Written by William A.Twayigize
Lake Kivu forms the western border of Rwanda. It is a natural dividing line between Rwanda and the DR Congo. Millions of Rwandans and Congolese live on the hills that slope down to the lake such as Mount Rubavu and other mountains found in the region.
This story from Nature talks about the potential hazards that lie right beneath in the lake Kivu: it's full of gas, some carbon dioxide but mostly methane, and these gases pose a substantial risk to local people but also an opportunity to lift up living conditions of the people of Rwanda, especially those who live at the shores of Lake Kivu. I would want to remind the reader that if they're released from the water, they have the potential to sicken or kill people and animals along the shoreline. In addition, the country of Rwanda does not have either resources or expertise to extract, process, and sell these gases to benefit its poor industries and uplift the lives of Rwandans in general. Methane--might also prove to be a valuable energy resource for Rwandans. Lack of reliable energy supplies is a major concern in the country as it tries to expand economic activity and only 15% of Rwandans who have access to electricity.
The question going around among natural resources and investment experts is whether can the gas be extracted safely so that businesses so that it can be turned into electricity. The Rwandan government has already entered into concessions with energy companies to do this and these concessions are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Scientists, however, disagree about the best technologies and strategies for extracting the resources and existing projects have had limited success. The following are some issues being raised regarding commercialization of exploitation of the Methane Gas in Gisenyi, Lake Kivu.
One is whether will methane provide another basis for resource-based conflict in an area with entirely too much resource-based conflict considering that there have been a decade long conflict over natural resources in the region, and two, assuming an extraction process is identified that is safe and cost-effective, what mechanisms exist for promoting accountability and transparency with regard to the income generation stream these contracts will generate? Or, will these projects devolve into financial crisis marred by corruption or the Kigali government is ready to establish a transparent system that promote community based effective management of the natural resources to empower local residents and improve the living conditions of Rwandans to ensure that there are accountability, equality, and transparency in how the income from these natural resources are used to uplift the lives of the millions of Rwandans.
My recommendations are that Rwandan government should avoid the previous mistakes of some different African countries that landed them into bloody conflict leaving people in dire poverty. Establishing a good system to manage natural resources by involving local people would yield more positive results and impact local communities and all Rwandan economy in general. Careful development of these resources has the potential to further bolster the country's growing private sector and stabilize the country which is marred by competition over limited resources.