Prospects for an imminent announcement of the lifting of force majeure status for the gas project at Afungi, in the district of Palma, prompted a joint Mozambican and Rwandan media effort in Palma and neighboring Mocímboa da Praia in December, trying to show that “everything is ready for the restart.” The company declared force majeure in April 2021.
This article was first published on 20 November 2023 as part of the Cabo Ligado Monthly: December 2023
The RSF brought reporters and social media influencers from Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda to its operational area in Cabo Delgado to demonstrate the improved security situation. Ronald Rwivanga, a spokesperson for the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), escorted the journalists to Palma to tour the rehabilitated port and airport of Mocímboa da Praia town.
"What I can say to all investors, TotalEnergies and any other investors, the situation is now normal, particularly Palma and Mocímboa da Praia", Rwinvanga said in mid-December. “We can assure them the situation is under control and they can invest in their enterprises.”
For his part, the head of the Mozambican army, Tiago Nampele, told journalists on 19 December that “the forces on the ground can guarantee that companies can return, especially Total”, adding that “security has been re-established in 90% of the territory”.
However, just a few days later on 26 December, insurgents launched attacks on Mozambican military positions in Mucojo and Pangane in the coastal area described by Nampele as a resupply zone for the insurgency. At least 13 soldiers were killed. In early January, seven attacks were claimed by ISM, mostly against civilians. On 5 January, insurgents killed four civilians at Chimbanga village, in the vicinity of Mocímboa da Praia, causing panic in the population recently resettled there. RSF and FDS forces on 8 January uncovered an arms cache, as well as some goods looted in Chimbanga in follow-up operations
ISM’s response to the media campaign and the centering of TotalEnergies security within it, is not without precedent: most notably, it carried out its most high profile attack to date on Palma town in March 2021, just after TotalEnergies and the Mozambican government announced the restart of work on the gas project. These latest attacks fell under the banner of Islamic State’s (IS) global “kill them wherever you find them” campaign, which IS says is in support of Palestine — ironically a cause also supported by the Mozambican government, in its current position as a non-permanent member of UN Security Council.
Despite the moderate and non-alarmist reactions from the security forces and the companies operating in the Afungi peninsula, the violent actions in three different districts – Macomia, Muidumbe, and Mocímboa – undermine confidence in the earlier statements made by the security forces of Mozambique and Rwanda.
Civil society representatives who attended meetings in January with Jean-Christophe Rufin, the humanitarian advisor employed by TotalEnergies, took away the impression that he is now more pragmatic than in his first visits to Mozambique, suggesting that security concerns should be focused on where the gas project is being developed.
The decision to restart the project will also confront the scenario of the withdrawal of the SADC force in July and concerns surrounding the capability of the Mozambican military to fill the gap. The RSF, according to major-general Rwinvanga, is “open to considering the possibility to expand its operations in Mozambique” as it happened last year when a new operational area was established in Ancuabe, to prevent IS militias from moving into the mining areas of southern Cabo Delgado.