TotalEnergies will not make a hasty decision to revive its stalled $20 billion Mozambique LNG project, despite military successes against Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado province.

The French giant declared force majeure on the project last year after Islamist militants attacked Palma and threatened to overrun the nearby liquefied natural gas construction site at Afungi, thrusting an under-reported insurgency into the global spotlight.

TotalEnergies’ decision forced President Filipe Nyusi to pull out the stops to tackle the revolt, with 1000 Rwandan troops making a decisive entrance in July, quickly recapturing the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia.

These troops were augmented last month by Southern African Development Community (SADC) forces from South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Lesotho and Tanzania, which have also had successes against the insurgents.

Chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told analysts on Tuesday that TotalEnergies wants definitive assurances that the region is stable before sending employees and contractors back to Cabo Delgado. It does not want to have to pull them out again if Afungi comes under renewed threat.

Commenting on the recent military successes, he said: “There are some positive evolutions on the ground, but it has to be consolidated. There is a war. What we will not do on Mozambique LNG is remobilise to demobilise.”

Pouyanne, speaking during his company strategy presentation through to 2026, suggested first production from Mozambique LNG could start in 2026 if work at Afungi is revived in 2022.

“If we are not able to remobilise at the beginning of next year, then the project start-up could be delayed to 2027,” he added.

Pouyanne’s comments came on the same day Mozambique’s Finance Minister, Adriano Maleiane, told the African Development Bank that the outlook is good, “because peace is holding, displaced people are returning to their homes and we are now in the process of creating conditions for them to voluntarily come home”.

Reports, meanwhile, suggested that Rwandan troops are present in Palma after driving insurgents into the bush.

President Nyusi hosted Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Pemba, Cabo Delgado’s capital, last weekend.

Meeting of minds: Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi (front left) meets Rwanda's president Paul Kagame in Pemba, Mozambique during a two-day visit Photo: AFP/SCANPIX

Kagame admitted these military operations are expensive, but stressed that “allowing a situation to continue the way it was without doing anything about it is even more costly [in terms of] lives lost, money lost and a whole future lost in terms of development.”

One observer suggested the priority for Mozambique is to work with Rwanda, which is on the offensive, with SADC forces consolidating the military gains, to create the conditions to ensure TotalEnergies will return to Afungi.

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Jasmine Opperman, an analyst with US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, said: “Rwanda’s main priority is to secure a corridor between Mocimboa da Praia and Palma and [the] Tanzania border — speeding up a return by TotalEnergies.”

The SADC forces have been “clearly tasked to create an expanded barrier”, so are not as proactive as the Rwanda troops.

Opperman said there have been indications that Rwanda may bolster its contingent by 700 personnel, on top of the 1000 in-country now.

There are also signs that “a significant number of insurgents” are falling back to Nampula and Niassa provinces. If true, this “raises alarms bells of active cells able to maintain momentum with small numbers”.