Mozambique's northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has been home since 2017 to a festering insurgency, linked to Islamic State, that has escalated dramatically in the past year. Picture: SUPPLIED
Mozambique's northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has been home since 2017 to a festering insurgency, linked to Islamic State, that has escalated dramatically in the past year. Picture: SUPPLIED

French President Emmanuel Macron begins a state visit to the Union Buildings in Pretoria today at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa. This follows, by less than a week, the Macron-sponsored, Africa-France Summit on post-Covid economic reconstruction in Africa. The state visit has been presented as an opportunity to cement partnership and trade relations and “address world peace and security”, strengthen multilateral and regional co-operation, and respond to climate change.

The question of security is a top priority for France in respect of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) interests of French-headquartered Total in the Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. Here, a war has been raging between insurgents, private security companies and the Mozambican military since 2019, with insurgent attacks beginning even earlier than this. 

Cabo Delgado is home to gas deposits collectively estimated to be worth $65bn, with Total’s investment of $20bn standing as the largest foreign investment in Africa.

Total displaced more than 556 fishing and farming families to clear the ground for the Afungi Park, which includes facilities such as an airport, waste facilities and buffer zones, and services other gas and oil companies, including Eni, ExxonMobil and the China National Petroleum Corporation.

These families were relocated far from their source of livelihood and left destitute, a process that is reinforcing extreme poverty arising from decades of central government neglect.

This poverty, set against the gas wealth buried beneath the ocean floor from which transnational companies and the Mozambican political and economic elite stand to grow rich, has caused antigovernment sentiment and led to extremist narratives within communities.

Al-Shabaab, the Mozambican military and foreign military groups, such as the Dyck Advisory Group, based in SA, have been at war. This has resulted in the displacement of more than 700,000 people, and death, injury and rape of tens of thousands more (UNHCR, April 2021).

Amnesty International’s report, “What I Saw Is Death”: War Crimes in Mozambique’s Forgotten Cape, released in March, documents “violations of international humanitarian law including war crimes by all sides of the conflict”, including Dyck Advisory Group. Another SA security company, Paramount Group, which trades in arms, is also deeply involved in the war.

SA soldiers will return home in body bags ... The defence force must serve sovereign national interests and not the interests of private actors working for profit

Following a well-publicised March 24 attack on Palma, which is located close to the Afungi site and serves as a base for workers and contractors, Total declared force majeure on April 26 and has completely withdrawn from the project. This is a declaration that Total is unable to fulfil its contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond its control.

This means Total does not expect to return soon, but it must return within two years or it will have to renegotiate contracts with buyers, contractors and the Mozambique government. A delay beyond that could well require a full rethink of whether there is a market for the gas. In this scenario Total stands to lose the substantive investments it has already made.

Like France and its transnational corporation Total, the LNG project in Mozambique is critically important for SA and its corporations. SA state financiers the Industrial Development corporation (IDC), the Export Credit Insurance Corporation (ECIC) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) have, in total, lent more than $1bn in public funds to the LNG project. Standard Bank has sunk $485m into the project, and other major players include Absa and Rand Merchant Bank

When Macron met Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi in Paris on May 18, he proposed a French security cordon so Total could return to Afungi to continue its extraction. And, without doubt, SA corporations with investments in the gas projects are applying pressure to the SA government to protect their interests.

When Macron and Ramaphosa meet, they will share a common “peace and security” agenda in support of national corporate interests in Mozambique’s gas fields. Ramaphosa’s existing effort, within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to deploy a “peacekeeping force” in northern Mozambique will be escalated. Such a deployment will, no doubt, further inflame tensions and deepen the insurgency. It is very likely to provoke a response from the Islamic State to provide weapons and training to the insurgents, which has not been the reality to date.

SA soldiers will return home in body bags, as was the case in the failed military deployment to the Central African Republic in March 2013. The defence force must serve sovereign national interests and not the interests of private actors working for profit. This line must be carefully drawn in the sand, or SA will only draw the insurgency closer to its national boundaries.

The extraction of the gas reserves will also fuel a growing climate crisis, with Mozambique already carrying an overly large share of the burden with no fewer than four cyclones over the past three years. In support of this position, the reputable International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on May 18 that Mozambique’s gas fields cannot be further developed if global warming is to be kept to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

To meet this commitment requires that no new oil and gas fields be approved for development after 2021. Only two of the Cabo Delgado projects fit within that window.

What should the response of the SA government be to what is happening in Cabo Delgado and the pressures it confronts from national corporations and France? As a starting point, responses should consider the people and their rights in Cabo Delgado, the interests of people living in SA, including our own citizens in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and, significantly, SA’s historical, moral and climate debt to Mozambique.

Africa accounts for only 3% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sources, with SA contributing half  these emissions in 2018. Hence our reference to SA’s climate debt to the continent, in this instance to Mozambique.

Ramaphosa should, first, agree to withdraw all investments made by state-owned financiers such as the IDC, ECIC and DBSA from the gas industry in Mozambique. Second, he should rein in and investigate SA private security contractors, one of which has been accused of gross human rights violations, and if there is sufficient admissible evidence prosecute these before ordinary civilian courts.

Finally, SA must publicly acknowledge the climate debt owed to Mozambique by the SA state and polluting national corporations, and establish specific mechanisms to quantify and settle this debt. Given the pressure on Mozambique to not exploit the remaining gas reserves, SA should work with polluting countries to financially support Mozambique keep its oil and gas reserves underground.

• Hargreaves is director of Womin and Lemos director of Justiça Ambiental! (JA!)/Friends of the Earth Mozambique.

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