The planned oil and gas drilling in the iconic Okavango River Basin could run into trouble as local conservationists, among them former President Ian Khama’s associate Dereck Joubert, has joined British royal Prince Harry and other international environmentalists in a petition against Botswana and Namibia where drilling for oil and gas is also taking place.
Another notable signatory to the international petition seen by this publication is well known Motswana conservationist, Dr Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders.
In an updated petition, an environmental organisation, RE: Wild said Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, Leonardo DiCaprio and Forest Whitaker have also joined local indigenous and civil society leaders and conservationists in Namibia and Botswana in calling for an immediate moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango River Basin by Canadian oil and gas company, Reconnaissance Energy Africa, or ReconAfrica, for short.
The group says since securing licences to explore for oil and gas, ReconAfrica has started drilling in the irreplaceable Okavango River Basin, which includes a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its wildlife and two Ramsar wetland sites of international importance.
“Scientists, environmentalists, and local communities fear that the critical ecosystems, which are the lifeblood for hundreds of thousands of people, will suffer irreversible damage from the drilling activity,” says the group.
Citing an op-ed published this week in The Washington Post, RE: Wild said Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and local Namibian activist Reinhold Mangundu called on the world to stand in solidarity with the communities in Namibia and Botswana, which are requesting a full moratorium on all oil and gas development in the Okavango River Basin.
“The Duke of Sussex and Mangundu also stand with a number of other leading environmentalists and environmental activists as the initial signatories on an open letter, and are encouraging individuals around the world to sign their names in support of protecting what is among the world’s most important natural ecosystems,” says the environmental organisation. “This includes demanding a more transparent, inclusive process where sustainable, alternative energies are prioritised for the benefit of local communities.
Wes Sechrest, RE: Wild chief scientist and CEO, was quoted as saying: “We are proud to support the heroic efforts of the individuals and organisations in Namibia and Botswana who refuse to define progress as the destruction of the wild for a quick profit. Our partners in Namibia, Botswana and across Africa are instead visionaries in defining progress as leveraging opportunities to protect our irreplaceable wild places, which are critical to solving the climate, extinction and health crises, and can help address poverty and social inequality.”
RE: World says since the end of 2020, when it was reported that ReconAfrica obtained a licence for exploratory drilling across a 13,200-square-mile area that covers part of the Okavango River Basin, local leaders and activists have publicly expressed their concerns that the company did not adequately consult local communities, that it may not be implementing sufficient environmental safeguards to prevent the pollution of the region’s sole source of water, and that it may be putting endangered wildlife at greater risk.
Okavango River Basin communities include the indigenous San peoples who belong to the oldest known cultures in the world. “If you look at river basins around the world, they’ve all developed in the same way – first with little villages, then towns, and then industry,” Chris Brown, an ecologist, environmentalist and CEO of the Namibian Chamber of the Environment, was quoted as saying.
“There’s hardly a developed basin that isn’t just a shadow of its former self. We believe that a basin such as the Okavango could have an entirely different development pathway that’s built on sustainability and the values of the people in the basin, not the values of industrialisation.” ReconAfrica has since indicated that it has consulted local communities and argued that it has conducted an environmental impact assessment report.