Tutu, Branson and Buffett take on Soco in fight for Virunga

Virunga National Park, Congo

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and millionaire philanthropist Howard G. Buffett have cautioned that oil exploration by Soco International PLC “could be devastating to Africa’s most iconic national park and its people.”

Calling Soco’s operations in Virunga National Park illegal, the men challenged the UK company’s claims that oil will bring benefits to local communities in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). “The more likely scenario is a handful of people will get rich from Soco’s activities,” they wrote in the Huffington Post Sunday.

The FTSE 250-listed oil company started seismic testing in Virunga Saturday despite objections from local fishermen, the UK government, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and 675,000 WWF supporters.

Tutu, Branson and Buffett argue that irresponsible resource extraction in the instable region could threaten vulnerable populations and critically endangered wildlife. “Lasting peace will only come when there is a better alternative: economic development that benefits the many, not the few,” they said.

Independent economic analysis of Virunga National Park commissioned by WWF found that the World Heritage Site has the potential to grow in value to over US$1.1 billion per year if developed sustainably through uses like hydropower, fisheries and ecotourism.

“These are the kinds of development plans that trigger a virtuous circle,” the men wrote. “Virunga National Park is a unique asset that could, if utilized correctly, be an economic development engine.”

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