Namibian community rejects green hydrogen port expansion project serving Germany’s Hyphen

By bne IntelliNews April 18, 2024

Leaders of Namibia's Nama ethnic group have rejected a proposal by national port authority Namport to expand a facility on Shark Island – a heritage site sacred to the community – to facilitate green hydrogen production and export by German company Hyphen Hydrogen Energy.

Hyphen, a Namibian-registered green hydrogen development company, was specifically formed to develop green hydrogen projects in the mostly desert African country for international, regional and domestic supply.

The German company is a joint venture between renewable energy group Enertrag SE and investment and project development company Nicholas Holdings. Hyphen plans to produce about 2mn tonnes of green ammonia a year at a project in the southwest of the country, from about 7 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy and 3 GW of electrolyser capacity.

However, Germany once ruled Namibia, and some locals view the proposed port expansion serving Hyphen as a new form of colonization, where African resources are extracted for the benefit of European markets, Voice of America (VOA) reports.

Another factor is that in the early 1900s, German authorities ran a concentration camp on Shark Island, where around 3,000 locals were killed, notes community activist Sima Luipert, a member of the Nama Leaders Association of Namibia, which has opened talks with the port authority.

"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," Luipert told VOA.

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

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

"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, speaking to VOA on the margins of a conference for Namibia's emerging oil and gas industry, in Luderitz, said Namport is working on mitigating those concerns, employing a range of experts to determine potential impacts, and what measures can be taken to address them.

Namibia, has abundant sunlight and access to the sea, crucial for the production of green hydrogen and its by-products, which include ammonia and fertilizer.

In early April, the German government has presented a Letter of Intent (LOI) to Enertrag SE, confirming the suitability of Hyphen’s project in Namibia to be considered for final approval as a “strategic foreign project”.

Granted by the German government, the “strategic foreign project” status is reserved for high-priority global projects of strategic interest to Germany, Hyphen said in a press release.

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