By Luis Nhachote Mozambique bet its future on new gas projects. Then, driven by inequality and other pressures, insurgents took hold
By Luis Nhachote
Mozambique bet its future on new gas projects. Then, driven by inequality and other pressures, insurgents took hold in northern Mozambique. The gas companies started pulling out. Now, after meetings in Kigali and Paris, foreign forces are securing the towns that Total and ExxonMobile need secured in order to keep their operations going.
The balance of power in the conflict in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, seems to have taken a decisive turn in favour of the government over the past month. On August 8, a year after Mocímboa da Praia was abandoned by Mozambican forces, Rwandan and local forces took the town back.
The town, near the northern border with Tanzania, has an airport and strategic port. Its fall to insurgents last August was a symbolic blow to the government.
Recapturing it is a coup for Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, and for France — which is widely believed to have paid for the Rwandan deployment. It also raises questions about the SADC deployment, which is still gathering momentum and has not yet seen military success.
The rapid advance by Rwandan forces gained impetus with the attack on the town of Palma in March. This really concentrated minds in Maputo and in Paris. The insurgency had already killed thousands of people since its first attack on Mocímboa da Praia in October 2017, and made much of coastal Cabo Delgado uninhabitable.
But now it threatened the gas project on which Mozambique has staked its future.
Having taken a final investment decision on the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in June 2019, TotalEnergies committed to invest $20 billion in gas extraction and liquefaction. Of that value, $2.5 billion was earmarked for goods and services to be provided by Mozambican companies to the project, in addition to employment opportunities and training for Mozambican citizens.
At the peak of the project, it is expected to absorb an estimated workforce of 5,000 Mozambican workers. Mozambique’s petroleum regulator, INP, says it believes the project will generate profits of $60.8 billion over the next 20 years, of which $30.9 billion will go to the Mozambican state.
The March attack led TotalEnergies to withdraw all its staff, saying it would only come back when security was restored.
Amid negotiations with Mozambique’s formal regional partners, its fellow members of SADC, President Nyusi made a surprise visit to Kigali on 28 April, to consult with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
“We had a discussion about Rwanda’s experience in combating terrorism and violent extremism,” said Nyusi at the time, explaining that: “Rwanda plays an important role in Central Africa, together with the United Nations forces. That’s why we wanted to understand how the experience has been”.
Nyusi’s next stop, in May, was Paris, where he met with TotalEnergies and French President Emmanual Macron — who visited Rwanda little over a week later, to offer a formal apology for France’s failures around the 1994 genocide.
Macron’s African tour also included a visit to South Africa, where he discussed insecurity in Cabo Delgado with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
What exactly was agreed, remains in the shadows. France has not officially acknowledged involvement in the Rwandan deployment — but nor is it denying the many reports of it. Its government chose to not respond to questions from The Continent.
The Continent, though, has heard from diplomatic and government sources in Maputo that it is indeed French money that is paying for the deployment. France also has a history of meddling in countries across Africa for the benefit of its own corporations, much like its peers in Europe, China and the United States.
Rwandan troops first, SADC later
The success of the Rwandan troops was confirmed on Sunday afternoon in a Tweet by the Rwandan Ministry of Defence after the capture of Mocimboa da Praia, which had been deserted after Rwandan and Mozambican troops conquered an insurgent base at the village of Awasse, 41km inland from Mocímboa.
In a press conference later on Sunday, Mozambique’s military spokesman Colonel Omar Saranga said “the Joint Forces – Mozambique and Rwanda, control the town of Mocímboa da Praia since 11 am today, August 8, 2021,” adding that the joint force had taken control of “local government buildings, the port, airport, hospital, markets, catering establishments, and other economic objects.”
A source in the Mozambican army’s sniper battalion, told The Continent last week that the success of the Rwandans is due to “high technological use. Rwandan colleagues use drones that, in addition to surveillance, work as weapons”.
As well as the joint force coming from Awasse in the west, another group came down from Palma district, where Rwandan troops have been reinforcing Mozambican positions around the natural gas project led by French energy giant TotalEnergies.
Military sources believe that with the recovery of Mocimboa, the way is now open for an assault on the so-called “Siria” base — some 110km south of Awasse, in Macomia district — described as the insurgents’ central base.
The SAMIM force, which so far still adds up to less than the 1,000 personnel deployed by Rwanda, will be charged with ensuring the territory gained by the Rwandans remains out of enemy control — a task whose importance and difficulty was emphasised by Nyusi at the launch of the mission on Monday, 9 August — the day after Mocímboa was retaken. But the highest profile work, of engaging the insurgents in offensive action, remains the domain of the Rwandans.
*Article original published on The Continent