To simplify the work here for you to understand the core and essence of oil exploration, and then possibly extraction and its follow-through, allow me to briefly talk about a movie that is analogous to this situation.
In a 1980 movie: “The God Must Be Crazy” written by Jamie Uys, its storyline narrates that Xi and his San tribe were living happily in the Kalahari Desert, away from industrial civilisation.
One day, a glass of Coca-Cola was thrown out of an airplane by a pilot, and it fell to the ground unbroken. Initially, Xi’s people assumed that the bottle was a gift from their Gods, just as they believed plants and animals were, and got many uses for it.
Unlike other bounties, however, there was only one glass bottle, which caused unforeseen conflict within the tribe. In summation of that plot, that community found the bottle both a blessing and a curse.
It was very useful and versatile, but it brought division, argument and hatred amongst them. Currently, this is where most of the Kavango are finding themselves.
They can’t tell whether the oil exploration in their region is a blessing or curse to them. Much worse, the involvement of the media (both internal and external), environmentalists, scientists, conspiracy theories, propagandists and somewhat politics has made it hard for them to see if the glass is half-empty or half- full. A famous or infamous professor from that region - take your pick, Professor Joseph Diescho, wrote on 26 January this year that “There’s a school of thought that oil is a curse on countries where it’s discovered, as it brings out the worst in men: dishonesty, greed, corruption and the instant chase to be richer than the neighbour, to own more properties than the neighbour, and to accumulate more praise than all the neighbours.
The scramble for shares in oil may bring instant economic development to a place or country, like it was the case with the gold rush in South Africa at one time.
Oil injects into a country an awkward dog-eat-dog culture, like in Angola and Nigeria, were super-rich and super-poor families live side by side, and everyone internalises a false consciousness that it’s normal when your rich neighbours’ smell of food on the stoves gives the whole neighbourhood the smell of good life.
The reality is that it simply turns the place into an oven of political instability waiting to erupt like an unstoppable volcano.” According to him, the whole idea and transaction is a one step forward and two steps back.
However, ReconAfrica co-founder Craig Steinke completely repudiated that type of thinking, as he pointed out the benefits of this exploration in May this year to David McKenzie of CNN that the find could transform the fortunes of Namibia. This was further supplemented by energy minister Tom Alweendo, who believes that the exploration and eventual production could boost the economy by creating employment and income for the country’s treasury.
The blessing in the curse
Oil is arguably the world’s most important source of energy since the mid-1950s. Its products underpin modern society, mainly supplying energy to power industry, heat homes and provide fuel for vehicles and aeroplanes to carry goods and people all over the world. In addition, oil’s refined products are used to manufacture almost all chemical products and equipment, such as plastics (shopping bags), fertilisers, detergents, paints, roofing tiles, covering on books, deodorants, shampoo, credit cards, computer hardware, printing ink, tyres, disposable syringes and even medicine. Also, a myriad of people will get employed in the industry and make a major contribution to the economy in terms of tax revenues, technologies and exports. Furthermore, oil and gas price decreases lead to a better economy. Subsequently, transportation, shipping, and merchandise costs are reduced when oil and gas prices are low. Apart from meeting the energy needs of society, it boosts local businesses, drives crucial research and development, and promotes education and training, while generating and maintaining sustainable infrastructure. This would help in gentrifying communities, connecting roads and improving the standard of living of the locals and that of the Namibian people at large.
The curse in the blessing
Frankly, even a rose has thorns. Oil exploration and eventual drilling has serious consequences to the wildlands and communities. It has an effect on wildlife, water sources, human health, recreation and other aspects of public lands. A clear downside of this development is the devastation it causes to the ecosystem, and the toll it has on climate change.
The Kavango East region is vulnerable to rising temperatures, and if the practice goes through, then it would be extremely hot, and the heat would be unbearable and unconducive. Farming, which is currently the main source of income for the majority, would be marginal and yield almost next to nothing.
This might yet again lead to severe drought that’s dubbed by the Kavango as “tumbu-tumbu.” The cattle industry is also likely to collapse due to the harsh weather. Unfortunately, it’s merely impossible to carry out this practice without any source of pollution, despite the use of modern technology, researchers and the assistance of environmental experts and scientists.
There’s a sense of noise and air pollution caused by machines and equipment used, possibly land and somewhat water pollution too. Loud noises, human movement and vehicle traffic from drilling operations can disrupt avian species’ communication, breeding and nesting.
The infrastructure built for energy development can also get in the way. Powerlines, well pads, fences and roads’ fragments destroy habitats for many species. The air pollution generated can trigger respiratory problems such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, developmental issues and ven cancer.
The drilling method of “fracking” is known for contaminating drinking water sources with chemicals that lead to cancer, birth defects and liver damage. World-renowned actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio shared his concern on the matter on Instagram on 4 May this year, noting that when the planet warms, Namibia will warm twice as much.
That would make Namibia a hotspot for global warming. Let alone the greed, corruption and selfishness that gets into people in the quest to benefit directly or indirectly from oil. Certainly a dog-eat-dog culture isn’t far-fetched when people are desperate. All in all, more research and education would be vital during this cause, making sure that the people are informed with accurate data on this exploration. Also, despite the boost to the economy that oil brings to a country, the environment must be considered first, lest we might knowingly or unknowingly destroy the ecosystem and subsequently the ozone layer. This cause is irreversible, and it may affect the future generations severely and humanity at large. Blessing or a curse? You decide!