Namibian NGOs call out flawed legal decision awarding costs against Kavango communities who appealed fracking licenses on communal lands

Press release

Kavango communities filed an urgent interdict to appeal the extension of fracking licenses in an ecologically sensitive area – but were left with a hefty bill.

Oil spill in Ogoniland in 2020 . Photo by: Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Niger Delta, Nigeria

Namibian NGOs and environmentalists have expressed their solidarity with Kavango communities, who are threatened by high cost orders made against them in relation to their appeal towards Minister Pohamba Shifeta to review or rescind the decision to allow ReconAfrica to keep drilling for oil and gas on their communal lands.

The Namibian High Court will decide on 21st February 2023 whether local communities in the Kavango must pay up to N$520,757 in government and other legal fees after the court rejected their July request for urgent help to prevent Canadian company ReconAfrica from continuing to drill for oil and gas on community-managed land.

ReconAfrica, a Canadian company, was granted licenses by the governments of Namibia and Botswana, giving them approximately 35,000 km2 or 8.5 million acres, to explore for oil and gas in the so-called Kavango Basin. The petroleum agreements with Namibia and Botswana give ReconAfrica the exclusive right to obtain a 25-year production license. The company has already begun exploratory drilling and seismic surveys in Namibia in 2021 and applied for an extension of their Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) in 2022.

The extension was granted - despite many transgressions of Namibian law by the company. The impacted communities filed an appeal through the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) and – after ten days of no response from Minister Shifeta - the LAC, on behalf of the communities, filed an urgent court action to force the Minister to urgently act on the communities' appeal. Namibia's High Court ruled against the communities' urgent application to force the minister to act, but, crucially, the appeal to the Minister still stands - the judge only rejected their bid to get the court to force him to act urgently.

Groups such as the Women’s Leadership Centre and the Economic and Social Justice Trust are outraged about what they call „a blatant attempt to silence rural communities in the Kavango”,  and are organising a protest in front of the High Court. They call for the costs to the communities to be waived because under Namibian law, public interest law cases which are levied by underserved communities or individuals are protected from undue costs under the Protective Costs Order in the rules of the High Court of Namibia.

"Let’s not forget that the Namibian government is still ignoring the requests of UNESCO and the IUCN for a robust transboundary Environmental Impact Assessment, as well as the call by over 120 Namibian civil society organisations for a moratorium and full public enquiry into the oil and gas exploration and extraction plans in the Kavango,“ says Liz Frank from the Women’s Leadership Centre. "The expressed concerns of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women with regard to women’s rights impacted by climate change and fossil fuel extraction in Namibia also remain unaddressed, but rural communities have a right to a proper investigation and assessment of ReconAfrica’s plans.”

“The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta must immediately act on the appeal from the Kavango communities to review the granting of ReconAfrica's Environmental Clearance Certificate, or provide a clear Record of Decision (ROD) as to why he will not do so”, adds Rinaani Musutua from the Economic and Social Justice Trust. “Our organisation also filed an appeal in this regard with the minister eight months ago that is yet to be heard. In a similar case related to a different mining project, we see that the Huab Conservancy is preparing to take the minister to court for his refusal to act – justice delayed is justice denied!“

The groups added that the Kavango communities must be given the right to defend themselves and shouldn’t be silenced with burdensome bill of costs. They have vowed to continue opposing ReconAfrica’s oil and gas plans in Namibia.