French Energy Giant Total Ends Single Largest Investment in Africa, USD 20 Billion LNG Project, over Islamist Attacks in Mozambique
French energy giant Total on Monday announced that it was suspending work on what would have been a massive USD 20 billion project for a liquefied natural gas plant the Cabo Delgado province in Northern Mozambique – described as the single largest investment in all of Africa – due to attacks by Islamist jihadists in the area in March 2021.
Total had already suspended construction of the LNG plant at the Afungi site in January 2021, and had evacuated some of its staff following a series of prior jihadist attacks.
However, the jihadist raid on the town of Palma in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province on March 24, 2021, appears to have seal the fate of the big natural gas project for the time being, by prompting Total to remove its remaining staff from the Afungi peninsula.
“Considering the evolution of the security situation… Total confirms the withdrawal of all Mozambique LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] project personnel from the Afungi site,” the company said in a statement.
The French energy company further stated it was declaring a “force majeure” situation beyond its control, a legal concept entitling it to stop fulfilling contractual obligations.
Total’s confirmation of the suspension of its LNG plant project near Palma, in Cabo Delgado, comes after last week the Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique (CTA) said the French firm had suspended contracts with a number of local businesses involved indirectly in the natural gas project.
However, CTA President Agostinho Vuma announced back then that Total had assured that the LNG project near Palma would resume “once it is safe”, as cited by France24. The French company declined to comment at the time.
The Cabo Delgado province in Northern Mozambique, which is rich in natural gas deposits, has been plagued by an Islamist insurgency since 2017.
The jihadist violence in the Mozambican province has so far caused at least 2,600 deaths, and the displacement of some 700,000 people. It has understandably cast doubts on the fate of the USD 20 billion natural gas plant, the single largest investment on the African continent.
Besides the construction of a two-train liquefaction plant, the LNG project near Palma, in Northern Mozambique, includes development of the Golfinho and Atum offshore natural gas fields.
In July 2020, Total even obtained a USD 14.9 billion debt financing package to fund its rollout.
The Islamist attack in March 2021 on Palma happened just 10 kilometres (six miles) from the gas project’s nerve center. It has occurred in spite of the commitment of the Mozambican government to set up a 25-kilometer radius security zone around the supposedly heavily guarded Afungi peninsula.
The violent jihadist raid killed dozens of people and caused thousands of locals to walk for hundreds of kilometers to nearby districts, while many locals and foreign workers were evacuated by air and sea.
Many survivors walked for days to reach Mueda, 180 kilometers (112 miles) to the south, while others arrived on boats in Pemba, the provincial capital around 250 kilometres to the south.
The three-day raid in March 2021 against military and government targets in Palma was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, which said it had gained control of the town.
The insurgents are known locally as al-Shabab but are not believed to be connected to the al-Shabab jihadist organization in Somalia.
Also in March, the US State Department stated that the Islamist group in Northern Mozambique reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State back in April 2018.
Mozambique’s President Felipe Nyusi has promised to restore peace in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
The latest Islamist attack there led Mozambique’s former colonial master Portugal to announce that it was going to send special forces to the African nation to help train its security forces.
Part of the territories of what is today Mozambique were reached as early as 1498 by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama on his ground-breaking voyage to India which opened up a trade route from Europe to South, Southeast and East Asia, circumventing the Ottoman Empire, which had conquered Constantinople less than 50 years prior.
Mozambique, first only its Indian Ocean coast, was then an overseas possession, or colony, of Portugal for 470 years – from 1505 until 1975. (In 1505-1952 as a Colony of the Portuguese Empire; in 1952-1972 as an Overseas Province of Portugal, and in 1972-1975 as a State of the Portuguese Empire.)
The 10-year-old independence war between the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and Portugal last from 1964 until 1974, and negotiated independence was declared in June 1975. It was part of the Portuguese Colonial Wars (1961 – 1975) including also the independence movements in others of Portugal’s African colonies, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, which back then also incorporated Cabo Verde.
Ivan Dikov, the founder of HeartlandHinterland.com, is the author of the book “Madman Diplomacy: Is North Korea Trying to Bring Back Regime Change?“, among other books.