Total mayhem and a 'climate bomb' in Mozambique

Print edition : October 23, 2020

People waiting to collect food parcels in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique, on August 27. According to the World Food Programme, the extremist insurgency in northern Mozambique has displaced 3,10,000 people. Photo: Falume Bachir/World Food Program via AP

Filipe Jacinto Nyusi , Mozambique’s President. Photo: UNTV via AP

Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive officer of Total SA, gestures while speaking during a joint interview with Ben van Beurden, chief executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and Eldar Saetre, chief executive officer of Statoil ASA, on the sidelines of an energy conference in Oslo, Norway, on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. The bosses of three of the world’s biggest oil companies gathered on the sidelines of an energy conference to make the case for a flagship Norwegian project, in which the companies plan to store CO2 emissions under the North Sea after they've been shipped and piped from onshore industrial plants. Photographer: Kyrre Lien/Bloomberg Photo: Kyrre Lien/Bloomberg

Even as the French multinational firm Total stands accused of setting off a “climate bomb” with its construction of a natural gas project in Mozambique, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline threatens to result in large-scale evictions and job losses in the region.

On September 12, Mozambique’s President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi received Patrick Pouyanne, head of the board of the French oil and gas company Total. They talked about the construction of a liquefied natural gas project in Afungi Peninsula, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. This project has grown out of Total’s exploitation of Area 1 of the Rovuma Basin, a massive deposit of offshore natural gas. The work, they agreed, was going at a “good pace, despite initial challenges arising from COVID-19”. According to a World Health Organisation report, Cabo Delgado was the “epicentre of the outbreak” in Mozambique.

At their meeting, neither Nyusi nor Pouyanne mentioned the attack on Mocimboa da Praia by the Islamist organisation Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah in October 2017. Distressing news has no place when the head of a government and the head of a corporation discuss business opportunities. Total, like other energy firms, does not want bad news; there are people to evict, there are rigs to erect, there is money to be made.

Climate bomb

In May 2019, when Total announced the full extent of its project in Mozambique, the French environmental organisation Les Amis de la Terre released a report which accused the French mega-energy firm of starting a “climate bomb” in the region. The report said Total had pushed this natural gas project despite the obvious environmental and financial challenges it would create for Mozambique. Such reports are expected from environmental groups; they are also largely ignored by most of the media and by the businesses and governments involved in the projects being criticised. Room for public debate has been minimal, with little discussion in the parliaments of Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique about the mayhem that is being caused by this French multinational firm (and other multinationals, such as ExxonMobil from the United States and ENI from Italy).

Fifteen environmental groups from Tanzania and Uganda, including the Twimukye Women’s Organisation and the African Initiative on Food Security and Environment, wrote a public letter to the Presidents of Tanzania and Uganda on September 15. They listed in great detail the dangers posed by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which will run across Tanzania and Uganda. The day before he met Mozambique’s President, Patrick Pouyanne of Total was at the signing ceremony for the EACOP pipeline in Uganda along with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and neither of them referred to any of the criticisms made of this immense project.

The 15 environmental groups said that the 1,445-kilometre-long EACOP was being pushed despite a faulty climate impact assessment and inadequate analysis of the financial implications for these East African countries. While Total has found investment for part of the pipeline’s cost, a substantial amount ($2.5 billion out of $3.5 billion) will be borrowed by the governments of the region; these governments, the environmental groups argue, will merely “push up Uganda and Tanzania’s indebtedness”. They stated that borrowing in anticipation of oil revenues in Uganda “has worried economists so much so that the Bank of Uganda officials have warned that Uganda, whose debt to GDP ratio is projected to hit 47.5% in the 2020/2021 financial year, may not survive the oil curse”.

Reports have surfaced that show that this pipeline, and the other fossil fuel projects being developed by Total along Eastern Africa, have resulted in evictions of people from their land and could result (as mentioned by the 15 environmental groups) in further “job losses as farmers, fisherfolk, tourism operators, crafts-makers, and others could lose their jobs due to climate change, oil spills, biodiversity loss, and other risks”.

Evictions for these energy projects have become customary. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) released a report called “Oil in East Africa: Communities at Risk”. This report, published with Oxfam, shows that these major energy projects in Tanzania and Uganda by Total involve “major risks” to the public. The EACOP pipeline, the report notes, “will affect over 12,000 families”, whose eviction from the homes and land is almost certain. “Many people have already been impacted by nearly 20 years of oil exploration in the region,” the report notes. These projects, notably around Lake Albert in Uganda, are “marred by a disruption of traditional lifestyles, significant delays in paying compensation for land purchases, dispossession of land, and opaque resettlement processes.” Maria-Isabel Cubides, a researcher with FIDH, said: “Companies are causing major social upheavals, which particularly affect women, by grabbing land to make way for oil, often without adequate consultation.”

In August, the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah attacked Cabo Delgado. This area, where the various energy companies are developing a gas megaproject, is also an extremely poor area, with a Muslim population whose well-being has been neglected over the past decades, especially during the gas boom that has overtaken the north. In October 2017, the same group attacked the port city of Mocimboa da Praia, which they seized for a period of time. This attack rattled the energy firms and the governments of the region. The South African government even offered to send troops into Mozambique to fight the Islamists.

In late August, Mozambique signed an agreement with Total to protect its gas facilities with a “joint force” which Total said “will be responsible for ensuring the security of project activities”. President Nyusi sent in the military but failed to defeat the insurgency; even mercenary groups, some funded by the energy companies, were unsuccessful. Part of the reason for their lack of success is that the Islamist groups seem to have less of an Islamist agenda and reflect much more the frustration of the population of the area. Contacts also inform us that these Islamists are part of local smuggling rings that run a lucrative trade in narcotics into South Africa.

Since the Islamists decided to fly the flag of the Islamic State (I.S.), there is the temptation for Western militaries to intervene directly in Mozambique. France has a military base off Mozambique’s coast on Mayotte island. Currently, France has intervened in Mali under the ruse of fighting the I.S., and France has built bases in Chad and Niger. There is little commentary about the investment of French multinational firms in the extraction of uranium in Niger, since any such discussion would taint the “humanitarian” nature of the intervention. Thus far, France is relying upon mercenary groups and Mozambique’s military to protect Total, but a direct intervention is not out of the picture.

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