Gas in Mozambique

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Big international companies are trying to exploit Mozambique’s vast natural gas resources – but who will benefit? asks Sophie Neiman.


The village of Aldeia da Paz in Cabo Delgado, after a 2019 attack by Islamist militants. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/GETTY

Mozambique, one of the poorest of countries, has the ninth-largest natural gas reserves in the world. They were discovered almost 10 years ago off the coast of the northern province of Cabo Delgado. Now many foreign companies and investors are coming. The reserves could bring enough money to make Mozambique a middle-income country.

But ... environmental campaigners say gas development will do more harm than good. It will contribute to climate change and many people will need to move from villages - in an area with a lot of violent conflict from Islamist militancy. As there are more extraction projects in Mozambique, more people are asking questions about who profits from the money from the gas.

In 2020, the big French energy company Total agreed to invest $20 billion in the Mozambique Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project. This will be offshore drilling and onshore construction projects. The deal is the largest of its kind in Africa so far. It was more money than Mozambique’s annual GDP. And it’s only one of three gas projects in Cabo Delgado.

‘The local population sees that so much money is being invested in their region, [but] they are only suffering from it and not gaining any advantage,’ said Cécile Marchand, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth in France.

About 550 families have already had to leave their homes to make way for Total’s construction operations. Total paid them, but people who need the sea for fishing have been moved 15 kilometres from the water. And farmers who have grown crops all their lives have been given smaller plots of land.

Daniel Ribero, a founding member of Justiça Ambiental (Environmental Justice) in Mozambique, says the people being moved is only a small part of the changes. More new businesses arrive in Cabo Delgado with the gas companies and more people will lose their homes.

It's not clear how these communities will benefit. A spokesperson for Total said that the company had created 550,000 construction jobs for Mozambicans, but there would be only ‘1,500 direct long-term jobs in operations’. There was no response to the question about worker salaries.

‘People were really expecting their lives to get a lot better,’ said Anne de Jonghe, of the Dutch organization Both ENDS, which works closely with local farmers’ unions. But, she added, ‘[Development] just didn’t happen.’

Cabo Delgado now has a lot of conflict. An Islamist militant group (Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah) has killed at least 1,500 civilians and forced 210,000 more to leave their villages since conflict began in 2017. Fighters have burnt villages and cut off people’s heads. The central African part of Islamic State also said they attacked areas in northern Mozambique last year, but people don’t know much about their connection to local militant groups.

Charities have left the region, because of problems with security. The Armed Conflict Location and Data Project say the conflict is getting worse. There were more than 100 violent events in 2020.

Soldiers sent to Cabo Delgado have done little. Human Rights Watch has reported many abuses by the Mozambican military, eg arrests and executions.

It is often difficult for reporters to get to Cabo Delgado, so it is difficult to get information about the increasing violence. ‘The government has tried to stop foreign and Mozambican journalists getting to the area,’ said Samuel Ratner (political analyst and contributing editor of Mozambique’s Zitamar News).

The Islamic State has called for attacks on gas projects, but it is difficult to see the real role of resources in the fighting.

International companies have only been attacked once. Total signed a protection agreement with the Mozambican government in August, creating a joint security task force. The company representative told New Internationalist that the details are confidential, but promised all task-force members would have human rights-related training.


There is violence and climate activists are worried. But this has not stopped 7 export-credit agencies from providing billions of dollars of public funding (direct loans and loan guarantees) to Total for the Mozambique LNG project.

United Kingdom Export Finance contributed about 1.5 billion taxpayer dollars. They said they did an Environmental, Social and Human Rights Review. This is needed for projects which can cause great environmental and social damage, under Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines, but they said they could not share the results of the review. Other investors have done checks. But all have kept the results private.

Twenty private banks provided more funding for Total. US giant ExxonMobil is still deciding if they will invest in similar gas development projects.

Adam McGibbon (from Global Witness in London), is trying to get public UK companies to stop investing in fossil fuels. He said: ‘It’s a new form of colonialism,’ he said. ‘We export our pollution to the Global South and make these economies use fossil fuels, at a time when [the Global North] is stopping using them.’

Mozambique has many problems from climate change already. There are 250,000 kilometres of coastline. Cyclones destroyed a lot of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019. The Mozambique LNG project alone will probably produce 10 per cent of the country’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions.

Alex Vines, Director of the Africa Programme at foreign affairs thinktank Chatham House, thinks the gas extraction will continue, even though there are big problems with conflict and climate change. ‘This is world-class gas,’ said Vines. ‘It can change Mozambique completely.’

‘The goal should really be about poverty reduction,’ he added. ‘That’s what we should all be thinking about. How do you do that for one of the world’s poorer countries?’

For now, people who live in Cabo Delgado are in a complex crisis situation.

Sophie Neiman is a freelance reporter and photojournalist


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)