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Lake Malawi ‘oil’ courts controversy

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In the northern district of Malawi, Karonga, residents under the Forum for Oil and Gas have told civil society organisations (CSOs) in the district to stop “fighting” for the residents’
rights in the exploration of oil on Lake Malawi arguing the CSOs have let the resident’s down in the uranium mining at Kayerekela.

Spokesperson of the forum Steve Musokwe said in an interview on Friday that Karonga residents have not benefitted anything from the extractive industry advocacy programmes championed by the CSOs particularly uranium mining which has ended at Kayerekela.

Musokwe said the residents will not allow any CSO or nongovernmental organisation (NGO) to speak on their behalf with prospective companies that will explore oil on Lake Malawi because “the organisations fight for their own interests and not the people’s.”

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“We do not want any organisation in Karonga to claim to represent us on Lake Malawi oil exploration. These civil society organisations have claimed in the past to represent us in the uranium mining deal of Kayerekela but their interest was to enrich themselves. They have not done anything for us in terms of development. They were just making noise in newspapers and on radios to impress their donors and get more money for themselves.

“We are saying enough is enough. We have learnt a lot of lessons from the Kayerekela mine. We do not want to go through the same ordeal in the oil exploration. We want the investors to deal with us and the chiefs directly,” said Musokwe disowning any CSO that speaks on oil exploration on behalf of Karonga residents.

Musokwe also trashed the proposal to stop oil exploration on Lake Malawi National Park by the United Nations Scientific Educational and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

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He said other countries have explored oil while protecting aquatic life.

“It is the responsibility of government to protect the people. Even those companies that come to get oil from our lake will not be allowed to be careless to spoil the environment. We want oil exploration on the lake. Government should not stop oil extraction. We want jobs and development in the district and country at large. We are preparing ourselves for the oil deals. We do not want to be overtaken by events or cheated as was the case with Kayerekela,” he said.

Traditional Authority Kilupula said he was in support of oil exploration on the lake as long as such deals benefit the people and that government ensures that pollution will not take place.

“We do not oppose that. The oil deals should benefit the people of Karonga and not individuals. government should also assure us that pollution will not be there,” said Kilupula.

Traditional Authority Mwilang’ombe also supported the oil exploration on the lake but cautioned the investors to ensure that the fish in the lake is protected.

“Oil exploration is a very good thing. But will the fish be protected? Will the water not be polluted because those are our old assets? If the fish is protected, that is a very good thing,” said Kilupula.

He added: “Locals should benefit. We regret the Kayerekela deal where the agreement was a secret between Paladin and the resident. We want our people to see the benefits of these resources.”

Project officer for Transparency Initiative Within Our Natural Extractives (Tiwone) Project of the Catholic Commission for Justice in Karonga Sydney Mwakaswaya dismissed Musokwe’s claims and said CSOs have been advocating for people’s rights so that miners do not abuse them.

Project Manager for Church and Society of the Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central African Presbyterian Paul Mvula said CSOs should not be faulted because they have been fighting for legal issues so that government is transparent on mining.

Government has since stopped all oil exploration and licenses on Lake Malawi. The suspension of oil and gas exploration in November 2014, initially for a month, has now gone for over a year.

Four companies namely Rak Gas, the Surestream-Hamra Oil Holdings Venture, Pacific Oil and SacOil hold the exploration licenses.

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