The French energy company Total withdrew its workers from a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in 2021 because of a worsening security situation in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.
In 2023, two years later, TotalEnergies’ CEO Patrick Pouyanne paid a visit to the southern African nation to discuss conditions for a possible restart.
The “environment” in the gas-rich province has improved for “the company to resume activity at any time,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said at a recent mining and energy conference in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.
TotalEnergies should now restart its $20 billion (around €18 billion) gas project, Nyusi added.
Escalating extremist violence
But Cabo Delgado has been struggling with a militant insurgency which, during the last five years, has claimed at least 4,683 lives — nearly half of them civilians — and forced around 1 million people to flee their homes.
When the jihadist activities began in 2017, the Mozambican government was slow to react.
The situation escalated, and it became clear that the local security forces were not capable of handling the insurgency issue without international assistance.
In July 2021, Rwanda offered its help, which Nyusi eagerly accepted.
Rwanda was not only the first country to send troops to Cabo Delgado — it also provided the largest contingent of foreign troops in the restive province, to the tune of around 1,000 soldiers.
Since the end of 2021, other countries — such as South Africa, Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana — have also participated in the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), whose 3,000 soldiers provide security in northern Mozambique.
The European Union and the United States have also sent military advisers.
Africa’s largest investment
The international investment plan for Cabo Delgado envisages the construction of a huge onshore LNG plant. Investors would likely gain influence in a region that could potentially gain a key position in Africa’s economy.
Mozambican authorities said there are plans to produce nearly 13 million tons of LNG per year.
Investments in the project are expected to exceed $20 billion and generate a profit to the tune of $60 billion in the medium term.
The main investors are France’s TotalEnergies, the United States’ Anadarko, and Italy’s Eni. Other smaller companies from Europe, China, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia also announced their financial involvement.
Exploration was originally scheduled to begin in 2023. But Total’s departure dealt a major blow to the plan.
Has the region’s security situation improved?
There is a lack of reliable information about the security situation in the region, according to Delfim Anacleto, DW’s correspondent in Cabo Delgado. “The government said the situation is normalizing.”
“People on the ground that I interviewed say energy companies like TotalEnergies should wait before sending their employees back to Cabo Delgado,” Anacleto noted. “It has calmed down, but it may be that it is just a tactical withdrawal of the jihadists.”
Anacleto said he cannot move freely in the province and is only rarely invited to on-site inspections, but is then not allowed to leave a radius specified by the military leaders.
There are fewer attacks, and also fewer refugees who come to the capital Pemba, and some even make their way back to their villages,” said Anacleto. “That’s our impression, but it’s not certain because we have hardly any access to the areas.”
Is it safe for TotalEnergies to return?
DW spoke to some of the aid workers who regularly travel to the embattled areas in Cabo Delgado.
“People must be able to return to the areas from which they fled,” said Anchina Abdul from Kwendeleya, an NGO which helps internally displaced persons in Cabo Delgado.
“The government and security forces must ensure that people can return to their homelands,” she said. “There are currently other priorities than the return of employees of international energy companies.”
Aly Caetano, who also travels to the region frequently, agreed.
“The situation is still chaotic,” Caetano said. “The priority is not for TotalEnergies to resume the gas projects, but for ordinary people, small traders to be able to resume their businesses, fishermen to resume fishing, farmers to plant crops without danger, and young people to have access to their schools and education so that they can soon take care of themselves.”
“In many areas, it is still not possible to travel from A to B without armed security personnel,” said Abudo Gafuro, who added that there are occasional attacks by jihadists who target vehicles carrying food.
“If I were the boss of TotalEnergies, I would definitely wait a bit longer, two or three months,” he suggested. “Clearer guarantees would be needed from the security forces that security is truly ensured. Perhaps the work could be resumed partially, step by step.”
Source: Deutsche Welle