September 19, 2021

A War in Mozambique to Protect the Interests of Big Energy

Vijay Prashad

ON February 18, 2010, Anadarko Moçambique – a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum (bought by Occidental Petroleum in 2019) – discovered a massive natural gas field in the Rovuma Basin off the coast of northern Mozambique. Over the next few years, some of the world’s largest energy corporations flocked to Cabo Delgado province, where the basin is located. These included corporations like France’s TotalEnergies SE (which bought Anadarko’s project) and the United States’ ExxonMobil. These massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects by these corporations hold a potential value of $120 billion, according to Standard Bank Mozambique, with TotalEnergies SE and ExxonMobil in control of the most lucrative concessions. This valuation came at the same time as Mozambique held a rank of 145 out of 155 countries in the Gender-related Development Index, according to the Human Development Report 2009, and ranked 172 out of 182 countries, according to the Human Development Index. The immense find of the natural gas field and these LNG projects were poised to benefit an impoverished Mozambique economically and socially.

In 2014, then Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang said that the revenue earned from this massive natural gas find would allow Mozambique’s government to “invest in energy, tourism and infrastructure. The Nacala, Beira and Maputo corridors, which will foster stronger regional communication links, are being developed to provide unique opportunities. Agriculture is at the base of our development, and fisheries are also very important, as we have a 2,700-kilometre-long coastline.” Chang said that he was aware of the dangers posed by a massive revenue influx resulting from a discovery such as this (a problem called the Dutch disease). “We are going to use the income from mineral resources to diversify and reduce inequality,” he said. “We are investing heavily in education and health, because we understand that without a skilled and healthy population, there can be no growth.”

On the face of it, Mozambique seemed fated for a bright future. The natural gas find would help generate money for its government whose officials seemed smart enough to avoid the pitfalls of the resource curse. But everything went wrong soon afterwards. Two tragedies befell Mozambique. An insurgency swept through northern Mozambique, the very region of the natural gas bonanza, and a corruption scandal paralysed the government, with Chang being arrested in South Africa in 2018.

In 2017, armed militants took charge of large sections of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. They operated under the banner of al-Shabaab (the youth). These young men, who formed part of al-Shabaab, hailed from Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa; each of these provinces saw poverty rates rise in the aftermath of the natural gas find (the poverty rate doubled in Niassa between 2008 and 2014). Bonomade Machude Omar, who is the leader of al-Shabaab, was born in Palma, raised in the government and Islamic schools of Mocímboa da Praia, and trained in Mozambique’s military forces before he gathered several youth to support him against the extreme poverty being witnessed in Mozambique’s northern provinces. Omar first led this insurgency against poverty in the natural-gas-rich provinces of Mozambique under the flag of al-Shabaab and then later – opportunistically – under the flag of Islamic State.
For that reason, the US state department has designated him as a terrorist, and the militaries of Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which includes troops from Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Angola and Tanzania, are now operating alongside the army of Mozambique in Cabo Delgado. They are doing the dirty work for ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies SE.

Meanwhile, a trial has begun in a courtroom in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, where 19 men have been “accused of blackmail, forgery, embezzlement and money laundering”. They have been charged with a $2 billion “hidden debt” corruption scandal. In 2013-14, these men formed three companies to take advantage of the natural gas discovery. ProIndicus was set up in January 2013 to provide security to the multinational energy firms; Ematum, formed in August 2013, was set up under the pretext of being a tuna fishing company, which would carry out fishing off the northern coastline; and Mam, set up in May 2014, was to provide shipyard services for the multinational energy firms. Each of these companies was co-owned by the Mozambique intelligence service known as Serviço de Informações e Segurança do Estado (SISE). None of these existed beyond the paperwork; the chief executive officer of all three firms was António Carlos do Rosário, a senior SISE official.

Most of the available evidence for the case comes from indictments in the US district court in New York since New York banks offered their services for the bribes that anchored the deals. The three paper companies – controlled by senior officials of Mozambique’s government – took $2-billion worth of loans from Credit Suisse and VTB Capital (called Investment Bank 1 and 2 in the indictments). The loans, 13 per cent of Mozambique’s GDP, were zipped around by consultancies (Palomar) and holding companies (Privinvest) and involved people from a wide range of nationalities (Mozambique, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Bulgaria) who were implicated in the “hidden debt” scandal.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspended loans to Mozambique in April 2016, just after news broke of the hidden debt scandal. Mozambique’s economy contracted as international donors joined the IMF to cut off infusions of capital, leading to the metical, Mozambique’s currency, tanking by a third of its value. In 2019, Mozambique struggled to renegotiate its debt, fighting to prevent the seizure of future revenues from the gas fields by the wealthy bondholders.


On July 9, the government of Rwanda said that it had deployed 1,000 troops to Mozambique to battle al-Shabaab fighters. A month later, on August 8, Rwandan troops captured the port city of Mocímboa da Praia. Militants from al-Shabaab (or ISIS-Mozambique, as the US state department prefers to call it) did not fight to the last man; they disappeared across the border into Tanzania or into their villages in the hinterland. These new developments in the region led to the African Development Bank’s president M Akinwumi Adesina announcing on August 27 that TotalEnergies SE will restart the Cabo Delgado liquefied natural gas project by the end of 2022. The energy companies will soon start to recoup their investments and profit handsomely, thanks in large part to the Rwandan military intervention.

Why did Rwanda intervene in Mozambique in July 2021 to defend, essentially, two major energy companies? The answer lies in a very peculiar set of events that took place in the months before the troops left Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

Between October 2017 and August 2020, Mozambique’s army could not control or defeat al-Shabaab. In fact, al-Shabaab’s influence grew as it took Mocímboa da Praia in 2020. The Mozambican ministry of interior had hired a range of mercenaries such as Dyck Advisory Group (South Africa), Frontier Services Group (Hong Kong), and the Wagner Group (Russia). In late August 2020, TotalEnergies SE and the government of Mozambique signed an agreement to create a joint security force to defend the company’s investments against al-Shabaab. None of these armed groups succeeded. The investments were stuck underwater.

At this point, Mozambique’s president Filipe Nyusi indicated, as I was told by a source in Maputo, that TotalEnergies SE might ask the French government to send a detachment to assist in securing the area. This discussion went on into 2021. On January 18, 2021, French defense minister Florence Parly and her counterpart in Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho, talked on the phone, during which they discussed the possibility of a Western intervention in Cabo Delgado. On that day, TotalEnergies SE CEO Patrick Pouyanné met with President Nyusi and his ministers of defense (Jaime Bessa Neto) and interior (Amade Miquidade) to discuss the joint “action plan to strengthen security of the area.” Nothing came of it. The French government was not interested in a direct intervention.

A senior official in Maputo told me that it is strongly believed in Mozambique that French president Emmanuel Macron suggested the Rwandan force, rather than French forces, be deployed to secure Cabo Delgado. Indeed, Rwanda’s armies – highly trained, well-armed by the Western countries, and given impunity to act outside the bounds of international law – have proved their mettle in the interventions carried out in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Paul Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994, first as vice-president and minister of defense and then since 2000 as the president. Under Kagame, democratic norms have been flouted within the country, while Rwandan troops have operated ruthlessly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A 2010 UN Mapping Project report on serious human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed that the Rwandan troops killed “hundreds of thousands if not millions” of Congolese civilians and Rwandan refugees between 1993 and 2003. Kagame rejected the UN report, suggesting that this “double genocide” theory denied the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He has wanted the French to accept responsibility for the genocide of 1994 and has hoped that the international community will ignore the massacres in the eastern Congo.

On March 26, 2021, historian Vincent Duclert submitted a 992-page report on France’s role in the Rwandan genocide. The report makes it clear that France should accept – as Médecins Sans Frontières put it – “overwhelming responsibility” for the genocide. But the report does not say that the French state was complicit in the violence. Duclert traveled to Kigali on April 9 to deliver the report in person to Kagame, who said that the report’s publication “marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place.” On April 19, the Rwandan government released a report that it had commissioned from the US law firm Levy Firestone Muse. This report’s title says it all: “A Foreseeable Genocide: The Role of the French Government in Connection with the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.” The French did not deny the strong words in this document, which argues that France armed the génocidaires and then hastened to protect them from international scrutiny. Macron, who has been loath to accept France’s brutality in the Algerian liberation war, did not dispute Kagame’s version of history. This was a price he was willing to pay.

On April 28, 2021, Mozambique’s president Nyusi visited Kagame in Rwanda. Nyusi told Mozambique’s news broadcasters that he had come to learn about Rwanda’s interventions in the Central African Republic and to ascertain Rwanda’s willingness to assist Mozambique in Cabo Delgado. On May 18, Macron hosted a summit in Paris, “seeking to boost financing in Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” which was attended by several heads of government, including Kagame and Nyusi, the president of the African Union (Moussa Faki Mahamat), the president of the African Development Bank (Akinwumi Adesina), the president of the West African Development Bank (Serge Ekué), and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (Kristalina Georgieva). Exit from “financial asphyxiation” was at the top of the agenda, although in private meetings there were discussions about Rwandan intervention in Mozambique. A week later, Macron left for a visit to Rwanda and South Africa, spending two days (May 26 and 27) in Kigali. He repeated the broad findings of the Duclert report, brought along 100,000 Covid-19 vaccines to Rwanda (where only around 4 per cent of the population had received the first dose by the time of his visit), and spent time in private talking to Kagame. On May 28, alongside South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa, Macron talked about Mozambique, saying that France was prepared to “take part in operations on the maritime side,” but would otherwise defer to the SADC and to other regional powers. He did not mention Rwanda specifically. Rwanda entered Mozambique in July, followed by SADC forces, which included South African troops. France got what it wanted: Its energy giant can now recoup its investment.

There are no armies rushing to deal with this scandal as Manuel Chang sits in South Africa fighting extradition to the United States, as António Carlos do Rosário, Gregorio Leao, and Cipriano Sisinio Mutota – all former SISE officials – sit in a courtroom in Maputo. With them in the dock is Ndambi Guebuza, the son of the former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza. It is unlikely that they will implicate the system.

For instance, former president Armando Guebuza is not facing any charges, and neither is his defence minister nor the current president, Filipe Nyusi. Nor is one of France’s richest men, Iskandar Safa, who is suing Mozambique for his money after his associate, Jean Boustani, was acquitted by a US court over jurisdiction qualms. And nor are the banks, Credit Suisse or VTB Capital, being prosecuted in court.

One tragedy – an insurgency against poverty that has opportunistically taken on the mantle of Islamic State – faces the full wrath of African armies. Meanwhile, another tragedy – the criminal theft of billions of dollars from a poor country – is being settled in courtrooms and backrooms. Omar is the villain of the day, while Chang, Carlos do Rosário and their associates will face harassment and short jail terms.