Recent attacks by armed insurgents, or Al-Shabab, near Mozambique’s $20 billion liquefied national gas project under development by French company Total SE may have more to do with a history of local grievances than a war by terrorists.
A private security army has also been on the ground to protect the project and the interests of Total SE investors.
The behavior of the extremists has changed since the beginning of the attacks in August 2017. In the first attacks, in Mogovolas (Nampula province) and Mocímboa da Praia (Cabo Delgado province), the attackers seem to have targeted mostly security installations and stole arms. This was the case in point in Mogovolas, where in August 2017 they attacked a police station and took rifles and ammunition, reported the Institute for Security Studies.
According to the ISS report, “The genesis of insurgency in Northern Mozambique,” was a local Islamic cleric in Mocímboa da Praia. The alleged Al-Shabab extremists launched their second attack in the district (the first in Cabo Delgado) targeting government positions and institutions, including the police station and central administration building. Members of the Muslim community in Mocímboa da Praia, including religious leaders of this community, were quoted saying they believed the attackers sought to gain control of the town to install their version of law and order. Many of the attackers were residents who spoke Portuguese and local languages. Western press claims activity in Cabo Delgado is an insurgency that “pledge(s) allegiance to the Islamic State” are largely unsubstantiated.
In addition, Dyck Advisory Group’s one-year agreement is coming to an end and hasn’t been extended.
The private military contractor had its last gunship helicopter flights April 2, Lionel Dyck, the South African company’s founder, told the Bloomberg news organization by phone. That could leave state troops exposed as they continue a house-to-house mission to find insurgents remaining in Palma, the closest town to the Total SE site where fighting is continuing, he said.
“The attack on Palma is the latest in a series of assaults that have taken the conflict in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province closer to the natural gas finds that are crucial for the nation’s economic future (not to think of Western corporate interests). The three-year insurgency is putting as much as $120 billion of investment at stake, and has left more than 2,600 people dead while displacing more than 700,000,” according to Bloomberg.
According to Amnesty International, “The people of Cabo Delgado are caught between the Mozambican security forces, the private militia fighting alongside the government and the armed opposition group locally known as ‘Al-Shabaab’—none of which respect their right to life, or the rules of war,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southern Africa.
“All three have committed war crimes, causing the deaths of hundreds of civilians. The international community has failed to address this crisis as it has escalated into full-blown armed conflict over the last three years,” Amnesty International reported.
Reuters news service reported that the “Islamic State-linked insurgents have been increasingly active in the Cabo Delgado province where Palma is located since 2017, although it is unclear whether they have a unified aim.”
In addition, Reuters has “not been able to verify accounts about the attack on Palma independently, as most means of communication with the town were cut off after it began.”
The BBC reported a “South African and British national were among those killed in what was one of the biggest attacks by the militants in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province since they launched an insurgency in the region in 2017. Communication with the town, which has a population of about 75,000, remains cut. The militants (are) known locally as Al- Shabab. Their assault on Palma forced energy giant Total to suspend its multi-billion dollar natural gas project in Afungi.”
While Mocímboa da Praia is the birthplace of this group, according to the Institute For Security Studies, “it was in Macomia that the group launched most of its attacks. It is noteworthy that in these districts most of the population are Mwani and Makwe speakers who practice Islam.” Of Mozambique’s 30 million people nearly, 20 percent are Muslim.
The Dyck Advisory Group, or DAG, came onboard after government security forces lost a number of battles with Al-Shabaab. A South African private military company, DAG was hired to fight on behalf of the government using armed helicopters. “According to 53 witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International, DAG operatives have fired machine guns from helicopters and dropped hand grenades indiscriminately into crowds of people, as well as repeatedly fired at civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and homes.”
According to The Financial Times, “The proliferation of private security arrangements ‘makes governance more difficult’ in a war that has more to do with local grievances than foreign terrorists, said Adriano Nuvunga, director of Mozambique’s Centre for Democracy and Development, a nongovernment organization. Civil society groups had struggled to access the terms of government dealings with private contractors, he said.”
Even before any liquefied natural gas production had begun, Mozambique was already the victim of a “presource curse” or corrosion of state institutions, Nuvunga said. It is vital that the Mozambican state retain the responsibility for security, not private companies, he added.
The insurgents present a clear risk to investors. In recent months, Total has limited work on Africa’s biggest private investment because of the nearby attacks. Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chief executive, said it wanted security forces to provide a stronger cordon around its operation. Further delays could imperil plans to start liquified natural gas production by the middle of the decade. “We don’t want Total to become a military entity or militarized company,” Nuvunga said. “We don’t want Iraq to repeat itself in Cabo Delgado.”
As the Financial Times observed, “This may have more to do with the government catering to the whims of multi-national corporations and their greed then the U.S. and European fight against Isis. This might be the one reason the ISS report gives as the reason for the government deliberately keeping Mozambicans in the dark about the regressive situation in Cabo Delgado.”
“While the right to information and a free press is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique, the government has deliberately kept Mozambicans in the dark about the regressive situation in Cabo Delgado.”
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