Armed insurgents have again reached the vicinity of the site of the liquid natural gas (LNG) project in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, contradicting previous claims by the country’s Defence Ministry that counter-terrorist operations have been successful. The site is the future centre of the country’s LNG industry, which is considered the largest investment underway in Africa, and will supply multiple Asian countries, including China.
According to reports from the ground and Mozambican media, on 14 November, the armed Islamist cells attacked the village of Maganja, a few kilometres away from the Afungi complex project site, demonstrating their freedom to manoeuvre continues unabated by the counter-insurgency strategy implemented by the Mozambican military.
Two days earlier, an attack on the border region between Tanzania and Mozambique killed six Tanzanian farmers and injured seven more, elevating the matter to one of regional concern. On 21 November, VOA reported Mozambican villagers from areas close to the border attempting to cross the river into neighbouring Tanzania, for fear for their safety.
Multiple attacks have taken place against villages in the area in the previous weeks, with civilian casualties and destruction of property – in the Nangade region, more than 200 homes were destroyed. Some have targeted villages (Demaio, Nguri and Miangalewa) in Muidumbe district, a few kilometres from military barracks, and casualties among the Mozambican military have been reported.
Since October, the Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM) and the Police Rapid Intervention Force (FIR) have had support on the ground from Russians operatives. These are soldiers of the Russian armed forces, which the Russian Embassy in Mozambique in Maputo denies, under contract with a private military company Wagner Group, reports Africa Monitor.
Back in April, Mozambican Defence Minister Atanasio Salvador Mtumuke travelled to Moscow, where he called for counter-terrorism support to neutralise active armed cells in Cabo Delgado.
As a consequence, at the beginning of October, at least 160 military personnel from the Russian Ministry of Interior (MVD), Intelligence Service (FSB), National Guard and Wagner landed in Mozambique with three attack helicopters and miscellaneous military hardware.
The first armed engagement on the ground took place on 7 October. According to the same source, after initial successes, the counter-insurgency stalled, and in recent weeks, the operational involvement of Russian forces has diminished, widening the scope for insurgents in various regions of Cabo Delgado and resulting in attacks of increasing severity.
The Ministry of Defence announced major operations in late October and November claiming “considerable casualties” among the insurgents, but tensions are mounting on the ground between the FADM and Wagner leadership, with increased Russian distrust. After several incidents on the ground, some lethal for Russian operatives, with men wearing FIR uniforms, Wagner is currently refusing any joint operations with the FADM or the Mozambican security forces.
In addition, conditions at Wagner headquarters and Joint Operating Command (COJ), in the Mueda area, are deficient and lack adequate facilities to accommodate Russians who are installed in tents without appropriate conditions for rest, given the very high temperatures in the area, around 40 degrees centigrade. Wagner’s operations have been carried out at night, making daytime rest is essential, and the company claims that lack of rest has been compromising operational effectiveness and their operatives’ safety.
As a result of the situation, some Russians are confined to the COJ and others have temporarily moved to Nacala until the problem is resolved.
The military and security forces present on the ground are composed of FIR agents and military personnel from different branches and units of the FADM. While better trained, FIR and Navy personnel lack the numbers needed, forcing the military to rely heavily on young people with no experience in combat situations or familiarity with the terrain. The troops on the ground are deployed for two months and there are records of several cases of desertion of military youth detached in Cabo Delgado.
After suffering a series of setbacks, Russian forces withdrew to Nacala port in late November. Insurgents have launched 25 attacks in this month alone, with the latest targeting a ‘safe zone’ for foreigners involved in LNG exploration, although details of the attack have not been disclosed.
The wave of armed attacks by insurgents has already triggered exceptional security measures for expatriate personnel, reinforcement of security staff by companies operating on the ground and also consular alerts by the diplomatic corps accredited in Maputo, notably, for the potential effects for hydrocarbons investments, by the US Embassy.
Mozambique has had multiple offers of assistance from partner countries including China, and also from private companies, to deal with the insurgency in Cabo Delgado. The timely completion of the LNG project in the area is a main cause of concern. Increased risks for the project could also make financing negotiations underway more difficult for the companies involved.
The Afungi complex project includes two 180,000m3 LNG storage tanks, condensate storage facilities, a multi-berth marine jetty and associated infrastructure. Multinationals Van Oord and TechnipFMC will lead the construction of the onshore unit. LNG industry development projects should be the main drivers of the country’s economic recovery in the coming years. Final investment decisions on both projects (Areas 1 and 4) have been delayed by oversupply on the market, and development work on the ground is now expected to start more significantly in 2020.
In Area 1 (Golfinho/Atum fields), operator Total has already secured extended contracts for the sale of most of the production (SPA, or Sales and Purchases Agreements) with several customers such as Tokyo Gas and Centrica (2.6 mtpa, or metric tonnes per annum). Shell (2 mtpa), CNOOC Gas and Power Singapore Trading & Marketing Pte Ltd (1.5 mtpa), EDF (1.2 mtpa) and Bharat Petroleum (1 mtpa).
In Area 4, the Mozambique Rovuma Venture SPA – jointly held by CNPC (28.6%), Eni (35.7%) and ExxonMobil (35.7%) – has a 70 per cent stake in operations, with the remaining 30 per cent evenly divided between Galp, Kogas and ENH.