Two dancers in costumes made of plastic bottles performed in the street surrounded by curious passersby. Together with local artists, Extinction Rebellion activists marked World Water Day in Goma, a city in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Image Credit: XR Université de Goma, World Water Day Performance, March 22nd 2021
Holding placards, they marched through the city and stopped to perform in public places. A placard reads “Polluting the water is to stab the world”, denouncing plastic pollution and lack of access to clean drinking water. Goma, a city of 1.1 million people relies on Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, as its sole source of drinking water. The lake is not spared by problems such as urban waste, agrochemicals and sewage.
Goma’s XR chapter was formed at the beginning of 2020 by a group of university students who use dance and performance based public actions to connect with the public. Antoine, a member of the group, said that performance helps to draw attention to the cause and to appeal to everyone’s responsibility, not just the government’s. It is also the safest and most non-violent way for them to express themselves and get the message across.
Activists fear for their safety
Safety is of primary concern in a region marred by civil war with a weak security system. Fearing for their physical safety, they formed the group in secret at first, but later got approval from their university. At the moment, the group is composed of 25 members, among them two women, most of them “from modest or even poor families”.
The parents are usually with them in their cause, but often try to forbid them to take part in actions because they consider it too risky within the country's context. Antoine explained that “Many demonstrations, peaceful or not, are repressed and sometimes with real bullets.” Many of their friends support them, but do not dare to participate in the actions.
Image Credit: XR Université de Goma, Demonstration “Oil, no thank you”, March 2nd 2021
The danger doesn’t just come from the authorities though. By opposing oil extraction plans in the region, they risk drawing the ire of powerful international companies. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and World Heritage Site near Goma and one of the most biodiverse regions on earth. The park keeps making headlines with park rangers being ambushed and killed by armed militia groups living in and surviving off the park by poaching and chopping down wood.
There are national and international laws that ban such activities in the park but the government continues to grant oil exploration licences to companies to drill for oil in the park. In the past, British oil company SOCO became notorious for bribing and threatening locals and for contributing to the destabilization of the entire region. In 2014 SOCO agreed to withdraw under mounting international and local pressure.
Another company ‘Total’ which is based in France, withdrew from an area adjacent to the park in DRC in 2018. Yet the threat remains as the government is still open to the idea and Total is still active in the wider region. The company is currently building a huge oil pipeline through neighboring countries Uganda and Tanzania which has the potential to revive the DRC government’s oil dreams in Virunga Park.
XR Goma joins the ongoing fight against oil exploration in region
Last year XR Université de Goma joined the fight against oil exploration in Virunga National Park with a performance showing the beauty and destruction of the forests. Activists informed people on the street about the detrimental effects of oil drilling with a loudspeaker and held placards linking the oil business to violence.
Image Credit: XR Université de Goma, performative action against oil exploration in Virunga National Park, October 2nd 2020
Before every action, they inform authorities of their plans and call on them to ensure their safety. So far, all their actions remained peaceful.
In 2021 they hope to expand their group beyond their university and become XR Goma. They are also planning to create local XR groups in villages around Virunga National Park to facilitate environmental education. Besides that, they are going to keep denouncing exploitative and polluting behavior of multinationals in the region.