Mozambique’s government needs to quickly seize control over the Islamist insurgency in Cabo Delgado to ensure companies such as Total and ExxonMobil can continue to invest tens of billions of dollars to monetise the restive province’s huge gas resources, according to country experts.
While the Maputo administration can beef up security around Afungi — where multiple liquefied natural gas plants are due to be built — it appears not to have enough skilled and motivated troops to quell the insurgency right across the province.
The US has been providing — and will continue to provide — military training through its Green Berets, according to reports, while Portugal has accelerated the deployment of special forces trainers to Mozambique.
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One informed source told Upstream that Italy has also been providing military training, because Italian major Eni is a key player in Mozambique.
ACLED analyst Jasmine Opperman argued that, to address the urgent security issue, “a foreign/regional joined force with a streamlined command and control can shift the momentum away from the insurgents".
Some observers have suggested involvement by the United Nations, African Union or the Southern African Development Community (SADC) could be possible.
Theo Neethling, professor of political science at the University of the Free State in South Africa, told Upstream: “I think you need much more than SADC to deal with this issue, but whether Mozambique will allow other forces in... is an open question.”
Within the SADC, he noted, it is only South Africa that has the potential to help directly, but pointed out that Pretoria’s “coffers are empty”, while there is no confidence in its “highly politicised... intelligence services".
Neethling said Mozambique “has to do something very, very swiftly to at least stabilise the situation", adding: "I can’t foresee Mozambique doing this on its own in my wildest dreams.”
Cabo Ligado, a conflict observatory tracking the insurgency, said: “The security benefits provided by whatever arrangement of helicopters and pilots the government settles on will be crucial to any potential resumption of operations at Total’s liquefied natural gas project in Palma district.”
Private military contractor Dyck Advisory Group currently provides air support, but its contract with the Ministry of Interior is set to expire on 6 April, while Paramount has supplied aircraft and trained pilots.
Like many other Mozambique watchers, Neethling stressed that a long-term solution is needed as well as a short-term fix to root out and eliminate the drivers behind the insurgency that, despite claims of responsibility by ISIS for various attacks — including Palma — still appears to be a Cabo Delgado problem at its core.
Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at London-based Chatham House, said: “There might be a handful of individuals who believe in this stuff [ISIS ideology]. But it’s not about that.”
Even though Tanzanians are in command positions in Cabo Delgado and there is “chat" about links with Al Shabaab in Somalia and radical organisations in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, he said: “This remains a local issue — the eye of the storm is Mozambique” and needs a long-term plan focused on developmental issues in the province.
This a point taken up by Dino Mahtani, deputy director of International Crisis Group’s Africa programme, who warned: “A strategy that is built only around counter-terrorism operations will not resolve issues that emerged at the grassroots of society in this deeply complex part of the country.”
He said the insurgency has grown out of grassroots grievances and developed partially along ethnic lines before becoming “the monster it is today".
As well as Tanzanians, Mahtani described the insurgents as a mixed bunch, comprising coastal Mwani youth and Makwa men from the west and southern hinterlands of Cabo Delgado, and even one or two Makonde youths, from the same ethnic group as President Filipe Nyusi.
He suggested these young men picked up radical ideas in Wahhabi mosques and madrassas built in Cabo Delgado in the 1990s.
These teachings were likely augmented by East African Swahili propaganda content of the late Kenyan radical Aboud Rogo, he said.
“While Mozambique and (its) partners develop a security response and debate how they might retake the ports of Palma and Mocimboa da Praia... they may need to consider grassroots grievances, and how addressing them can incentivise insurgents to lay down arms and win back the population,” said Mahtani.
However this complex situation is addressed, he noted, it must be done in the context of the US' recent designation of ISIS-Mozambique as a foreign terrorist organisation.