April 17, 2020

Civil society groups call for stronger protection of World Heritage Sites from fossil fuels investments

17th April 2020 

Lamu and Goma – As the World Heritage Day is observed globally, fossil fuel projects such as coal plants and oil and gas pipelines continue to threaten world heritage sites across Africa. Today, a coalition of civil society groups and local communities from Lamu (Kenya) and Virunga (Democratic Republic of Congo) have called on their respective governments to protect these cultural and natural sites by cancelling contracts of big fossil fuel companies in Lamu and Virunga, both classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Furthermore, the groups called on the international community to urgently support the protection and preservation of these valuable assets as they risk losing their outstanding universal value. 

Ephrem Bwishe, an activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said:

“The decision to allow the exploration of oil is a threat to the Virunga National Park, home to the critically-endangered mountain gorillas and many other endemic species. The communities living adjacent to this Park depend on fisheries, farming and tourism and this will be greatly affected if oil exploration is allowed to continue. 

I call on President Tshisekedi and his Government to cancel any oil exploration contracts signed in the past, and not undertake any future oil exploration activities in the protected areas (in DRC).

The government is an ally of the citizens of DRC and should act in their interests to protect and create opportunities that benefit the community’s livelihood and preserve the natural resources in the region. 

We agree that access to energy is an integral part of economic development and President Felix Tshisekedi and his government should strictly adhere to the laws of the Republic and international conventions on protecting the environment and community rights and prioritise renewable energy options which are safer and abundant.”

Omar Elmawi, of the Kenyan coalition deCOALonize said:

“The Lamu Coal Plant is an unnecessary endeavour, which will extensively damage the fragile environment and with it the livelihoods of thousands of people who depend on fisheries and tourism.

We are people from all walks of life, including fishing communities, farmers, women and youth groups, cultural and religious leaders and we would like to send a strong message that Kenya does not need to rely on fossil fuels to satisfy its energy demand. We know that clean energy is central to achieving a peaceful and sustainable future for all..

We call on the Kenyan government to halt the construction of coal plants in the country and instead accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, which ironically Kenya is already doing by investing in renewable energy sources such as geothermal, wind and solar and is already on the pathway to attain 100% renewable energy.”

Landry Ninteretse of 350africa.org said:

“The protection of world heritage sites and their irreplaceable value for the enjoyment of future generations can be challenging to achieve on a continent where poverty, bad governance and pressure from foreign investors create conflicting demands threatening such sites. 

But local communities and civil society groups are fighting back – we cannot stand and watch our lives, economies, ecosystems and resources being put at risk without reacting. African decision-makers must heed the call of the people and urgently take action by focusing on solutions that eliminate fossil fuels. 

We refuse to accept that our continent, vulnerable and already severely impacted by the effects of climate change, becomes the dump of a dying industry. We denounce and reject the ‘development’ rhetoric of fossil fuel companies and demand greater and active participation in the discussions on energy future choices

With the continuous energy technology innovations making renewable energy more accessible and affordable, we believe that Africa can and must lead the way in this watershed moment in history, by addressing the climate crisis while creating a more just and equitable world and generating millions of new jobs for its growing youth population powered by technologically advanced renewable sources.”


For interviews and additional information contact: 

Ephrem Bwishe


Phone +243 994 067 354

Omar Elmawi


Phone +254 780 343432

Landry Ninteretse


Phone +46 76 2354038 

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About Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and is the continent’s most biologically diverse area. Together with Salonga National Park, this area is home to 43% of Africa’s bird species, 27% of African mammals and more than 10% of these reptiles, amphibians, medicinal plants and several other rare endangered species that do not exist anywhere else in the world. 

This rich biodiversity that supports the livelihoods of millions of people is threatened by a series of licenses for oil exploration by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, through the Ministry of Hydrocarbons.

About Lamu Old Town

Lamu Old Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, and is the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement on the East African coast. Many of its cultural and architectural treasures – ornate courtyard homes with elaborately carved Arabic doors – date from the period of Omani Arab control from 1698 to the mid 1800s and  graphically demonstrate the cultural influences that have come together over 700 hundred years from Europe, Arabia, and India, utilizing traditional Swahili techniques that produced a distinct culture. Today it is a major reservoir of Swahili culture whose inhabitants have managed to sustain their traditional values as depicted by a sense of social unity and cohesion.

Two large infrastructure projects, the Lamu coal power plant and the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project, are a threat to the delicate Lamu marine environment and the Lamu Old Town heritage site.