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Mozambique battles to overcome insurgency

An Islamic State affiliate has emerged as a serious threat to the gas projects in Cabo Delgado, but the authorities remain firmly in control

A mysterious insurgency that emerged in 2017 in Mozambique’s gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado has worsened over the last year and is now claimed as an affiliate by Islamic State. The brunt of the impact is being felt by the local population, who risk being abducted or even beheaded in attacks on villages and the province’s roads. But is also hitting people’s livelihoods and progress on two LNG projects that the country hopes will transform its economy. 

Over the last month, problems have been compounded by serious flooding that has washed away two bridges on the main road between Pemba, the provincial capital, and the site shared by the ExxonMobil-led Rovuma LNG and the Total-led Mozambique LNG projects on the Afungi peninsula in the far north of the province, close to the border with Tanzania. 

“Flooding in the northern part of the province has severely affected major arterial routes, limiting access to fuel, food and other vital supplies from areas further south,” a spokeswoman for Total told Petroleum Economist. “Fortunately, we had mitigation measures—including barge options—in place to limit the impact on the project,” the spokeswoman says. 

Both the weather and the violent insurgency restrict access in Cabo Delgado, “one from fear and one from physically getting stuff across,” says John Henry Farrell, whose company True North provides construction services to the Area 1 project led by Total. 

Aerial avoidance 

The solution, for many, is to take to the air. An existing airstrip at Palma, the nearest town to Afungi, was recently reopened after a refurbishment by Kenya-based Everett Aviation. And, Anadarko, which operated the Area 1 project before its stake was bought by Total, contracted Portuguese constructor Gabriel Couto to build a dedicated aerodrome at Afungi capable of accommodating jumbo jets. 

Progress on the aerodrome has been hampered by energy transmission infrastructure also being damaged by the severe rainy season. The northern districts of Cabo Delgado province were cut off from the power grid on 11 January, and it took two weeks to reconnect them. Nevertheless, the aerodrome is now ready and awaiting sign-off from the aviation authorities, and “we remain on track to have our license to operate this by the end of the first quarter this year,” according to the Total spokeswoman. 

“We remain on track to have our license to operate this by the end of the first quarter this year” Total

In February last year, a subcontractor on the airstrip project became the first, and still the only, worker related to the gas projects to be killed by insurgents. The man, a Mozambican driver for Gabriel Couto, was beheaded after being caught up in an attack on a village. The tragedy meant work was suspended until May—and since then, the gas companies have been flying workers in. But the cost is prohibitive for some companies working on the projects. 

However, the airstrip is also not viable for moving heavy cargoes. A planned Materials Offloading Facility (MOF) is still some way off, but a jetty for beach landing is being built by Subtech to provide an interim solution, and should, like the Afungi airstrip, open in February. 

Having investigated importing materials by boat from Tanzania, Farrell eventually settled on sending a boat up from Pemba—a solution that the province’s incoming governor, Valige Tauabo, wants to encourage. “We will see how to benefit from the coast, to have more ships moving from Pemba to all ports of the zone,” he told Petroleum Economist in an interview the day after he was sworn into office on 22 January. 

New leadership 

Tauabo, a Muslim of the Makua tribe from Cabo Delgado, who was the administrator of Palma District until being elected governor in last October’s elections, will lead the provincial government alongside state secretary Armindo Ngunga, appointed by President Filipe Nyusi. 

“If it depends on us two, we will build the province,” Tauabo told Petroleum Economist. “He [Ngunga] knows a little of the province already—he had the chance to travel to most of the districts—so nothing will be strange for him. And, having myself there, we will make a good team to support the population of Cabo Delgado.” 

After winning a second term in October, Nyusi—of the Makonde tribe, also of Cabo Delgado—has reshuffled some key positions in his cabinet. There was a surprise at the Ministry of Defence, where Atanasio M’tumuke, another Makonde, was replaced by the unknown Jaime Neto, promoted from a senior civil service role in another province.

1 The number of oil and gas workers to lose their lives to the insurgency

He will be charged with tackling the insurgency along with the minister of the interior Amade Miquidade, who while a new minister is a veteran of Mozambique’s security apparatus. At an investment summit in London in late January, President Nyusi said Mozambique needed help from outside to deal with the insurgency—potentially opening the door to private military contractors to join the fight. But a reported attempt last year by Russia’s Wagner Group does not seem to have hindered the attackers. 

Another new face in government, and the youngest minister at 35, is minister of transport Janfar Abdulai. He is another Cabo Delgado native who had before his appointment worked with the central bank in its Pemba branch. 

There was no change at the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy and the private sector is, on the whole, relieved to see Max Tonela keep hold of the reins. Having seen Area 1 to FID in mid-2019, his key aim for 2020 will be FID on the ExxonMobil-led Area 4 onshore LNG project. Cabo Delgado is an increasingly tough environment to work in—but not enough to stop the projects going ahead. 

Source: Petroleum Economist
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