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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Oil Dispute Takes a Page From Congo’s Bloody Past.....

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK, Democratic Republic of Congo — The trouble started when a British company suddenly appeared in this iconic and spectacularly beautiful national park, prospecting for oil.
Villagers who opposed the project were beaten by government soldiers. A park warden, who tried to block the oil company, SOCO International, from building a cellphone tower in the park, was kidnapped and tortured.Virunga’s director, a Belgian prince, was shot and nearly killed hours after he delivered a secret report on the oil company’s activities.
Much like the fight over drilling on federal lands in the United States, the struggle over oil exploration in Africa’s national parks is a classic quandary, pitting economic development against environmental preservation.
But out here, the quest for oil seems to be more volatile, and the stakes are arguably higher — on both sides.
While West Africa has been a major hydrocarbon producer for decades, new technology like deeper drilling has led to a bonanza of new energy discoveries here on the continent’s east side.
Oil companies are now circling several African parks like this one, home to critically endangered wildlife, such as colossal silverback mountain gorillas, among the last of their kind.
But development is far more than just a buzzword here. The people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, northern Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique — all places of recent hydrocarbon finds — are among the poorest in the world, many without electricity or clean water, their children often facing relentless illness and few prospects.
African governments say they have a moral obligation to pursue anything that might lift their countries out of grinding poverty, including drilling for oil in pristine natural environments.
With an unprecedented surge of oil activity in this region, environmentalists vowed to “draw the line” here in Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park and aUnesco World Heritage Site, protected for its “outstanding universal value” to all humankind. The World Wildlife Fund swung into action, signing up hundreds of thousands of supporters in a global campaign.