For the denizens of the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania, the immense discovery of a massive virgin field of liquid natural gas (LNG) has coincided with the arrival of an ostensibly Islamic State-affiliated separatist insurgency that has continued to escalate over the past four years. By the end of 2020, the situation in Cabo Delgado has grown into a horrific humanitarian crisis that leaves over 1.3 million people in need of humanitarian aid.1 This atrocity is juxtaposed with the expected influx of 25 billion USD worth of international investments.2

Mozambique

The Liquid Natural Gas

In 2010, the US-America Anadarko Petroleum Company uncovered Africa’s largest LNG reserves off the coast of Cabo Delgado in the Rovuma Basin.34 Inocência Mapisse, from the Maputo-based NGO, the Center for Public Integrity, told Deutsche Welle that, “about 5,000 billion cubic meters of gas reserves [have] been discovered,” and that this discovery makes the, “[Rovuma Basin] LNG reserves…[the] biggest…in Africa, taking [the] ninth place globally.”5

Anadarko’s find sparked a veritable gold rush among international energy capital. The next year after their discovery, in 2011, the Italian company ENI moved into the basin.67 ENI and Anadarko would eventually be followed by Exxon-Mobil and others from Europe, China, Brazil, India, Japan, and Australia.8 In 2019, the French oil and gas company Total would purchase all of Anadarko’s assets, valued at over 2 billion USD, in Mozambique.9

In the rush to develop the field, environmental concerns have predictably fallen to the way-side. Just some 8 kilometers from the Rovuma Basin is the UNESCO biosphere of the Quirimbas Archipelago. Two years before the discovery, in 2008, Anadarko reported their first seismic survey resulted in the mass death of local marine life.10

Fast forward to 2020, and Cabo Delgado is now home to Africa’s three largest LNG projects. There is Total’s 2 billion USD project, the 4.7 billion USD FLNG Project of ENI and Exxon-Mobil, and the Rovuma LNG Project of Exxon-Mobil, ENI, and CNPC.11

According to government and investor estimates, the medium-term profits could potentially amount to more than 60 billion USD (or 53 billion EURO). This sum is more than four times larger than Mozambique’s 2019 GDP. It is anticipated that extraction of the gas with begin in 2023.12

Mozambican Province of Cabo Delgado

The Insurgency

There are a lot of questions surrounding the insurgency. The locals call them “al-Shabaab” (the youth), but they are not to be confused with the Somalian group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM or Mujahideen Youth Movement).1314 They go by Ansar al-Sunna (Supporters of the tradition), and they claim to be fighting to establish a breakaway Islamic state in the region surrounding Cabo Delgado.15To this end, they have been attacking government buildings and persons (i.e. the police), and they have been ruthless in their attacks upon the local civilian population.16

The insurgency has grown in ferocity, scope, and reach since they began military operations. Based in the Mocimba da Praia district of Cabo Delgado, they began with occasional raids in the neighboring districts of Palma and Nangande.17

In October of 2017, their first attack was against a Mocimba da Praia police station where they killed 2 police officers.18 Over time, they increasingly shifted focus from targeting the government to targeting civilians. By the end of 2019, Ansar al-Sunna was conducting mass beheading and razing whole communities. For example, in November of 2020, they had decapitated more than 50 people.1920

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, says, “This armed group [of Ansar al-Sunna] is responsible for untold suffering in Cabo Delgado. They have reduced people’s homes to ashes through coordinated arson attacks, killed and beheaded civilians, looted food and property and forced thousands to flee their homes.”21

Analysts say their attacks are motivated by anger over the centralization of power in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, which lies far to the south, and by anger over the economic exclusion of the people of Cabo Delgado.22

However, some observers may note how the rise and actions of Ansar al-Sunna oddly mirror the actions of RENAMO from the 25-year Mozambican Civil War. Research has found that Kimwani speaking people, who gave wide-spread support for RENAMO, now make-up a part of the support base for Ansar al-Sunna.23

RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana or Mozambican National Resistance) was a militant group that was wholly the creation and creature of the white supremacist Rhodesian and Apartheid South African regime’s foreign policy to undermine the Communist and anti-imperialist government of the newly independent Mozambique. RENAMO’s only guiding directive was to cause as much economic, infrastructural, and social destruction as possible. After the fall of Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government, RENAMO was fully integrated into the formal South African pay and command structure.24

Oddly timed with developments of the LNG project(s) by the Anadarko Petroleum Company and Total (after their acquisition of Anadarko’s Mozambican assets), there is ample evidence to suggest at least some level of relationship between international energy capital and the origin/growth of the local insurgency. 2526

A 2016 report by Anadarko found that over 550 local families would need to be physically moved to make way for their planned gas extraction development, and some 952 families would lose access to cultivated land. Farming, with fishing, makes up the traditional economic foundation of Cabo Delgado.27

Ilham Rawoot, reporting for Al-Jazeera, notes that “Villagers we have spoken to have pointed out that while facilities of the gas companies have rarely been attacked, communities who have refused to move have been repeatedly raided by armed groups.”28

It is curious that the attacks only began in 2017, a year after Anadarko ascertained that a significant portion of local communities would need to be displaced from their familial landholdings. Conveniently after Anadarko undoubtedly met with obstinate local refusal to forfeit land that international investors so desperately required if they were to make head-way on their investments.

One of the LNG development projects, the Mozambique Rovuma Venture (MRV), eyed 7,000 ha of land on the Afungi peninsula in Cabo Delgado. The first phase of the project was submitted in July of 2018, and it was approved by the Mozambique government in May of 2019.29 Luckily for the natural gas investors, a ruthless band of “islamists” began a campaign of terror conveniently in the area of the Afungi peninsula (Mocimba da Praia is at the base of the peninsula).30

Three years after their initial October 2017 attack, in October of 2020, over 300,000 people had been displaced.31

Who are they?

The reported origin of the group begins with some followers of a ‘radical clerk,” Aboud Rogo Mohamad, who was shot by Kenyan security forces in 2012. They continued after his death, as a religious organization, and transplanted themselves in Kibiti in Southern Tanzania. They came to Cabo Delgado in 2015, and it is after this point that they began to radicalize.32

Despite since June 2019, when the Cabo Delgado militants claimed affiliation with the Islamic State, and subsequently ordained the Islamic State of Central African Province (ISCAP), they have continued to refer to themselves as Ansar al-Sunna in public announcements.3334

American Development

March of 2021 has seen Total now having to contend with ISCAP as recent attacks on foreign workers, around their project site on the Afungi Peninsula, have resulted in their evacuation of any remaining Total employees.353637

Now that foreign capital is under threat, the United States has deemed Mozambique as a new área of interest. On March 10th, the Biden administration designated ISCAP as a foreign terrorist organization, and on March 15th, the US Embassy in Mozambique the arrival of US military intervention as “US special operation forces…will support Mozambique’s efforts to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism.”3839

Portugal, the former colonial power of Mozambique, which only granted independence in 1975 after losing a protected military struggle, is also joining the US as it sends “a staff of approximately 60 trainers to Mozambique to train marines and commandos.”40

The legacy of colonial and Apartheid military intervention in Mozambique continues as the country quickly becomes a new international battleground to control and protect foreign access to LNG fields. Former South African and Rhodesian soldiers now fight as founders (Black Hawk) and members (OAM) of private military companies (PMCs).41

  1. Andrew Wasike. “Mozambique: Cabo Delgado leaves 1.3M insecure.” Anadolu Agency. 28 December 2020.
  2. Antonio Cascais. “Gas investors in Mozambique choose appeasement in face of Islamist violence.” Deutsche Welle. 13 July 2020.
  3. Ilham Rawoot. “Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster.” Al-Jazeera. 24 February 2020.
  4. “Rovuma LNG Project, Mozambique.” NS Energy. Accessed 3 January 2021.
  5. Antonio Cascais. “Gas investors in Mozambique choose appeasement in face of Islamist violence.” Deutsche Welle. 13 July 2020.
  6. ibid.
  7. Ilham Rawoot. “Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster.” Al-Jazeera. 24 February 2020.
  8. ibid.
  9. Ilham Rawoot. “Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster.” Al-Jazeera. 24 February 2020.
  10. ibid.
  11. ibid.
  12. Antonio Cascais. “Gas investors in Mozambique choose appeasement in face of Islamist violence.” Deutsche Welle. 13 July 2020.
  13. “No justice for victims in Mozambique’s conflict: Amnesty.” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  14. Sunguta West. “Ansar al-Sunna: A New Militant Islamist Group Emerges in Mozambique.” Terrorism Monitor. (Vol. 16:No. 12). 14 June 2018.
  15. Hashem Ahelbarra. Fernando Lima. Stig Jarle Hansen. Zenaida Machado. “How can armed groups in northern Mozambique be contained?” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  16. “No justice for victims in Mozambique’s conflict: Amnesty.” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  17. “Mozambique: Islamists funded by illegal trade in timber and rubies – AIM report.” Club of Mozambique. 23 May 2018.
  18. “No justice for victims in Mozambique’s conflict: Amnesty.” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  19. “No justice for victims in Mozambique’s conflict: Amnesty.” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  20. Robert Postings. “Islamic State arrival in Mozambique further complicates Cabo Delgado violence.” The Defense Post. 13 June 2019.
  21. “No justice for victims in Mozambique’s conflict: Amnesty.” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  22. ibid.
  23. “Mozambique: Islamists funded by illegal trade in timber and rubies – AIM report.” Club of Mozambique. 23 May 2018.
  24. William Minter. “Apartheid’s Contras: an inquiry into the roots of the war in Angola and Mozambique.” Zed Books Ltd. (London:1994).
  25. “Oil major Total closes purchase of Anadarko’s Mozambique LNG Asset.” Reuters. 30 September 2019.
  26. Tom DiChristopher. “Occidental inks $8.8 billion deal to sell Anadarko’s Africa oil and gas assets to Total.” CNBC. 5 May 2019.
  27. Ilham Rawoot. “Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster.” Al-Jazeera. 24 February 2020.
  28. ibid.
  29. “Rovuma LNG Project, Mozambique.” NS Energy. Accessed 3 January 2021.
  30. Robert Postings. “Islamic State arrival in Mozambique further complicates Cabo Delgado violence.” The Defense Post. 13 June 2019.
  31. Hashem Ahelbarra. Fernando Lima. Stig Jarle Hansen. Zenaida Machado. “How can armed groups in northern Mozambique be contained?” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  32. “Mozambique Al Shabaab behead 10 Villagers.” BBC. 29 May 2018.
  33. “No justice for victims in Mozambique’s conflict: Amnesty.” Al-Jazeera. 7 October 2020.
  34. Sunguta West. “Ansar al-Sunna: A New Militant Islamist Group Emerges in Mozambique.” Terrorism Monitor. (Vol. 16:No. 12). 14 June 2018.
  35. Matthew Hill. Borges Nhamirre. Francois De Beaupuy. “Total Evacuates Workers From Mozambique Project After Attack.” Bloomberg. 27 March 2021.
  36. “Over 180 people trapped in Mozambique hotel after attack.” Al-Jazeera. 27 March 2021.
  37. Iain Essau. “Insurgents in attack near Mozambique LNGG site houts after Total said safe for worker’ return.” upstreamonline.com. 25 March 2021.
  38. Darryl Coote. “U.S. blacklists IS affiliates in Africa as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.” UPI. 10 March 2021.
  39. Christopher Giles. Peter Mwai. “Mozambique conflict: Why are US forces there?” BBC. 21 March 2021.
  40. ibid.
  41. Pjotr Sauer. “In Push for Africa, Russia’s Wagner Mercenaries Are ‘Out of Their Depth’ in Mozambique.” The Moscow Times. 19 November 2019.

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