Mozambique’s government will not decide today on whether to accept a plan by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to deploy 2916 military personnel to tackle the Islamist insurgency in Cabo Delgado, after a key meeting was postponed.
French supermajor Total declared force majeure on its $20 billion Mozambique LNG on 26 April because of the insurgency and said nothing will change until the government “has restored security and stability in Cabo Delgado in a verifiable and sustainable manner".
SADC heads of state from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana were due to meet in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, today to consider the findings and recommendations of a report, a copy of which was leaked to Mozambique’s Zitamar news agency.
However, a statement from the office of Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, said "the extra-ordinary meeting has been moved to a later date" because Masisis is in Covid-19 quarantine and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is giving testimony to the Zondo Commission, a corruption inquiry into his predecessor Jacob Zuma.
The report, to which Zitamar provided a weblink, calls for the immediate deployment of 2916 ground troops to help Mozambique “combat the threat of terrorism and acts of violent extremists” alongside air and naval assets.
The report said there has been a “lull in activities” since last month’s attack on Palma — close to Afungi, which will host Total’s Mozambique LNG trains — but added “the possibilities of renewed attacks are high after Ramadan”, which ends on 12 May, and possibly before then.
The insurgency, according to the report, receives external support from “individuals in various countries".
The leaked report — which was compiled after representatives from Angola, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Malawi visited Maputo and Cabo Delgado — said Mozambique needs help with logistics, intelligence and troops to retake territory including Mocimboa da Praia port, which has been under insurgent control since August.
The report recommends special forces should be deployed initially to deal with specific onshore targets while naval assets — one submarine, two patrol vessels and surveillance aircraft — would “eliminate maritime crime".
It also recommends logistics and air-support personnel be deployed, along with six helicopters, four transport aircraft, two maritime surveillance aircraft and two unmanned aerial vehicles.
The report calls for Nacala to be used as the SADC force’s entry point into Mozambique, while Pemba should host an integrated logistics base.
Land, air and maritime “intelligence assets” and personnel should also be deployed to support Mozambique’s Armed Defence Forces “in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the terrorists’ activities".
This major military deployment, stated the report, would be funded by the SADC member states as well as African and international partners, plus stakeholders.
Observers have previously told Upstream that Mozambique does not want foreign troops on the ground for sovereignty reasons and questioned the ability of SADC states — particularly South Africa — to fund such an exercise and whether they have the right capabilities.
The report also asked if a military approach “can deliver a sustainable solution to the insurgency in Cabo Delgado which is driven in large part by local discontent".
Total's force majeure declaration came five days after President Filipe Nyusi said: "We continue to make every effort to restore peace to our country, particularly in the province of Cabo Delgado.”
Mozambique’s government said in a statement it “guarantees everything will be done to restore peace in Mozambique, especially in areas that are the target of terrorist attacks, with a view to allowing the continuation of national and foreign investments in the country".
Cabo Delgado has seen hundreds killed and almost 700,000 displaced by an Islamist insurgency that began in 2017.
An assault on the nearby town of Palma in March began just hours after Total and the government in Maputo had agreed to a gradual return to work at Mozambique LNG, three months after an evacuation triggered by the insurgents’ first assault close to Afungi.
The French supermajor said this week: "Considering the evolution of the security situation in the north of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, Total confirms the withdrawal of all Mozambique LNG project personnel from the Afungi site” and "leads [us] to declare force majeure".
At the same time, it expressed “solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique and wishes the actions carried out by the government of Mozambique and its regional and international partners will enable the restoration of security and stability in Cabo Delgado province in a sustained manner".
A Total spokesperson explained on Tuesday that force majeure was declared because "Total is unable to perform its obligations as a result of the severe deterioration of the security situation in Cabo Delgado, a matter which is entirely out of Total’s control".
It is unclear what effect this suspension of activities will have on the project schedule, the spokesperson said, but stressed that "there will be a consequence".
Informed sources spoken to by Upstream suggested first LNG cargoes will now only be exported by 2025, at the earliest, although 2026 has also been suggested.
Despite the security issues, the spokesperson said: "Total remains committed to Mozambique and to the development of Area 1 when conditions allow. Total will follow the evolution of the situation with great attention, in close contact with the authorities."
* Article updated to reflect a delay to the SADC meeting and the reasons for the delay.
- Total back to pre-pandemic profit levels, buys into Taiwan offshore wind project
- Saipem cuts first-quarter loss despite revenue slump
- 'LNG wave is not over': Technip Energies optimistic on global opportunity set
- 'Need for speed': Shell and Equinor urge Tanzania's president to open talks on $30bn LNG project
- OPINION: Breakthrough deals pave way to unlock East Africa oil riches - LNG is next