Mozambique: the jihadist threat, an obstacle in the race for natural gas

Posted 01 February, 2022

Immersed for almost a year in the uncertain expectation of a return to calm after a major jihadist attack, the world energy giants in the race for the rich natural gas reserves of Mozambique are trying to relaunch projects weighing Billions.

TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné met Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi in Maputo on Monday. The two men made the same observation as they had for months: the security context does not make it possible to relaunch the 16.5 billion euro project in the Indian Ocean.

At the French giant, the subject is described as "sensitive", communication is tightly controlled. A security source, however, confirmed to AFP recent movements on the still unfinished site of Afungi, where maintenance has resumed.

Immersed for almost a year in the uncertain expectation of a return to calm after a major jihadist attack, the world energy giants in the race for the rich natural gas reserves of Mozambique are trying to relaunch projects weighing Billions.

The discovery in 2010 of the largest natural gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa had given Mozambique the prospect of a place among the world's top 10 exporters.

The predominantly Muslim province of Cabo Delgado (north-east) saw the birth of three mega-projects: Mozambique LNG, a consortium operated by TotalEnergies, Rovuma LNG led by the American ExxonMobil, and Coral-Sul FLNG led by the Italian ENI.

 

High sea

 

At the end of March 2021, a surprise attack on the small coastal town of Palma was suspended until further notice of Total's huge project, located just a few kilometers away.

"TotalEnergies must return this year if it wants to reach its new production target in 2026," said a researcher from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Borges Nhamirre, in Maputo.

One of the three projects today seems to be able to do well. The Italian ENI, which has bet on the liquefaction of gas in the open sea, told AFP that it is maintaining its production target for the second half of 2022.

The Coral Sul vessel, the first offshore natural gas liquefaction platform deployed in the deep waters of the African continent, with an annual production capacity of 3.4 million tonnes, arrived off Mozambique in January. On the security issue, the company at the head of the 6.2 billion euro project simply ensures "to work in close collaboration with the government".

According to specialists, ENI's offshore operations are less risky. "The risk of attacks at sea is very low. In four years of violence, there have been no attacks at sea except against a few fishermen near the coast," said Nhamirre.

ExxonMobil's project is stalled. The construction of facilities with an annual capacity of 15.2 million tonnes has not started and the American group does not seem to want to move before an improvement in the context.

 

Maputo "determined"

 

"Maputo is determined to see these projects succeed, the government needs the money," said Alexandre Raymakers, an analyst at British risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. The government is eyeing billions in annual revenue from gas projects, a godsend for the country whose GDP is some 13 billion euros.

For six months, the struggling Mozambican army has been supported by at least 3,000 soldiers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda. "The arrival of regional troops has helped Maputo break the escalating violence, but they are unlikely to take over in the next 12 months," said Raymakers.

According to him, the regional forces do not have the means: "Limited air support, few helicopters, it is mainly about light infantry".

And the jihadists have adapted since their arrival: entrenched in the neighboring province of Niassa, they carry out sporadic attacks now modeled on classic guerrilla tactics. In January, the NGO Acled recorded around thirty violent incidents.

Filipe Nyusi claims to be making progress in the war against the jihadists. But according to observers, the root of the problem is elsewhere. About 2,000 km from Maputo, the province of Cabo Delgado is one of the poorest: the lack of infrastructure and opportunities for young people have created resentment that fills the ranks of armed groups.

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