- Canadian oil driller ReconAfrica hired a politically connected “middleman” – a friend of Namibian president Hage Geingob – for “media relations”, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported this weekend.
- The Globe also revealed ReconAfrica’s chairperson was named in two earlier African oil scandals.
- Namibian activists warn the country cannot sustain more “Fishrot”, a reference to allegations that an Icelandic fishing company paid political fixers for access to precious Namibian natural resources.
In the coming week, protest action will gain momentum against Canadian oil and gas company ReconAfrica’s exploratory drilling in northern Namibia. Actions are planned for the African country’s capital, Windhoek, Berlin, London, Washington and Vancouver, among others. These actions form part of international cooperative efforts, initiated by Namibian activists, to raise awareness on events in the transnational Kavango basin ahead of a G7 summit scheduled for 11-13 June in the UK.
The actions come on the back of a hard hitting article published on the weekend in one of Canada’s leading dailies, Globe and Mail which raises questions about ReconAfrica cofounder Jay Park’s track record in his dealings with African governments, while drawing direct links to a controversial figure in Namibian politics, that of entrepreneur, Knowledge Katti, who is also a friend of the Namibian president.
Namibian activists are demanding transparency. In addition to awarding ReconAfrica unprecedented access to oil rights, Namibian officials have issued a number of public statements helpful to ReconAfrica in the face of global condemnation of its drilling.
According to The Globe: “[Katti] has a long history of involvement as a middleman in mining and energy deals in Namibia, often with Canadian companies or other foreign investors. In leaked e-mails in 2017, he spoke of his political influence and his ‘inside contacts’ in the government, and promised to ‘work the magic’ on behalf of a business partner, according to media reports.”
When The Globe first asked ReconAfrica chairperson Jay Park about Katti, Park denied there was a relationship – but the company then walked back on this, admitting to hiring Katti in October 2020. ReconAfrica said the relationship has ended, but it is not clear when.
The Globe reported: “Mr. Katti, according to many reports in media outlets over the past decade in Namibia and South Africa, is a friend of [Namibian President] Mr. [Hage] Geingob. He has often travelled abroad with the President, sometimes as a member of official delegations, and has even paid for some of Mr. Geingob’s medical bills.”
On Katti, The Globe quoted expert Graham Hopwood of Windhoek’s Institute for Public Policy Research, who said it was “a matter of great concern if someone with close links to the President is also connected to a company that is involved in highly controversial and potentially damaging extractive activities. … The allocation of petroleum exploration licences in Namibia has been mired in controversy for years with very little transparency about who is benefiting. The granting of such licences needs to be opened up to public scrutiny and the involvement of politically connected persons ruled out.”
The Globe investigation also fingered Park, quoting a May 2020 online comment in which company founder Craig Steinke said: “[Jay Park] has actually taught some of the people about international oil and gas law at the ministry of energy in Namibia. He’s done a wonderful job ingratiating the company with the ministry.”
Fridays for Future Windhoek coordinator Ina Shikongo said Namibians deserved clear answers. “Which Namibian energy officials did Park train and when? How and when exactly did Park ‘ingratiate’ ReconAfrica with which energy officials?”
The Globe then dug out a 2015 investigation by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. This reveals that Park was on the payroll of a UK company that won Somalian oil rights – yet Park was “ostensibly independent legal advisor to [Somalia’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources]”, the UN investigators complained. They said Park was a “key architect” of the UK company’s Somalian oil deal.
“The monitoring group cited a report by a ministry legal adviser who said the government might not have received proper legal representation in the negotiations because Mr. Park had a conflict of interest,” The Globe reported.
But Park told The Globe this was “a common arrangement”. He denied impropriety.
According to The Globe, Park had been involved in an earlier scandal in 2011 when his team of lawyers helped transfer a payment from Calgary-based Griffiths Energy to a company owned by the wife of the ambassador of Chad where Griffiths sought oil and gas rights. The Canadian authorities launched a bribery investigation and Griffiths agreed to pay a fine. Last week, the US Justice Department revealed a Griffith’s co-founder had pleaded guilty and agreed to forfeit US$27-million in “criminal proceeds”.
Park told The Globe that at the time his team “inquired” as to whether they were wiring money to government officials: No, they were “assured”.
Fridays for Future’s Shikongo said this was hard to accept at face value: “If you look at the court documents, you see the first draft of the bribe contract was with a company called ‘Embassy of Chad’, owned by the ambassador. Park’s team then redrafted this with a new company owned by a Chadian woman baring the same name as the ambassador.”
But, Park told The Globe, his team only discovered the problem later and Griffiths reported it to the authorities.
“The fish rots from the head, and the ‘Fishrot’ scandal showed Namibians how companies allegedly use middlemen and fixers to exploit Namibia’s natural resources. We cannot sacrifice a paradise, and the last thing we need is more ‘Fishrot’, or any other rot for that matter,” Shikongo concluded.
Author: Bryan Groenendaal