This is an enormous project for the extraction and export of natural gas. Discoveries of gas and oil deposits in the northern region of Mozambique (Cabo Delgado, by the Rovuma Basin), have triggered the interest of several fossil fuels’ multinationals. This description compiles mainly information about the Mozambique Gas Development Project, (hereafter the LNG project), led by the Texan company Anadarko. Yet there are many other companies exploring or getting ready to exploit in the area, such as the Dutch Shell, the Italian Eni or the Canadian Wentworth Resources. The development of gas industry in Cabo Delgado province is complicated with a local Islamist insurgency. The group is being called Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, meaning, “followers of the prophetic tradition”. Its emergence is often compared to that of Boko Haram in Nigeria, that started as a religious group and transformed into a guerrilla group. Between October 2017 and February 2018, they are suspected to have killed more than 40 people in the province. Some of the arrested suspects reported to be opposing gas drilling and ask for the creation of an independent State, in northern Cabo Delgado and annexing also south of Tanzania. The militants do raid in villages located deep in the forest, burn houses and steal food.
So, there is a triangular conflict between gas companies, villagers and he Islamist groups. More than 1,000 villagers have fled their homes, according to Human Rights Watch . After new attacks in June 2018, thousands of villagers fled to Pemba, the capital of the province . Following the attacks, the police announced to be taking additional measures to protect the companies in the province and the populations . The root motivations of these attacks are complex. According to Eric Morier-Genoud (lecturer in African history at the Queen's University Belfast), decades of poverty and the sudden arrival of fossil fuels companies in the region make for a “potential power keg” . Northern Mozambique is a poor and isolated part of the country. The high rates of unemployment among its youth triggers discontent. Since they lack access to means of livelihood, the male youth is unable to reach adulthood, meaning to get married and start their own families. Because of their dissatisfaction and lack of alternatives they become targets to be enrolled by Islamist armed rebels . Also, in June 2018, the Bishop of Pemba, Luiz Fernando Lisboa, addresses these concerns in his pastoral letter, where “he stresses that these young men are not only "terrorists", but also the children of our families and villages. And he says their attacks are forcing us to ask serious question about "the future we are offering our youth", and about how our natural resources have failed to help our development although they could have "generated a better life for everyone in the province” . Researcher
Morier-Genoud makes several recommendations to face this tricky social and economic situation, advising both military and non-military measures. He mentions the need to send more troops to the north of the country, but yet preventing from vexing the Muslim community and he also suggests a political commitment to the issue of land ownership .
The tension with this Islamist rebel group have reached a new level by early 2019. If, so far the attacks were in isolated villages, by January 2019 the group attacked vehicles on main roads, killing 12 civilians . The populations and NGOs are heavily questioning whether the police is actually protecting the civilians or only the companies. Two people were killed on January 20th,2019, in Maganja and that in spite of the fact that an army battalion was close by, at Anadarko’s site. These suspicions are all the more increasing after the arbitrary arrests of journalists in the region. Since early 2019, a journalist is been detained, after interviewing communities who were seeking refuge after suffering attacks in the district of Macomia (source, Friends of the Earth Mozambique). The Texan fossil fuels company Anadarko is the leading investor of the consortium meant to exploit the offshore area 1. Anadarko is also constructing a liquified natural gas (LNG) plant in Palma. Friends the Earth Mozambique has produced a short movie denouncing the consequences of the displacements triggered by the construction of the LNG plant. For the its construction, Anadarko displaced several villages, including the village of Quitupo. The residents of Quitupo were displaced near Senga. Yet that village is also under threat of being displaced by Shell, that wants to build another gas refinery in Senga . The fishermen from Milamba have been forced to move 15 kilometers away from the sea. They are very concerned about how they will be able to feed their families since they will lose their ancestral way of living. Women farmers also express their concerns regarding the loss of families’ lands, they won’t be able to feed their children anymore with their traditional subsistence crops. In June 2015, after a national court decided in favor of Anadarko’s endeavors in the region, the U.S. company committed to a $180 million dollars resettlement package to affected communities. Even though since 2012 paralegal volunteers and NGOs have informed the locals about their rights , the villagers, both farmers and fishermen, have expressed their dissatisfaction regarding the compensation process. Farmers say that Anadarko promised them that for every hectare lost, they would be compensated with a new hectare. Yet that will most probably not be the case as the farmers recently heard they would be receiving 1,5 hectares maximum, no matter how many hectares they initially owned . Such area would be unsustainable for the farmers. Paralegals have denounced threats they have received from the government and local police because of their volunteering work. Overall the populations and the paralegals denounce that the lands have been taken without prior consultation, agreement or proper compensation . These allegations argue against Anadarko’s claim to be undertaking a legitimate resettlement process, started in November 2017, of the communities for the sake of the construction of the LNG plant . In May 2018 there has been a demonstration of hundreds of young people in Palma, demanding jobs in the fossil fuels’ companies. They protest the current jobs are occupied by non-locals, that situation was also confirmed by the Bishop of Pemba. Their claims were not heard. A month later, in June, the President himself visited Cabo Delgado, promising jobs, even though he added these jobs were not quite yet available . In the meatime Anadarko sold its interest in the project to Total.
In the last days of March 2021 the situation exploded. Here an article that analyses the situation, and foresees that Total will be forced o withdraw.
Frelimo lost its gas gamble. (JH, Mozambique. News reports and clippings. 532, 30 March 2021).
Frelimo bet the country on gas - and has just lost the bet.
The Frelimo leadership was dazzled by the gas, and believed Mozambique would be like Abu Dhabi, Qatar, or Kuwait. Gas would make the elite fabulously wealthy and also trickle down to ordinary people. Poverty and inequality are increasing, but there was no reason to spend money on rural development because the gas bonanza would end poverty. Of course, the elites could take their share early, as with the $2 bn secret debt in 2012. The gas bonanza would benefit everyone by 2020, delayed to 2025, and then to 2030. The people would believe the dreams.
But in Cabo Delgado they did not, and an insurgency began in 2017 - over growing poverty and inequality, as well as political and economic exclusion. There is very broad agreement that initially al Shabaab was local people with local leadership. There is a huge debate as to whether Islamic State now controls al Shabaab, but even advocates of that view accept that IS took over an existing local insurgency. Local people saw the development of ruby mines and the initial gas development, and realised there were no jobs for them; the gas and ruby money was not trickling down to them.
Three multinational giants control the gas - ENI (Italy) the far offshore section, ExxonMobil (US) the middle section, and Total (France, taking over from Anadarko) the section closest to the coast. ENI was first to start, with a small floating gas liquification platform ordered in 2017 but not yet in operation. Total began serious work on part of its gas production and liquification plant last year.
So work has begun on only a small part of the dreamed of gas bonanza. But in the last two years, the global market picture has changed. Gas is a fossil fuel coming under environmental pressure so predictions of demand 20 years from now are falling, while Russia and Saudi Arabia have upped production to try to capture what is left of the market. Many gas projects across the world have been abandoned. Collapsing markets have already combined with security questions about Cabo Delgado. ExxonMobil has made clear it is unlikely to go ahead; ENI has said nothing about anything more than the initial floating platform.
Insurgents reached the gates of Total on New Year's eve, and Total pulled out its staff. It said it would not employ a private army for protection. The Total CEO told President Filipe Nyusi personally that Total would only return if Mozambique would guarantee security in a 25 km cordon around the gas project on the Afungi Peninsula.
Last week Nyusi staked his personal prestige and that of the nation on a promise of security. Total agreed to go back to work. Two days later insurgents occupied Palma, within the security cordon, killing contract staff working on the project. Total says work "is obviously now suspended" and will only resume when government really can provide security.
It was Nyusi's last roll of the dice. The whole gas gamble was bet on a promise of security, and Nyusi - and Mozambique - lost the bet.
Will Total return? Not in the short term. It will take perhaps two years for US, Portuguese and other trainers to create a functioning army. Total has other interests in Africa; it has only spent a small part of the $20 bn project cost, and can still walk away. Even if it returns it will demand a much more favourable deal with Mozambique. ExxonMobil has already written off $20 bn of gas assets elsewhere in the world and will not go ahead in Cabo Delgado. It looks increasingly like ENI's floating platform will be the only gas production in Mozambique.
Mozambique is waking up to the realisation that billions of dollars flowing into the state budget and local pockets was only a dream. Frelimo bet the country on that dream. And last week it lost. jh.