DRC Paul Kasereka  SORADEC Espoir Shekihumi  South Western Institute for Policy & Advocacy (SOWIPA) Ben Tumwesigye SVAN Mme Masika Tulinabo  Synchronicity Earth Laura Miller – CEO The Wild Foundation Vance G. Martin Transparency International Uganda Peter Wandera Union D'etude Pour La Conservation De La Nature (UECN) Jonas Pandasi - Executive Director  UFAREP Janvier Kaikolo  Voluntary Initiative Support Organisation (VISO) Daniel Abowe Water Governance Institute  Henry M Bazira World Heritage International Tony Sadownichik - Chair of Board of Directors Zevin Asset Management  Sonia Kowal Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Jonathan Baillie - Conservation Programmes Director