Mozambique is a small coastal nation in southeast Africa, north of South Africa and south of Tanzania that has become the most recent scene of Islamic terrorism developing and disrupting both the local economy and massive foreign investments to build a lucrative natural gas industry to supply local and export customers. In less than two years the violence has increased to the point where most of the foreign natural gas operations have been shut down and neighboring countries have organized a peacekeeping force to restore order until local security forces are reformed and upgraded to do it themselves.
Mozambique was about to become wealthy because of offshore natural gas fields up north in Cabo Delgado province . Developing the extraction and export facilities for natural gas is expensive, complex and time consuming. Back in the 1990s Mozambique granted oil exploration contracts for foreign firms to look for natural gas or oil deposits offshore. This is a standard practice that involves various qualified firms to bid on the process. The foreign firms offer their services in deals that work by having the exploration firm paying for the cost of exploration in return for a percentage ownership for the consortium that ultimately develops and extracts the oil and natural gas. These deals occur in stages, with the needed foreign investment growing larger as it proceeds. New technology indicates where new deposits may be and in the 1990s that made Mozambique a serious candidate for possibly having large offshore oil and natural gas resources. The companies initially involved in the exploration often sell portions of their ownership in newly discovered deposits to other firms with more financial and technical resources or simply to spread the risk as the costs start escalating. The local government retains majority ownership and is responsible for maintaining order so the work can continue.
The main natural gas operation is now managed by French firm Total, which is handling the construction and operation of the offshore natural gas fields and the onshore LNG (liquid Natural Gas) facilities and port for loading the very cold, but now liquid and concentrated, natural gas into special tankers that carry the 13 million tons of LNG a year to foreign markets. A second, smaller (3.4 million tons a year) effort called Coral South and operated by Italian firm Eni, took a different, more expensive, approach and used a floating LNG production and loading platform. The Eni effort was not disrupted by the resent violence in Cabo Delgado province and will begin LNG exports on schedule in 2022. Other firms, like South African SASOL, are handing local pipelines for overland export, mainly to South Africa but also to other neighboring countries as well as within Mozambique.
The presence of large offshore deposits was confirmed fifteen years ago and, after 2010 natural gas related activity began to show up in northern Mozambique. This meant more business for local firms and jobs for people in the area. That attracted the attention of criminal gangs in Mozambique and throughout East Africa. The current Mozambique government is something of a political gang itself, which is common in Africa and many other parts of the world.
Local expectations soon exceeded reality and the local politicians and gangsters took advantage of it. They were joined by Islamic terrorists from other parts of East Africa where there are larger Moslem populations. In Africa, there tend to be fewer Moslems the further south you go and eventually the majorities are Christian or ancient local religions. Mozambique, with 30 million people, is 20 percent Moslem and 60 percent Christian. To the north, Tanzania, with 56 million people, is 35 percent Moslem. You don’t encounter a Moslem majority nation until you reach Somalia, which is currently the source of most of the Islamic terrorist activity in East Africa. For that reason, it was Somali Islamic terrorists who were attracted to northern Mozambique and played a role in creating some of the local Islamic terrorist groups. Some of these new groups borrowed names from existing Somali groups like al Shabaab for the new Mozambique terror groups. The Somalis included local chapters of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). In Somalia the Islamic terrorists are almost all locals and are taking a beating from AU peacekeepers, the new Somali army and local militias. Over the last decade a growing number of veteran Somali Islamic terrorists have left Somali looking for a less lethal environment for themselves and their families. Some showed up in northern Mozambique and spoke or preached in favor of Islamic terrorism but did not try to organize new groups because these exiles would be quickly identified, arrested or killed and end up in prison or in some other nation. This has been a common pattern for three decades and what made it easy for Islamic terrorism to develop quickly in Mozambique once there was something valuable enough to steal in the name of defending Islam.
In Mozambique the new Islamic terror groups contain a few foreign Islamic terrorists who, under the right conditions, are able to attract lots of local Moslem recruits desperate for a job and an opportunity to “defend Islam” by killing Christians and plundering their possessions. The core of these new Islamic terror groups are local Moslem gangsters who were already active in profitable activities like smuggling, especially drugs, and extortion. The foreigners, mainly from Somalia, bring with them knowledge of how to plan and carry out terror attacks and publicize them. The publicity is important because it causes local terror and international attention. This attracts cash donations from wealthy individuals or Islamic Charities that exist mainly to funnel donations to Islamic terror groups.
Opportunities for this sort of development increase when major foreign investments come to an otherwise poor area. The existing criminal gangs in northern Mozambique included former Moslem members of the local security forces as well as relationships with current members of local police, border guards and politicians, all of whom are out to make as much money as they can any way they can. The foreign firms are familiar with this sort of thing and were assured by the Mozambique government that it would be taken care of. It wasn’t because the Mozambique government is one of more corrupt and incompetent in the region.
Since 2019 the Mozambique government was being warned by French firm Total that the violence could become so severe that Total would have to invoke the Force Majeure (problems that prevent a project from continuing) clause that is standard for projects like this. This is what happened in April 2021 and forced the government to get serious about dealing with the chaos up north, nearly all of it in Cabo Delgado province, the only province in Mozambique with a Moslem majority as well as the valuable offshore natural gas fields. Total told the government that the current Force Majeure would last until it was safe to resume operations. That might take up to a year or more. Currently Total believes first LNG exports will not take place until 2025, a year later than the original timetable. The sooner the exports begin the sooner everyone gets paid, especially Total which has borrowed nearly $20 billion to develop the LNG export capability.
The violence can be reduced to tolerable levels so the Force Majeure can be lifted, and that is what forced the national government to accept foreign peacekeepers. Nearly all these peacekeepers are from neighboring countries with a few from further away to supply air support, training and logistics. The foreign contributors can also include those willing to donate cash. That is a tricky business, especially in Africa, where local governments cannot be trusted to apply foreign cash as intended because most of it gets diverted or stolen. That’s why regional organizations, like the AU (African Union) and SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) have come to handle these operations. The AU includes 51 member nations and has major peacekeeper operations in Malia and Somalia but this will be the first one for SADC. Of the 16 member nations in SADC, South Africa is the most populous and has the largest economy and most effective armed forces. South Africa will contribute about 75 percent of the 2,000 peacekeepers in the initial force.
The Islamic terrorists in Cabo Delgado province have grown from a few hundred five years ago to more than 3,000 during the last year. The Mozambique government was unable to deal with this because the tiny Mozambique military could only put a few thousand soldiers in Cabo Delgado province . The soldiers were poorly trained and led. At first the government turned to foreign mercenaries in the form of Russian and South African military contractors whose main job was to keep the onshore Total facilities and their foreign workers safe. First came the several hundred Russian Wagner Group men who arrived in August 2019 and, while they had some success in halting the Islamic terrorist threat to the LNG facilities, the Russians suffered heavier casualties than anticipated and Wagner left in early 2020 after spending about eight months in Mozambique. They were succeeded by a smaller contingent of operatives from DAG (Dyck Advisory Group). DAG was not exactly military contractors, but specialized in demining and anti-poaching operations as well as providing experienced helicopter crews to assist with these jobs. Most DAG personnel were former military. The founder of DAG was from a European family that had settled in Rhodesia. Lionel Dyck got along well with white and black Africans, including the black Rhodesian and South African rebels who came to power in the 1990s. He had a similar relationship with the Mozambique government leaders. Despite the success of DAG in northern Mozambique, DAG did not renew its one-year contract and left in April 2021. At that point neighbors of Mozambique were forming a joint peacekeeping force like the ones that are still used in Mali and Somalia.
Mozambique leaders feared that the growing Islamic terrorist violence could lead to another long civil war. Mozambique has been suffering wars or threats of war since the 1960s. Mozambique is a largely coastal country north of South Africa and south of Tanzania. Most of the coastline runs parallel to the large island of Madagascar. The current population of 30 million is a lot larger, and less prosperous, than the six million living there in 1950. For over a thousand years Mozambique has, like many other parts of East Africa, consisted of coastal cities that prospered by serving as a marketplace where people from the interior could obtain all manner of foreign goods. Mozambique was part of a vast trading network that used dependable seasonal winds to allow ships to move goods from East Africa to the Persian Gulf, India and Indonesia.
In the 1500s Portugal, using new technologies (cannon and superior sailing ships) created the borders for Mozambique, which explains why the country consists largely of coast and interior areas reachable via rivers. What ended Portuguese rule was an anti-colonial rebellion that lasted from the early 1960s, when other European colonizers were voluntarily departing, until 1975 when Portugal finally officially got rid of its colonies. This meant nearly 300,000 Portuguese settlers and officials left Mozambique, taking with them a major portion of the new nation’s technical personnel and skilled administrators. Newly independent Mozambique elected a government that lasted two years before a fifteen-year long civil war began. This civil war was far more damaging than the shorter, and less successful anti-colonial war. The civil war killed over a million people and drove more than 20 percent of the population from their homes for months or years. Nearly two million of those refugees fled the country.
Mozambique never recovered from all the violence it has suffered since the 1960s. The rebellion against the Portuguese colonial government left about 6o,000 dead, 94 percent of them rebels and civilians. The rebels were never a real threat to the colonial government. After Mozambique became independent in 1975, its first government was socialist and run by politicians who wanted to establish a communist police state “for the greater good.” This triggered a civil war in 1977 that killed over a million people, most of them civilians, before it ended in 1992. With the collapse of European communist governments and the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991, the Mozambique communists agreed to restore democracy. Some tensions between communists and democrats remained and there were brief outbursts violence in 2013 and 2018. A 2019 agreement eliminated most of that tension just as a new threat, from Islamic terrorists, was becoming a major threat.
The civil war was mainly about politics and tribal alliances. Religion was not a major factor because more than four centuries of Portuguese rule had left the population mostly (60 percent) Christian, with about 20 percent animist (ancient local religions) or not religious at all. About twenty percent were Moslem, mostly in the north, where at least $100 billion worth of natural gas was found, which the government expected would yield $5 billion a year for at least 25 years. That’s a lot for a country with an annual GDP of $14 billion. Most the LNG income would go to the government as Mozambique becomes one of the largest natural gas producers in of the world. That will make some people in Mozambique very rich and that is what the current Moslem-led rebellion in the north is all about. In 2019 some of the Ansar al-Sunna (alternative name for al Shabaab) factions pledged allegiance to ISIL, which is normal in situations like this. The violence in northern Mozambique is all about whether corrupt Moslem politicians or corrupt Christian politicians gain control of the natural gas. An Islamic terrorist victory is unlikely as the Mozambique Moslems are vastly outnumbered. The Islamic rebels say they are out to eliminate corruption. All Islamic rebels say that and none ever deliver. That has been demonstrated many times in the last few decades and Moslems have noticed.
What got the Islamic terrorist violence escalating was an August 2020 attack by several hundred Islamic terrorist gunmen that seized the northern Mozambique port town of Mocímboa da Praia. This was the third time the Islamic terrorists had attacked this town. A 2017 attack was repulsed but an attack in March 2020 briefly succeeded. The August attack worked because the army garrison withdrew after several days because the troops had run out of ammunition. The army said it would retake the town but that never happened. The Islamic terrorists were ejected from the town in August 2021 with the help of SADC peacekeepers.
Mozambique has always been poor, with a per capita GDP of under $500. The military has 15,000 personnel, 80 percent of them in the army, which is organized into ten light infantry battalions and some support units. The air force and navy are much smaller and have few operational aircraft and ships. The army received a lot of weapons from Russia starting in 1975 until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. China has since been selling Mozambique some weapons and ammo but most of the military gear is elderly and often unusable. “Running out of ammunition” is not unlikely here, especially with the corruption associated with the government budget.
While the port town of 30,000 is not itself very important, the nearby natural gas fields are. That’s why the government has hired several hundred Russian military contractors (experienced veterans, often with combat experience) to safeguard the natural gas facilities. These Russians have clashed with the Islamic terrorists but the main job of the Wagner force is protecting the natural gas operations.
The new Islamic terrorist groups have been particularly active since 2017, carrying out several hundred operations, mostly in Cabo Delgado province. This has left over 3.000 dead and over 800,000 driven from their homes to avoid the fighting. Most of the dead are civilians. The four factions that comprise the Islamic terrorist coalition finance themselves via smuggling, extortion and outright theft. The defeat of army garrisons provided the Islamic terrorists with a lot of abandoned military gear, including some weapons. The Islamic terrorists are better organized than the army and do not run out of ammunition.
The SADC peacekeepers made a big difference once they became active in July 2021. Islamic terrorists were driven out of key towns and areas they had controlled for a year. Several key Islamic terrorist leaders were located and killed. In October SADC agreed to extend the original three-month term of service to a full year. This is more an act of optimism rather than an expectation of lasting change in Mozambique. The national government is as corrupt and untrustworthy as ever. Without changes at the top the LNG wealth becomes more a curse than benefit. This is what happened in Nigeria where audits revealed that nearly a trillion dollars in oil income in the last have-century was stolen and left Nigerians worse off than they were before the oil money came rolling in.
Residents of Cabo Delgado province were led to believe that the natural gas would bring quick benefits like more jobs, roads and other infrastructure. That was not the case. The foreign companies developing the offshore natural gas deposits have had to borrow billions to build the facilities to extract the oil and get it to foreign markets. Many of the new jobs went to foreigners who had skills none of the locals possessed. Too many of the unskilled jobs for locals went to friends or family of politicians and government officials. In other words, Cabo Delgado residents were angry about their continued poverty despite all the money being spent on the new oil facilities, which are near the port town of Mocímboa da Praia. This pattern is not unique in Africa, where most nations with oil or natural gas or any valuable exportable raw material see most of the export income stolen by corrupt politicians. This is the rule, not the exception in Africa.
Corruption and misuse of government funds are the main reasons Mozambique is such a wreck economically. The global aspect of this can be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2019 Mozambique ranked 146th out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 158th in 2018. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/13, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (Finland, New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85. South Africa is one of the twenty least corrupt nations and most other neighbors score as much less corrupt than Mozambique .
The Mozambique corruption score has gotten worse since 2012 when it was 31. All that corruption and fifteen years of civil war sharply reduced the living conditions in most of Mozambique. The extent of this can be measured compared to the rest of the world. The effectiveness of governments and the societies they represent is rated each year in the Human Development Index. The UN has compiled these ratings for 29 years. The index ranks all the world nations in terms of how well they do in terms of life expectancy, education and income. In 2019 Mozambique was 180 out of 189 nations. The rank of other nations puts this into perspective; United States is at 15 (tied with Britain), China 89, Israel 22 (tied with South Korea), Saudi Arabia 36, Iran 65, India 129, Pakistan 152, Afghanistan 179, Bangladesh 135, Nigeria 158, Russia 49, Venezuela 96, Colombia 79, Mexico 76. Egypt 116, Lebanon 93, Syria 154 and Jordan 103. The top ten nations are Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore and the Netherlands. The bottom ten are Mozambique at 180th place (there are a lot of ties) followed by Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and in last place, Niger. Most of the bottom ten have problems with Islamic terrorists, which usually includes an ISIL faction or two.
Africa it currently home to six major ISIL factions. These are currently present in Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Nigeria. Mali, and Mozambique. There are smaller ISIL factions in other African countries, some so small that they regularly cease to exist because of heavy casualties and are sometimes revived with reinforcements from a larger ISIL faction in a nearby country. The Mozambique ISIL affiliation was not universally accepted by all members of the Mozambique Islamic terrorist coalition. That sort of response is not unusual and sometimes leads to the demise or reduction in the size of an ISIL faction and weakening of all Islamic terror groups in the area.
The Mozambique Islamic terrorists have a major disadvantage; its religious affiliation means it can only depend on about ten percent of the Mozambique population for support. Many Moslems do not support al Shabaab or local Islamic terrorists because the experience of the last few decades has made it clear that Islamic terror groups tend to kill more Moslems than non-Moslems. All that won’t eliminate the possibility of Mozambique Islamic terrorists damaging the natural gas facilities and limiting exports. That is also very unpopular nationwide because so many people see a chance to get a piece of the natural gas income. In other words, it’s not a war coming to Mozambique but rather another malignant side effect of the culture of corruption that prevails in the country.