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Zitamar Week in Review, 19-25 August 2023

Including breaking news from the conflict in Cabo Delgado, and onshore gas exploration

Today’s front pages in Maputo. Photo © Faizal Chauque / Zitamar News

Good afternoon. Ahead of today’s Week in Review, we bring you breaking news from Cabo Delgado: Mozambique’s military says it has killed Ibn Omar, the leader of the insurgency in northern Mozambique.

The killing came as part of apparently intensive fighting in Macomia district, which has claimed the lives of other senior members of the insurgency over the last week, and of a number of Mozambican soldiers. And as the head of the armed forces, Admiral Joaquim Mangrasse, emphasised in his statement today, the fighting continues.

Ibn Omar was, by all accounts, one of the most ruthless commanders in the insurgency. He was also a charismatic voice who had effectively been the face of Islamic State in Mozambique since 2020. His death will be a great loss to the insurgency’s ability to organise and rally its soldiers.

But it has also been a tough week for the security forces. The killing of Ibn Omar came at the cost of the lives of up to nine Mozambican soldiers. The head of the army, Major-General Tiago Nampelo, made a narrow escape. The killing of Ibn Omar will help the military wrest back control of the narrative for the moment, but its victory lap may be cut short if they aren’t braced for reprisal attacks which are likely to come.

The latest from Zitamar News:

Insurgent leader Ibn Omar killed in Macomia, says FADM
Ibn Omar was believed to be the primary leader of Islamic State Mozambique
Indonesia’s Pertamina to join in Búzi gas prospecting, as operator seeks power plant contracts
Indonesia’s state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina is to join efforts to monetize a gas block in Mozambique’s central Sofala province
Mozambique’s List of Designated Terrorists and Terrorist Organisations
The list of individuals contained two, Bonomade Machude Omar and Abu Yasir Hassan, who remain free, and 41 others who have been tried, found guilty, and sentenced


  • Today: President Nyusi meets his Cuban counterpart, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who begins a two-day official visit to Mozambique

💥 Conflict updates:

New reports have clarified that the armoured personnel carrier, reported on Wednesday to have been hit by an IED, was in fact ambushed with RPGs and smalls arms fire near Quiterajo in Macomia district, and there was likely no IED attack at Mbau on 23 August. See yesterday's report for more information:

Up to nine Mozambican soldiers killed in RPG ambush in Macomia
A convoy of four armoured personnel carriers was travelling from the south up to Quiterajo in Macomia when it was attacked

Also in the news:

  • Health professionals abandon minimum services (O País)
  • Nampula mayor confirms suspicion of assassination attempt (DW, Ikweli)
  • Búzi Hydrocarbons to “invest $120m in gas production” (O Económico)

Health professionals abandon minimum services (O País)

Health professionals will suspend all activities in the country's health units until all their concerns are resolved, the president of their association, Anselmo Muchave, announced yesterday. The minimum and other services will be provided in full by the doctors, said Muchave, who explained that, unlike the doctors, for his organisation the change of negotiating team was not sufficient grounds to suspend the strike. The medical profession would provide the services of drivers, stretcher-bearers, service agents and morgue workers, he added.

The health professionals’ approach seems to show a certain frustration at the doctors' decision to suspend the strike, leaving them alone in their endeavour. The impact of the decision may not be significant since, unlike the doctors, a considerable proportion of health workers are not registered with the organisation and in many health units there are also young trainees supporting doctors.

Nampula mayor confirms suspicion of assassination attempt (DW, Ikweli)

Nampula city mayor Paulo Vahanle told the press yesterday that his security team has detained an armed man whom he believes was planning to assassinate him, confirming a report published by local publication Ikweli on Wednesday. He was arrested on Tuesday during the ceremonies celebrating Nampula's city day in the municipal square. The man, who was dressed in plain clothes, is a member of the force for the protection of high-ranking individuals, a police responsibility, and his colleagues who were at the scene said they were unaware of his presence and intention. Four other individuals who were with him disappeared from the scene after he was detained, said Vanhale, who added that the man pointed to labour minister Margarida Talapa as his mastermind. The mayor, who is in opposition party Renamo, also told the press that the foiled attack was part of ruling party Frelimo's initiative to reclaim the municipality of Nampula. The local police deny this and say that the accused is a member of the police force and was there to protect the mayor and the population.

True or not, it's not hard to believe that elements in Frelimo could be planning something like this. Recent experience shows deadly persecution, threats and intimidation against members of the opposition, independent journalists, social activists and others who Frelimo sees as obstacles in its way.

Búzi Hydrocarbons to “invest $120m in gas production” (O Económico)

Búzi Hydrocarbons, the Indonesian company which controls the Búzi hydrocarbon concession in Sofala province, is to invest $120m in gas production there, website O Económico reports. The website claims that the funds are to be spent on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, citing Búzi Hydrocarbons manager Iman Soerjasantosa. “[A]t the moment there are many projects in the pipeline, especially seismic studies and the drilling of a third well, in order to discover more gas deposits”, Soerjasantosa added.

This article sounds confused: it is very unlikely that Búzi Hydrocarbons is going to build an LNG plant in Sofala. This announcement seems to be a repeat of one made by the company last year, when its chief executive spoke of investing $120m in extracting gas from the Buzi basin, but did not mention LNG. LNG project costs are measured in the billions of dollars, not millions, and in any case, definitive results from the exploration wells drilled in the Buzi block have not yet been reported. The company says it has already found gas, but is still planning to drill a third well, and a seismic survey was begun only in May. It therefore seems too early to say what investment the block will need. Meanwhile, Búzi Hydrocarbons plans to work with Indonesia’s Pertamina on commercialising gas from the block (see story above).

Week in Review


The pollution problem
Pollution from a cement plant is the latest instance of environmental impunity

On Monday, we reported on air pollution from the Dugongo cement factory south of Maputo and environmental degradation in Mozambique.

Mozambique has the regulations that should stop the worst environmental damage from happening. But a combination of corruption and lack of enforcement capacity means that it is only an organised citizenry that can stop egregious pollution — and that, sadly, is unlikely outside of Mozambique’s major cities. The population in the provinces relies on the government to stick up for it; too often, that doesn’t happen.


Violence begets violence
Tensions rise between Frelimo and MDM

Fierce clashes in Beira between supporters of ruling party Frelimo and opposition party MDM on Sunday may foreshadow a particularly vicious round of local elections in October. These are likely to be mired by widespread (and plausible) allegations of vote rigging in favour of Frelimo.

Other hotspots of potential violence, where the vote will likely come down to the wire, include Nampula, Angoche and Nacala in Nampula province, Mocuba and Gurué in Zambezia province, and Marromeu in Sofala province. Mocímboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado province, which Frelimo is determined to keep from falling into the hands of Renamo, has experienced political unrest before, but conflict between the main parties will likely be tempered by the fact it is effectively under martial due to the ongoing Islamic State-backed insurgency in the region.


Russian relations
Russia continues to court support in Africa, and Mozambique is keen to use its leverage with the country — without, at the same time, alienating its Western allies

As is frequently pointed out, Russia - or the Soviet Union - was an ally of Mozambique in the years immediately following independence, when Mozambique was under existential threat from its neighbours Rhodesia and South Africa. What is less well known is that that relationship soured after the end of the Cold War, when Russia demanded repayment for the military aid it had provided. It was only under the Nyusi presidency that that debt was cleared — mostly forgiven on condition it was considered aid, and used in humanitarian projects in Mozambique with Russian involvement.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the relationship has evolved further - with Mozambique able to take advantage of Russia's increasing global isolation, and of its own position as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.


Textbook ambush
An attack on a Mozambican army convoy on Tuesday demonstrates that the insurgency still has plenty of bite left

Numerous reports of security forces brutalising civilians have been a powerful deterrent against returning home.

It has been observed for some time that the Rwandans are generally more trusted by the Mozambican people in Cabo Delgado than the Mozambican army and police. Now the Southern African Development Community is set to withdraw its troops from Cabo Delgado by this time next year, Mozambican forces will have to assume greater responsibility for protecting the population. Winning the peace in the north will rest just as much on eliminating the corrupt and thuggish elements of the security apparatus as it will the insurgents in the bush.


  • Absa Group has appointed Luisa Diogo, the former prime minister of Mozambique, as a independent non-executive director from 1 September. She is already chairperson of Absa Moçambique, and sits on the board of Total Moçambique (see here)

Photo of the Day

Mozambican television covering today's announcement by the head of the armed forces, that insurgent leader Ibn Omar had been killed