Environmental Activist Godfrey Mfiti is leading a campaign that is persuading Malawi Government to withdraw Oil exploration and drilling Plans on Lake Malawi. He has been having a series of public lecturers and currently mobilizing the local chiefs along the Lakeshore to resist oil drilling in Lake Malawi. Nyasa Times engaged Mfiti for an exclusive interview.
Nyasa Times: You are calling for radical rejection of oil drilling in Lake Malawi why?
Mfiti: We need to drastically reject the oil drilling in Lake Malawi. I call upon Malawians to join this campaign now. The oil drilling in Lake Malawi is being pushed through the backdoor. The oil drilling itself in a fresh water lake in a country without proper legislation governing oil drilling process is a threat to human life. The development to drill oil in Lake Malawi is not sustainable.
Nyasa Times: What do you mean by sustainable development? Oil is going to bring money into this country.
Mfiti: Sustainable Development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. By drilling oil in fresh water lake, the government will compromise the ecology of the Lake Malawi and hence future generations will not enjoy the benefits of Lake Malawi. The process will leave negative environmental footprints, public health hazards and loss of livelihood apart from rare species.
Nyasa Times:What needs to be done by government of Malawi now?
Mfiti:Revoke all oil licenses on Lake Malawi and stop the drilling process now. It is better to stop now than later. Promote sustainable economic activities.
Nyasa Times: Why it is not good to drill oil on Lake Malawi? Why it has to be stopped?
Mfiti: Lake Malawi is the only source of fresh water in Malawi. It has got numerous benefits to local people. No due diligence was done when oil drilling licenses were awarded. Politicians have always put greed and selfish first instead of considering the environmental and public health hazards. We need sustained and significant efforts to protect Lake Malawi from this inevitable oil drilling process coming very soon.Honestly, the issue of oil drilling in Lake Malawi is poorly planned. Current legal and policy framework are not in tandem with the drilling process. The fact that Malawi is using the Petroleum Production Act of 1983 shows how weak is our oil governance structure. The world over there are no oil drilling in Fresh Water Lake without spillages. In case it happens in Malawi do we have safety nets for our people along the Lake shore? Do we have an alternative Lake? Further to that I wonder if the current legal framework allows enforcement of regulations and compliance by investors.
Nyasa Times: Each country has custodians of heritage sites and protected areas. Do you have such government entities supporting your cause in Malawi?
Mfiti:The influence of policy direction from technocrats in Malawi is limited since political power overrides policy .There are some departments in Malawi government who are not happy with oil drilling in Lake Malawi. Department of culture since Lake Malawi national Park is a world heritage site. Department of tourism, parks and wildlife, fisheries and agriculture. These departments are concerned and have since written a cabinet paper which they first drafted in 2013 advising government to withdraw oil drilling prospects.
Do you have any international support?
Yes. Lake Malawi has endangered species listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. This means we have species of fish that are on the verge of decline and they are only available in Malawi. The United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World heritage center in Paris and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are concerned about the Lake Malawi.
Nyasa Times: What challenges do you face as an environmental activist here in Malawi?
Mfiti:Threats and anonymous phone calls and questions about my whereabouts are very common from people I never knew or heard about. However, I am doing this at great personal risk. I am just an ordinary activist involved in these local efforts. We expect to create positive change through community participation in the issue surrounding Lake Malawi. We have support from the local chiefs all over along the Lake shore.
Nyasa Times: You are the only Environmental Activist on record to have been saying this, why?
Mfiti: I am not sure if Malawi has environmental activists. I guess they are sold out or highly compromised that is why they cannot talk about this issue. As for me I chose to focus on protecting endangered marine ecosystem and fish species in Lake Malawi. This is very important not only to the present but also future generations.
Nyasa Times: What examples do you have in the present mining activities in Malawi?
Mfiti: In Malawi currently there is lack of enforcement on compliance to regulations I can name mining companies in this country whose workers do not have safety boots, clothing and head gears. The health and occupational safety is not complied at all. There is a lot of pollution in Malawi from industries into the river systems. The pollution is so huge that it has become an order of the day. Malawians never talk about it.Some examples Lingadzi river in Lilongwe city,Chirimba and Mudi River in Blantyre city just to mention a few which are being exploited. Now we want to let Lake Malawi go into the hands of polluters. Who will safeguard the Lake? How will the investors comply when the country has no regulation?
Nyasa Times: There was a public debate at the end of mining indaba in Lilongwe, Malawi on 3rdFebruary,2016 .It was live on Zodiac Radio Station. Did you follow proceedings of the public debate? You as an ardent activist were you happy with government position?
Mfiti:The most important thing to note is that those responsible for oil drilling as technocrats from government side including the Minister responsible shunned the debate. Otherwise there was no one from the ministry to speak on behalf of the technocrats. No clear facts were given about oil drilling process on Lake Malawi and the government remained unclear on the issue as usual. This is a clear sign of governance machinery using rhetoric to appease the general public. The only notable thing that came out of the mining indaba debate was the acknowledgement by academia and government that Malawi does not have laws and policies to guide oil drilling process. Then I wonder why they are still doing it.
Nyasa Times: The public debate topic was: “Is oil drilling a threat or an opportunity? “ Were the views of the public on Lake Malawi well represented during the debate in your opinion?
Mfiti: Indeed the best outcome of the public debate is that all members of the public and civil society from different parts of Malawi who participated in the public debate emphasized that they are not happy with oil drilling on Lake Malawi. This is a clear sign that Malawians across the nation are behind this campaign.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :