By Morten Rønning
The Himba leaders Hikuminue Kapika and Paulus Tjavara fear for the future for their people, whose lives are tied to their traditional areas in northern Namibia. There are no alternative living areas for them. The Kunene River is not being dammed for their benefit, but in connection with industrial development near the capital Windhoek, almost 800 kilometer further south. With their way of life, the Himba have no use for electric power. They feel badly treated by the authorities in their own country, and also claim that Norconsult's work fails to consider their needs in this case.
Making its own impact assessment
Norconsult reluctantly received the Himba delegation in Sandvika, and listened politely to their objections to the company's operations. Nobody in the company had one single question to the delegation. Norconsult wanted by all means to have this discussion in Namibia, not in Norway.
"It's in Namibia we're making the impact assessment relating to the dam project," says Trond Westeren, responsible for the Epupa project in Norconsult.
Westeren stated early in the process that the company hoped that development would take place, and that new contracts could be secured. Later he has said the same to the magazine X. The distance between the two sides of the table can easily become short in this type of business, but Westeren is surprisingly frank. The question is: does anybody believe that such a wish for new contracts will not influence the company's own so-called independent studies of the consequences? When the company is to assess these aspects of the project, at the same time as it is hoping to get new contracts in case development takes place, there are no longer two sides of the table. Norconsult is here laying down the foundation for its further involvement in the matter.
Namibian authorities have signaled that a decision in this matter has already been made. Development will take place, and the location will be by he Epupa falls. Both Norconsult and NORAD maintain that a final decision will be made based on Norconsult's report, to be presented in November.
NORAD has appropriated NOK 25 million for a feasibility study for the project, which among other things will consider the social and environmental impact of the Epupa development. This work is not completed yet, but so far NORAD's involvement has had one clear result: the creation of uncertainty and fear for the future among a people that in spite of being a minority, have a remarkably comfortable existence.
NORAD's assurances to the Himba delegation in Norway that the agency will assess any negative consequences for the inhabitants, is not what the Himba are after. They have never asked for this development, never been consulted, and have little support among the politicians in the capital.
Between 80 and 90% of the Himba in the area oppose the project, which will have great consequences for as many as 8,000 people. The question to ask now is: Does such massive local resistance mean nothing to NORAD? Will the directorate support future projects having no local support; i.e. in cases where 100% of the inhabitants are negative?
The then director general of NORAD, Per Ø. Grimstad, said in March 1995 that he personally hoped that the Epupa project would not be implemented. This raises the question of why the directorate appropriated funds for a feasibility study in the first place. NORAD's signals later on have been ambiguous.
The Himba delegation's request to NORAD was clear: Before any new contributions to the project in the form of funds for further development, the local population should be heard. Kjell Storløkken, responsible for southern Africa in the directorate, said that such an assessment will be made based on Norconsult's report, and discussions with Namibian authorities. This was by no means enough to reassure the Himba delegation.
Norconsult in Namibia
Norconsult is in charge of the work with a feasibility study for a hydro-electric development project at the Kunene River in northern Namibia. The work is carried out in cooperation with Swedish, Angolan, and Namibian companies, and a report will be presented in November this year. NORAD has supported this study with NOK 25 million since 1992.
Norwatch Newsletter 9/97