The human rights impact of the Mozambique gas industry has been devastating, and this is before any gas has even been extracted. In fact, not even the construction phases of the gas projects in Cabo Delgado have been completed, and already thousands of people have been displaced after a consultation process that just focused on ticking the boxes, but did not actually consider their needs. The gas industry has fueled the fire of the violent insurgency and conflict in the region, which has led to the creation of over 800000 refugees.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, several of the affected communities’ rights have been violated. These are, but not only: the right to life, liberty and security; the rights to protection from torture, and from arbitrary arrest and detention; the right to be considered innocent unless proven guilty according to the law; the right to freedom of expression and opinion; and the right to a decent standard of living.
It is unacceptable that the industry, military and Mozambican and international states are able to commit these violations with impunity, under the protection of exploiting gas, by any means necessary.
Forced displacement and lack of decent compensation
The gas industry has already taken land from thousands of local people that have either been removed by mutual agreement but without proper compensation, or that have been removed by force. In 2017, the so-called ‘consultation process’ took place in the communities in the immediate vicinity of the onshore Afungi LNG park being constructed for the use of the industry – Milamba, Quitunda, Maganja and Senga. Consultation meetings were illegitimate in reality – they were held in the presence of community leaders who, in many cases, have strong political links, meaning that community members do not voice discontent for fear of not receiving compensation or bullying from the government. In some cases company representatives were accompanied by the police or soldiers.
At the time, the company responsible for the consultation process was Anadarko, a US company that no longer exists, after it was purchased by Occidental Petroleum, who sold its African assets to Total. This has been an excuse for Total and other companies to not take responsibility for the ridiculous consultation process and its devastating outcomes – that it was Anadarko who carried out the process, and not them.
Villages that were right on the land where the Afungi park was to be built needed to be moved. This meant that fishing communities, who are used to living within 100 meters of the sea, have been moved to a resettlement village 10-15 km inland and have lost their main source of income. And farmers would receive land that was a small percentage of what they had, in some cases from 10 hectares down to 1 hectare, that was far from the resettlement village.
Some people opted for financial compensation, but found this was not sufficient, and were put in a dangerous situation of signing their compensation agreements with the company in public, making it known who would be receiving what amount. This led to terrible incidents where soldiers would extort people who they were aware had received compensation – sometimes by holding them hostage or threatening to sexually assualt the women in the family.
Currently, due to the situation of violence, most people from the resettlement village have fled, and are now in refugee centres, other parts of the province, or in neighbouring Nampula province in centres, or with family or friends with no assurance on when they could return. Those who had opted for compensation were receiving payments erratically, and now that Total has claimed force majeure and paused its project, they are not receiving any payments at all.
For the people of the communities in the gas region, their experience has been of the industry invading their homes and land, pushing them out, ripping away their livelihoods, and then disappearing and leaving them with nothing.
Militarisation and the gas industry
Cabo Delgado has experienced a scourge of violence since 2017. While the government and industry, since the beginning of the conflict, has been attributing these attacks to ‘Islamic terrorist groups’, the situation is far more complex, and there are many interests at play, not least of which is the gas industry.
By attributing this violence solely to ‘jihadists’ trying to gain a foothold in Cabo Delgado, the government and industry were able to take eyes and responsibility off themselves and wipe out the idea that they might be partly responsible for fueling the fire of conflict.
As a response to what, at the time, was a ‘faceless insurgency’ the government brought its military into the area, along with private security companies which included the Russian Wagner Group with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin followed by South African mercenaries from the Dyck Advisory who were found to have indiscriminately killed civilians.
Even though the region became highly securitised, local communities reported living under constant fear of mistreatment by the military and by private security actors rather than feeling protected from the attacks, creating a very fragile context. The loss of communities’ livelihoods and lack of promised employment to communities from the gas projects has led to anger and subsequent anti-government sentiment, creating space for extremist narratives to thrive and for local people to be attracted to violent groups.
The military had also been committing human rights violations against civilians, including extortion and sexual assault. We learnt about this through our work on the ground, and this was also exposed by Amnesty International among other groups. According to an article in Canal de Moçambique, with this knowledge, Total still called for more of these soldiers to be sent to Cabo Delgado. However, to worsen the corruption, this article showed that this money had been diverted into the private bank accounts of high-level government officials.
Human Rights Watch has documented how government security forces have beaten and mistreated local people, as well as limited their movement and restricted the ability of humanitarian groups to access the area. In addition, Amnesty International has found that the police harass and extort the local people constantly, and government soldiers have beaten the people they are supposed to protect. The police sometimes falsely accuse people of being insurgents – at times even leading to torture and extrajudicial killings.
When the major attack on Palma town took place on March 24 2021, the attack that ultimately pushed Total to claim ‘force majeure’ and pause activities indefinitely, there were 800 soldiers protecting Total’s assets – the Afungi LNG Park – and no security protecting the people of the town.
Rwandan military deployment
For four years, the people of the province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, have been devastated by gas and violent conflict between insurgents, military and mercenaries. Eight hundred thousand people have become refugees from the violence, and thousands have lost their livelihoods and been displaced by the gas industry. To make things worse, they are now in the hands of the Rwandan army, which is notorious for horrific torture of Congolese and Rwandan alleged dissidents in military detention centres. And they have gone rogue.
According to Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi, the 1000-strong Rwandan army’s mandate since July has been to “restore peace and stability”.
But since the Rwandan state became involved, things have gone even further awry than they already were. Already, on 14 September, Rwandan businessman and chairman of the Rwandan Refugee Association in Mozambique, Révocat Karemangingo, who was exiled from Rwanda in 1994, was assassinated in Maputo.
Three months before, Rwandan journalist Ntamuhanga Cassien who had applied for asylum in Mozambique, was arrested by Mozambican police, and has not been seen since.
If experts and activists who have linked the murders to the Rwandan state are correct, even though the government has repeatedly denied it, this should not come as a surprise. The Rwandan government is known for killings of political opponents and journalists both inside and outside of the country, including South Africa and Kenya.
In July this year, Amnesty International and a consortium of journalists exposed that Rwanda was one of the countries using the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group’s Pegasus software. Since 2016, the Rwandan government has used the software to unlawfully surveill the phones of 3500 activists, politicians and journalists.
The Rwandan army itself has a terrible human rights record – in 2014 Human Rights Watch reported they had been fighting alongside the Rwanda- backed M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over three days in 2016, M83 soldiers killed 62 people in anti-government protests.
Even though locals around Palma have highlighted the more professional conduct of Rwandan soldiers in comparison to the Mozambican soldiers, the Rwandan operation relies on local intelligence and information in order to be effective. But they are not doing the dirty work of actually acquiring this intelligence themselves. It has been the Mozambican soldiers that have carried out the interrogations, arrests and intimidations to obtain information. This has been one of the causes in the increase of disappearances, unlawful arrests and torture, sometimes targeting outspoken and critical civilians within the gas affected communties.
So if the Rwandan government doesn’t care about its own citizens and civilians in the DRC, why would it put its money and army on the line for foreign nationals? And who else has an interest in them being in Mozambique?
One of the factors that can’t be ignored is Rwanda’s dynamic relationship with France, and that French company Total is one of the leaders of Cabo Delgado’s $50 billion gas industry. Total owns 26% of the Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Project.
It is in the process of constructing the massive Afungi LNG Park, which will house the offices and support facilities for its project as well as ExxonMobil’s Rovuma LNG project and their contractors. The gas giants are building an industry that is pushing the debt-ridden country further into poverty and not benefiting the people. Until now, it has only brought destruction.
The French government has over $520 million invested in the Mozambique gas industry through a loan from the French export credit agency (BpiFrance) for the third project, Eni’s Coral South LNG. The four largest French banks, Credit Agricole, Société Génerale, BNP Paribas and Natixis are also involved in the industry as financiers or financial advisors.
It is the construction of the Afungi Park that has forced thousands of local people out of their homes, and away from their farmland and fishing grounds creating an angry and further disenfranchised population.
And now that the insurgency has ruined Total’s plans, it has just closed shop and stopped compensation payments to communities. After a brutal attack on Palma town on 24 March, Total decided to claim ‘force majeure’ and pull its staff out of the area, pausing the project indefinitely and saying they would return only once the area was safe.
Even then it was clear that the military had Total’s best interests at heart, not the people’s. On the day of that attack, there were 800 soldiers defending the Afungi Park and no protection for civilians. Currently, Rwandan soldiers have been using the Afungi Park as their base.
It certainly won’t be the first time that French interests, politics and violent conflict have gone hand in hand with a Total project. Some examples that come to mind include Myanmar, where the military junta is known for ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, and mass human rights violations including rape, sexual abuse, torture and disappearances of protestors. Since the coup of February 2021, Total has been directing revenues from its Yadana gas project in Myanmar to the junta, its biggest source of income.
Total has also been active in the Taoudeni basin of Mali in the Sahel since 1998. Since 2013, over 3000 French troops have been in Mali, and 4 other Sahel countries, with France using the same rhetoric as they and Rwanda have done in Mozambique: to rid the area of ‘jihadists’.
In Yemen, the Balhaf LNG site of which Total owns 39% was exposed for housing the base for the Shabwani Elite, an UAE-backed tribal militia since 2016. Officially a counter-terrorism group, they have unofficially become known as a group created to protect fossil fuel interests. The site also has also been exposed to house UAE notorious ‘secret prisons’ holding Yemeni detainees.
So, Cabo Delgado, where the gas region sits nearly on the border between Mozambique and Tanzania, fits neatly in Total’s mixture of politics, gas and conflict.
So back to Rwanda – Out of all potential pawns, or proxies, for France, why pick them?
France has been embarrassed, but not enough for a full apology, about the exposure of the severity of its role in the Rwandan genocide, after a March 2021 report claimed France bears ‘overwelming responsibilities’ for the horrors that killed over 800 000 people in the Tutsi minority.
However, in 2005 complaints laid by human rights groups pushed French prosecutors to open an investigation into French soldiers’ actual complicity in the genocide, which seemed like it was going to be dropped in May this year. No former French soldiers have faced trial.
While Rwanda claims this military mission to Mozambique is self-funded, others say it is Mozambique footing the bill, and yet others, say that this might be one of France’s covert means of reparations, or an olive branch trying to fix bad Franco-Rwandan relations, by offering Rwanda a crucial job: protecting French gas assets. When asked by a journalist, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, neither confirmed nor denied whether it is financing the troops, although financing does not always come in the form of cash. It could be through aid or other means that are harder to track.
It’s part of a pattern of Rwanda becoming France’s new darling: in 2019, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) signed a reported $11.6 million a year contract with French football club Paris St. Germain as its official tourism partner. ‘Visit Rwanda’ is boasted on the the back of the men’s training and pre-game warm up kits, in the club’s stadium and onthe sleeves of the womens’ team kits, with the club having renewed its contract in 2019, also reported to be $11 million a year. A point to consider is that hospitality company Accor is paying PSG $58 million a year to be its official hotel partner.
There is the possibility that these teams are giving the RDB a friendly discount. What is more likely is that the sponsorships are being subsidised by a third party.
It is clear that there are a few parties getting something out of Rwandan troops being on the ground in the gas region – Total, Mozambique and Rwanda. But certainly the one gaining the most is France – its financial assets are being well protected on the ground and it is able to maintain the international ‘non-complicit’ image it wants to regarding the genocide while still nurturing a relationship with Rwanda. It would also be a way of having military protection of its assets while not being visible.
This is definitely in their interests following France’s recognition of its disastrous mission in Mali by cutting the number of troops in June this year, and now, after the death of the 52nd French soldier in eight years, French President Emmanuel Macron has said they will have no more soldiers in the Sahel by the beginning of 2022. The deployment of Rwandan soldiers would mean they will have another army in public view and decrease the political risk of failed military interventions, especially ones linked to human rights violations.
But one group that is not benefiting, are the people of Mozamique, most of all – the communities of Cabo Delgado, who are pawns, dying and devastated so that local and international elites can save political face and defend their gas assets and bonuses by any means necessary.
Oppression and disappearances of Journalists and vocal community members
Over the last few years, many local journalists reporting on the violence, and its links to the gas industry have been subjected to random arrests, unlawful detentions, torture and assaults by Mozambique’s military and police since 2018.
In 2020, two journalists disappeared in Cabo Delgado, and have not been heard from since – one was Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco who worked for Palma Community Radio. His last message was to a colleague saying that the army was coming towards him. Soon after, Reporters Without Borders and 16 other press freedom organisations wrote an open letter to President Filipe Nyusi, who ignored it, just like the military and relevant government officials did not even bother to respond, and the police treated it like a joke. In March 2020, another Cabo Delgado local journalist, Roberto Abdala, also disappeared.
That same month, Canal de Moçambique published an expose that Anadarko, who was initially leading the Mozambique LNG Project before Total, had paid the government to deploy more soldiers for their protection. Guente wrote that this money did not go to the state, but rather into the personal bank account of the then minister of defence, Atanásio Salvador Ntumuke.
Soon after, the government charged the newspaper’s executive director and journalist personally, with “violation of state secrecy” and “conspiracy against the state”. In August, the newspaper’s offices were petrol-bombed.
In 2020, when civilians released shocking videos on social media of soldiers executing a naked woman and torture and ill-treatment of civilians by mozambican soldiers and armed fighters, the government carried out arbitrary arrests of these suspected civilians.
The area has been closed to international journalists for three years. But since mid 2021 several media outlets were allowed in Cabo Delgado. But journalists who actually live in Cabo Delgado and were the first to report on the happenings since 2017, have not been allowed to work in the conflict areas, unless they are from state-owned media outlets.
But even if they were able to report, the government has made it clear that they will not make it easy. In early 2021 President Felipe Nyusi sent a document to O Pais, saying, journalists must report with “rigour, professionalism and patriotism” and they must be “disciplined”.
International journalists are protected by having foreign passports. But who is protecting local journalists from non-state outlets, like Ibrahimo, or like Amade Abubacar from the Nacedje Community Radio who was arrested, tortured and held without charge for 3 months in 2019 after interviewing a group of displaced people? The majority of incidents of media oppression in Mozambique have been extrajudicial, but no other African or international governments or the African Union are calling them out on it. And this allows the government to continue media oppression with impunity.
- JA! Blogpost: Where is Ibrahimo?
- Al Jazeera: Mozambican journalists lives are on the line
- JA! Blogpost: Total runs from its responsibilities with its ‘force majeure’ announcement on Mozambique
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Amnesty International Report: What I saw was Death (English | Portuguese)
- Letter from JA! And Friends of the Earth US to US Export-Import Bank October 2018