Anglican leaders in Canada have joined bishops across the Anglican Communion in calling for a Canadian company to halt oil drilling in the Kavango Basin—an ecologically sensitive protected area in Namibia.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald both signed a petition calling for an immediate stop to drilling by Canada-based firm Reconaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica).
Thirty-four Anglican bishops and two other archbishops also signed the petition, launched by Luke Pato, bishop of Namibia. It was delivered March 8 to the government of Namibia, its consulate in Cape Town and to ReconAfrica in Vancouver.
The Kavango Basin supplies water to the Okavango Delta. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the delta is known for its biodiversity and is a sanctuary for 400 bird species and Africa’s largest remaining elephant population. ReconAfrica has purchased rights to drill for oil in more than 35,000 square kilometres of the basin.
Oil exploration of the Kavango Basin by ReconAfrica, Anglican leaders say, violates the rights of the San people under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). They believe drilling will make water scarcer in Namibia, the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, and are also concerned about the impact of climate change. They also cite inadequate public participation and environmental impact assessments along with “moral and spiritual” concerns.
“One of our baptismal promises is to ‘safeguard the integrity of creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth,’ ” Nicholls says. She also cites the church’s commitment to Indigenous peoples’ right to “free, prior and informed consent” as stated in UNDRIP.
The ReconAfrica project, MacDonald says, “directly involves the urgency of Indigenous rights in connection to resource extraction, the integrity of creation, and our common ecological future; it represents our solidarity with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglicans who are facing these existential issues with prophetic courage in their own context.”
The company, however, says claims that the project is on environmentally sensitive land are untrue. The drilling site, according to materials on its website, is 80 km from the Kavango River and thus, ReconAfrica says, not “in or very near the Okavanga Delta.” It says the project has the potential to lift local people out of poverty by providing access to “affordable and sustainable energy,” and that the company is improving local roads and drilling new wells for potable water.