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International community joins forces with local leaders and activists in Africa in urgent global campaign calling for immediate moratorium on oil and gas drilling in irreplaceable Okavango River Basin

Oil and gas exploration by Canadian-based corporation ReconAfrica imminently threatens Namibia and Botswana’s Okavango River Basin, including a UNESCO World Heritage site that is among the planet’s most vital ecosystems for people and wildlife

For immediate release, October 10th, 2021

More than 130,000 elephants move through the Okavango River Basin region each year. (Photo by Cory Richards/National Geographic)
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Today, Re:wild, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, Djimon Hounsou, Leonardo DiCaprio and Forest Whitaker join local Indigenous and civil society leaders and conservationists in Namibia and Botswana—including Nadia April, Chris Brown, Patricia Dinyando, Veruschka Dumeni, Anita Lekgowa, Reinhold Mangundu, Rinaani Musutua, Max Muyemburuko and Joram Useb—in calling for an immediate moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango River Basin, including by Canadian oil and gas company Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica).

Since securing licenses 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.

In an op-ed published today in the Washington Post, 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. This includes demanding a more transparent, inclusive process where sustainable, alternative energies are prioritized for the benefit of local communities. [See full initial signatory list here]

“We are proud to support the heroic efforts of the individuals and organizations in Namibia and Botswana who refuse to define progress as the destruction of the wild for a quick profit,” said Wes Sechrest, Re:wild chief scientist and CEO. “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.”

Since the end of 2020, when it was reported that ReconAfrica obtained a license 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,” said Chris Brown, an ecologist, environmentalist and CEO of the Namibian Chamber of Environment. “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 industrialization.”

Civil society organizations and activists have expressed concern that the wastewater from these sites risk leaking into groundwater and ephemeral rivers that connect to the Okavango River and Delta in Botswana and provides drinking water for nearly 1 million people in a region especially prone to drought and the effects of the climate crisis.

“We are particularly concerned about the lack of genuine consultation with Indigenous San communities, including women, who will be affected by toxic damage to their lands, their waters, plants, animals and the people themselves through the exploration and extraction of gas and oil in the region,” said Nadia April, San Indigenous Women program officer for the Women’s Leadership Centre in Windhoek, Namibia, at a recent WLC press conference. “If ReconAfrica is allowed to continue, this will severely disrupt the way of life of Indigenous people through dispossession of their ancestral land, and poisoning of water and land that they depend on for survival.”

Most recently, ReconAfrica has begun 2D seismic testing, which has reportedly resulted in the clearing of land through critical wildlife habitat. In addition, the development of roads and other infrastructure to support oil and natural gas projects in wildlife habitat can increase poaching and human-wildlife conflict.

Max Muyemburuko, chair of the Kavango East and West Regional Conservancy and Community Forestry Association, says that all activities in a conservancy must follow Namibia’s Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975 and amendments. This legislation gives local communities the rights and responsibilities to manage and protect their natural resources in their long-term interest.

“The environment is very, very important, of paramount importance, to our communities,” Muyemburuko said. “We depend on the environment for the oxygen we breathe. Our households are made of trees, grass and mud. We rely on remedies from trees, shrubs and other grass species. All this you can only get if your environment is safe, healthy and sustainably conserved.”

Additional quotes

Rinaani Musutua, trustee, Economic & Social Justice Trust “As the environment is destroyed, people are going to lose the forest fruits and other things there that they depend on for survival. Their traditional way of living off the forest is going to be destroyed by this company. It will mean their food is gone, their fruits, the roots that they live on, all of the natural things that they depend on for their survival will be gone someday. If we destroy it, that means it’s the end of us as well. That makes them really live in fear.”

Joram Useb, Southern Africa regional coordinator, Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) “Oil is destructive, oil destroys, oil brings in weak governance, oil brings in conflict. If we can maybe think about solar energies, other renewable energies, maybe that will help us also to develop. Oil is not the only answer. You can’t drink oil.”

Anita Legkowa, gender representative for Southern Africa, Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) “If one channel or the other part of the Okavango is affected, the whole of the Okavango is going to be, whether it’s in Angola, Namibia or Botswana. Livelihoods will change because our Okavango people’s livelihoods depend on the Delta. We believe animals are going to migrate from our beautiful country and go where there is peace because of the sound and contaminated water and plants.”

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Re:wild Re:wild protects and restores the wild. We have a singular and powerful focus: the wild as the most effective solution to the interconnected climate, biodiversity and human health crises. Founded by a group of renowned conservation scientists together with Leonardo DiCaprio, Re:wild is a force multiplier that brings together Indigenous peoples, local communities, influential leaders, nongovernmental organizations, governments, companies and the public to protect and rewild at the scale and speed we need. Learn more at

Economic and Social Justice Trust – Namibia The ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL JUSTICE TRUST (ESJT) was formed in 2012 by a group of activists to promote struggles for economic and social justice. The aims and objectives of the Trust are to enhance and promote the social and economic rights of Namibians. This entails the fair and equitable distribution of resources with a particular emphasis on enhancing the rights of the economically and socially excluded Namibians. The Trust also advocates for fundamental changes in the economic system to effect redistribution in favour of the poor. The Trust generally is a lobby and advocacy group for economic, social and cultural rights in Namibia. It campaigns and takes action in relation to exposing corruption and self-enrichment in both public and private sectors. The Trust also cooperates with regional and international organisations or individuals who share the trust’s aim and objectives.

Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) IPACC is a network of 135 indigenous peoples’ organisations in 21 African countries. This makes it the largest indigenous peoples’ network in the world. IPACC was legally founded in 1997 when a draft constitution was adopted by the founding members in Geneva, Switzerland during the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples.

Namibian Chamber of Environment The Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE) is a membership-based umbrella organisation, established as a voluntary association under Namibian Common Law, to support and promote the interests of the environmental NGO sector and their work. The strategic objectives of the NCE are to conserve the natural environment, protect indigenous biodiversity and endangered species, promote best environmental practices, and support efforts to prevent and reduce environmental degradation and pollution. The NCE currently has a membership of 70 environmental NGOs and national programmes. In the past five years the NCE has provided more than 50 grants to environmental programmes and about 100 bursaries to post-graduate students in the environment sector. Learn more at www.n-c-e.org.

Women’s Leadership Centre The Women’s Leadership Centre is a feminist women’s rights organisation based in Windhoek, Namibia. The WLC supports a community-level development of leadership among Namibian women by promoting the voice, visibility, creativity, courage and transformative leadership of women from some of the most marginalised sectors of society including indigenous San young women: educating them on their rights and building their feminist critical analysis of why these rights are not yet realised in our patriarchal state and society; creating safe spaces for sharing and healing from the violence and discrimination most have experienced; and supporting them to build solidarity and sisterhood in their quest for strengthened individual and collective agency to transform themselves, their communities and societies as active citizens demanding social justice.

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