Press release | Jan. 21, 2016

Over 60 environmental and tourism groups demand stop to new oil drilling threat to Africa’s oldest national park

Over 60 environmental and tourism groups today called for UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach a deal to stop new oil drilling licences from being awarded in Virunga National Park and the surrounding area. Groups, including Global Witness, Greenpeace and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), are warning that a new oil licence, for which the Ugandan government is currently inviting bids, could have a devastating impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to some of Africa’s most iconic and endangered species including some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Next month the Ugandan government will receive bids on six new oil licences, all of which include protected areas and one of which shares a lake with Virunga National Park. Lake Edward is at the heart of Virunga’s precious ecosystem, but lies across the Congolese and Ugandan border. 

“Drilling for oil in Lake Edward may have a devastating impact on both Virunga and the local people and wildlife in Uganda” said George Boden, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness and a spokesperson for the group. 

“Oil activity in one part of the lake will affect all of it – the wildlife who call the lake home aren’t aware of these national borders. There are also over 200,000 people who are dependent on Lake Edward for food. UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and Congo need to act urgently to stop oil exploration in the entire lake for good.” 

The groups are also calling attention to the potential damage to Uganda’s growing tourism sector. Queen Elizabeth National Park, which also forms part of the oil block in question, is responsible for a third of all visits to Uganda’s national parks. Tourism currently accounts for 8% of Uganda’s GDP. 

“Drilling in this area is bad for the environment and bad for business. It may cause irreparable damage to one of Uganda’s key tourist attractions and to Uganda’s growing tourism sector. Given the global downturn in oil prices Uganda should protect other growing areas of our economy. Lake Edward could be worth a lot more to both countries as an area of outstanding natural beauty,” said Onesmus Mugyenyi, the Deputy Executive Director at ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment) Uganda. 

In 2014 British oil company Soco International carried out seismic testing for oil on the Congolese side of Lake Edward, in Virunga, prompting widespread local opposition and an international outcry. The struggle over their oil licence was recorded in the Oscar nominated documentary Virunga, which was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Following the outcry Soco committed to no further involvement in its oil block in Virunga and announced in November 2015 that it no longer owns the block’s licence. 

The Congolese government has not commented publicly on the future of oil block 5, which covers Virunga National Park, since Soco’s announcement. Global Witness and other NGOs are concerned that the Congolese government may seek to re-draw the boundaries of the World Heritage Site in Virunga in order to allow for drilling in this oil block. 

For further information please contact George Boden [email protected], +44 (0)7808 767 134, Jean-Luc Blakey [email protected] +44 (0) 752 527 7460 or Onesmus Mugyenyi [email protected] or +256 772 423 449.


Notes to editor:

1. Further information on Global Witness’ campaign to prevent drilling in Virunga can be found here. 

2. According to the Ugandan Petroleum Authority the deadline of submission of bids by oil companies to the government of Uganda is the 26th of February. 16 companies have been shortlisted. The Ugandan government is issuing six new oil licences all of which include protected areas. The Ngaji block includes the Uganda side of Lake Edward and parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park. More information can be found here. 

3. For a map of the areas being allocated in the Ugandan oil licencing round see here. 

4. UNESCO wrote to the government of Uganda in August 2015 stating that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage Status and reminding them of their obligation to protect sites outside their own jurisdiction. At the time of writing UNESCO had not received a response. 

5. In December 2015, the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling for the protection of Virunga from oil activities and noting the significant threat posed by the Ugandan licencing. For more information see here. 

6. Global Witness published the report ‘Drillers in the Mist’ in September 2014, which laid out evidence that British oil company Soco International and its contractors had made illicit payments, appeared to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence fostered by government security forces in eastern Congo, as they sought access to Virunga for oil exploration. 

7. In June 2015 Global Witness also published cheques showing that Soco International paid tens of thousands of dollars to a Congolese military officer accused of bribery and of brutally silencing opponents of oil exploration in the park.

8. Soco’s controversial quest to explore for oil in eastern Congo was the subject of the Oscarnominated documentary ‘Virunga’, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

9. The groups who have signed the joint statement are: 

Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l'Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA ) DRC

Descartes Mponge Malasi

Action Coalition for Climate Change

Enock Nimpamya

Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)

Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha

Advocates for Natural Resource Governance and Development (ANARDE)

Frank Tumusiime

Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)

Dickens Kamugisha 

African Wildlife Foundation

Kaddu Sebunya - President

Association pour le développement des Initiatives paysannes (ASSODIP) - RDC

Janvier Sawakaka

Asyanut Safaris

Babra Adoso Vanhelleputte

Australian Rainforest Conservation Society

Dr Aila Keto. AO - President

Biosphere Expeditions

Dr. Matthias Hammer - Executive Director

Bob Brown Foundation

Jenny Weber

Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)

Paolyel MP Onencan

Civic Response On Environment & Development (CRED)

Bashir Twesigye - Executive Director


Fortunat Maronga 

Community Development and Conservation Agency (CODECA)

Asiku Micah

Conservation Action Trust

Francis Garrard - Director


Semakuba Corneille


Jennifer Krill

Ecological Christian Organisation  (ECO Uganda)

Charles Kabiswa


Bill Butcher- Director

Elephants Alive

Marlene McCay - Founder and Chairperson


Jean Marie Mangaya

Fauna & Flora International

Mark Rose - Chief Executive Officer


Josué Mukura

Gaia Foundation

Liz Hosken

Global Rights Alert

Winfred Ngabiirwe

Global Witness

Patrick Alley - Founder


Victorine Sirri Che Thöner


Irene Ssekyana



Jeunesse du Monde République Démocratique du Congo

Mr Tibère Kajemba Dunia      

Lake Albert Biodiversity Conservation Alert  (LABCA) 

Mugume Michael

Matoke Tours

Willem Johannes Kok - Managing director

Mid-western region Centre for Democracy & human rights (MICOUD)

Lawrence Kangula 

Mutanda Lake Resort

Willem Johannes Kok - Managing director

Nature Uganda

Archilles Byaruhanga

New Eden Christian Foundation

Canon Baluku

New Progressive Alliance

Ed Griffith

Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU)

Robert Tumwesigye

Publish What You Pay – Uganda (PWYP-U)

Noreen Nampewo - National Coordinator

Rainforest Action Network

Lindsey Allen - Executive Director

Rainforest Foundation Norway

Lars Løvold - Director

Rainforest Foundation UK

Simon Counsell - Executive Director


Kisuba Muliro Rousseau

Real Agency for Community Development(RACD)

Banturaki Benard

Road Free

Kriton Arsenis - Founder

Save the Elephants

Iain Douglas-Hamilton - Founder & CEO

Save Virunga

Save Virunga Team


Paul Kasereka


Espoir Shekihumi

South Western Institute for Policy & Advocacy (SOWIPA)

Ben Tumwesigye


Mme Masika Tulinabo

Synchronicity Earth

Laura Miller – CEO

The Wild Foundation

Vance G. Martin

Transparency International Uganda

Peter Wandera

Union D'etude Pour La Conservation De La Nature (UECN)

Jonas Pandasi - Executive Director


Janvier Kaikolo

Voluntary Initiative Support Organisation (VISO)

Daniel Abowe

Water Governance Institute

Henry M Bazira

World Heritage International

Tony Sadownichik - Chair of Board of Directors

Zevin Asset Management

Sonia Kowal

Zoological Society of London (ZSL)

Jonathan Baillie - Conservation Programmes Director

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