Pastor Jacques Bakulu has been campaigning against oil companies operating in western Congo for over 20 years. The secretive Anglo-French company Perenco took over Chevron’s concession in 2004 and claims to be producing 25,000 barrels a day. None of its four contracts are publicly available. In February this year Perenco were once again accused of pouring toxic waste into the Atlantic.
There are other companies looking to exploit onshore and offshore fields in the next few years, including UK-registered Surestream. On the other side of the country, two unknown companies have just been granted a license to explore at Lake Albert and the government has plans to carve up the massive cuvette centrale in the search for more oil.
Bakulu has witnessed at first hand DRC’s first foray into oil production and worries that Bas-Congo’s experience will be replicated across the country.
What are communities angry about in Bas-Congo?
Lack of jobs. Always. We know the oil is there and for twenty years it has been coming out of the ground but there are no jobs and there is no development. There is no electricity in Moanda [the capital of the province]. The environment is being damaged every day. Gas flaring happens all the time and the air is polluted. And it’s all kept secret.
What have you seen of the contract Perenco is operating under?
We have never seen the concession contract! We are still trying to see it after all these years. But we know the type of contract is the first mistake. With the concession arrangement the government only receives tax, we don’t know the real amount of oil and the company says they have no obligations to the people. We have always asked ministers to change the contract to a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA). We’d have more control that way. But the problem remains that we still don’t have an oil law! It’s with Parliament only now. And the government is incapable of making contracts and negotiating.
DRC does not have a national oil company; not really. Cohydro trades, that’s it. That’s why all our technicians are in Cabinda or Angola. We need to build expertise.
A PSA would not necessarily be that much better, depending on the terms. Many PSAs are actually thinly disguised concession agreements.
Well, I once said to Perenco, ‘We want a PSA’ and they said to me, ‘Sure, we have no problem with that, we and the government will have the same rights as now. It’s no different!
How do people protest?
It’s difficult because there is so much poverty. Also, oil is offshore as well as onshore. Our organisation CEPECO is always with communities seeking to build awareness and encourage opposition. There have been many demands for jobs. People have blocked roads for a day and the technicians have not been able to get to their platforms. In January 2010, in Boma people protested inside an installation itself demanding work. The company actually invited people inside for a meeting but when they got in they were put in cars and taken to the police. 16 people were arrested.
Do people also protest specifically about the environmental damage?
Yes, they do. But people do want the oil to be produced. I can’t be against oil completely. We need it. It’s the only way out of poverty for Bas-Congo because we have nothing.
This interview was conducted by Taimour Lay with Pastor Jacques Bakulu in Kinshasa in May 2010.