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Oil and Gas Exploration in the Kavango region threatens San People and Endangered Wildlife, Botswana-Namibia

Plans for oil exploration and drilling in the Kavango region of Namibia and Botwana by Canadian company ReconAfrica threaten Okavango Delta, endangered species and sacred land for the San people.


At the beginning of 2021, ReconAfrica, a Canadian oil and gas exploration company, started test drilling in the Kavango Basin of Namibia. By mid-April, the company had announced that their drilling samples showed promise of a “functioning petroleum system” [8]. ReconAfrica had their exploration license approved by both Namibia and Botswana for the Kavango Basin [7]. In total, the company has rights to explore over 8.5 million acres for oil [9]. ReconAftica’s oil exploration license includes 11 separate community conservation areas and a UNESCO World Heritage site [10]. The license area in Namibia puts more than 200,000 people at risk [15]. This is a sequel to so many other fossil fuels projects in Africa,  from the Karoo desert gas fracking, to the Cabo Delgado (Mozambique) LNG drama.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oil and Gas Exploration in the Kavango region threatens San People and Endangered Wildlife, Botswana-Namibia
Location of conflict:Kavango provinces in Namibia, and the North-West region in Botswana
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Shale gas fracking
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

- Canada's ReconAfrica is a junior oil and gas company engaged in the exploration and development of oil and gas in Northeast Namibia and Northwest Botswana—the “Kavango Basin.”

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Project area:3,432,500
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:200,000
Start of the conflict:2020
Company names or state enterprises:ReconAfrica from Canada
National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (NAMCO) from Namibia
Relevant government actors:UNESCO, USAID, Government of Namibia, Government of Botswana
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Save Okavango’s Unique Life (, Alliance Earth (, Anonymous (hacktivist organization), Leonardo Decaprio, Josh Fox, Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, Frack Free Namibia and Botswana
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
The San
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Noise pollution
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Mine tailing spills
Other Environmental impactsPotential impact on elephant corridors (Map 2), the Okavango Delta and its wildlife.
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Preventive stage still in 2021, exploration has started, three wells have been drilled.
Proposal and development of alternatives:"Keep oil in the soil". A moratorium for some decades at least or prohibition would avoid much local damage and also prevent very large emissions of CO2 globally (once the oil would be burnt).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Plans by Canadian ReconAfrica are known, oil reserves are estimated at enormous amounts (from 12 billion to 120 billion barrels), reactions by indigenous local populations are mixed. Large potential impact on local water resources and wildlife. Climate change arguments used by some opponents.
Sources & Materials

[1] The New Yorker, 7 January 2021.
[click to view]

[2] Richardson, Heather. “A Big Oil Project in Africa Threatens Fragile Okavango Region.” Yale Environment 360. April 22, 2021
[click to view]

[3] Barbee, Jeffrey and Laurel Neme. "Test drilling for oil in Namibia’s Okavango region poses toxic risk. National Geographic." March 12 2021.
[click to view]

[4] An official voice from the Namibia government. The Namibian. Alweendo excited over 'working petroleum system' in Kavango.| 2021-04-16, by Arlana Shikongo
[click to view]

[5] Ossenbrink, Lisa. "Namibia: ReconAfrica believes the Kavango Basin in Namibia and Botswana could generate billions of barrels of oil, but environmentalists and Indigenous leaders want the area to remain untouched." Al Jazeera. 22 April 2021.
[click to view]

[6]McCarthy, Donnachadh. "Oil excavation in Africa’s Kavango region must be stopped to meet world climate promises." The Indepndent. Donnachadh McCarthy. 01 April 2021
[click to view]

[7] Bega, Sheree. “Keep fracking out of the Kalahari Desert’s Kavango Basin – activists.” Mail & Guardian. Feb 4, 2021.
[click to view]

[8] Halmer, Norbert. “Oil Discoveries in the Kalahri Threaten Natural Hertiage, Social Peace and World Climate.” Toda Peace Institute. May 12, 2021.
[click to view]

[9] Barbee, Jeffrey and Laurel Neme. “Oil drilling, possible fracking planned for Okavango region- elephants’ last stronghold.” National Geographic. October 28, 2020.
[click to view]

[10] Barbee, Jeffrey and Kerry Nash. “Mystery shrouds plans to start fracking near Namibia’s Kavango River and Botswana’s Tsodilo Hills.” Daily Maverick. Sept 16, 2020.
[click to view]

[11] Shikongo, Arlana. “San communities petition against Kavango drilling.” The Namibian. Feb 16, 2021.
[click to view]

[12] “UNESCO vigilant on potential impacts of oil exploration in Namibi and Botswana on World Heritage properties.” UNESCO. Dec 21, 2020
[click to view]

[13] “Fracking the Okavango: Big Oil Comes for Africa’s Greatest Park.” Alliance Earth. N.d.
[click to view]

[14] Neme, Laurel and Jeffrey Barbee. “Members of Congress urge investigation into Okavango oil exploration.” National Geographic. June 23, 2021.
[click to view]

[15] Barbee, Jeffrey and Laurel Neme. “Test drilling for oil and gas begins in Namibia’s Okavango region.” National Geographic. January 28, 2021.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Canada's ReconAfrica shares plans for oil exploration in the Kavango.

21 Febr. 2021.
[click to view]

CNN, estimate of 12,000 million barrels of oil.
[click to view]

Good report by Sky News, 2021. Villagers in Namibia say big businesses searching for oil is damaging their way of life and their ancestral homes.
[click to view]

Mail and Guardian. Pursuing fossil fuels in Kavango Basin a ‘stupid bet’. Sheree Bega. 26 Apr 2021
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:JMA, Updated by Arielle Landau BOLD Fellow at the EJAtlas ([email protected])
Last update15/01/2022
Conflict ID:5547
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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