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Namibia's Nama community rejects green-hydrogen port expansion

Namibia-Botswana map (Source - Google Maps)
Namibia-Botswana map (Source - Google Maps)

Namibia's port authority, Namport, has proposed a port expansion on Shark Island, a heritage site that is sacred to the indigenous Nama ethnic group of southern Namibia.

The expansion is designed to facilitate green hydrogen production and export to Europe by a German energy company, Hyphen.

However, some locals view the port expansion as a new form of colonization, where African resources are extracted for the benefit of European markets.

Germany once ruled Namibia, then known as German South West Africa, and in the early 1900s German authorities ran a concentration camp on Shark Island where around 3,000 locals were killed.

Sima Luipert — a community activist and member of the Nama Leaders Association of Namibia, which has opened talks with the port authority — said the Nama consider the island as sacred ground.

"Shark Island has got historical meaning to the Nama and the Ovaherero people, and it should have the same historical meaning and heritage meaning for the entire Namibia and for the world," said Luipert.

"This is where genocide took place; this is where genocide was executed," said Luipert. "It was the first genocide of the 20th century and for that, the site needs to be protected."

Hans-Christian Mahnke of Namibia's Legal Assistance Center told VOA that Namibia's laws require developers to undertake environmental impact assessments in cooperation with local communities, who have the right to decline consent for any development they feel may violate their rights.

He said the Nama have grounds to reject the port expansion on Shark Island.

"Due to the increased capacity needs of the port in the make of the green hydrogen development then that Shark Island and the dignity of people are affected and linked to the drive by among others, the German government, to get cheaper cleaner energy also from Namibia," said Mahnke. "Yet genocide talks and the reparation talks have not yet been finalized and we are already doing again harm potentially to the descendants of the victims by tampering further on with this historical site."

Namport's executive for port engineering, Elezier Gelderbloem, said the Nama Traditional Leaders Association has expressed opposition to port expansion, and the port authority is working on mitigating those concerns.

He spoke with VOA at a conference for Namibia's emerging oil and gas industry being held in Luderitz.

"We are employing experts, environmental experts, archeologists, marine archeologists and they are investigating this to determine exactly what impacts we might have," said Gelderbloem. "So, we cannot answer yet whether we will have impacts. So, the EIA or the studies which we do will identify if there are impacts and if there are impacts it will also indicate what mitigating measures can we employ to reduce such impacts."

Namibia has been identified as a potential green hydrogen source for its abundant sunlight and access to the sea, which developers say is crucial for the production of green hydrogen and its by-products, which include ammonia and fertilizer.