Cabo Delgado, Mozambique: A Resource-Rich War Zone

Location:

Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

Project risks:

Conflict/Violence, Environmental Destruction, Social Harm

Companies:

  • Eni SpA
  • TotalEnergies SE
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • Mitsui & Co Ltd
  • Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos EP (ENH)
  • Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC)
  • Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd
  • PTT Exploration and Production Public Company Ltd (PTTEP)
  • Galp Energia SGPS SA
  • Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS)
  • China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC)
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Different forces are tearing the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado and its people apart. In a country that was already rife with conflict, ExxonMobil, Total, and Eni came in to build one of the biggest gas projects on the African continent.

Before the gas majors came, Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province used to be a tourist hotspot.[1] The province is in the North of the country, close to the border of Tanzania.[2]  In the East, it borders on the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.[3] The Quirimbas National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, lies along the coast, onshore and off the shore.[4] In the ocean, it is home to sea turtles, dolphins and whales.[5] Beautiful coral reefs stretch 400 km (250 mi) along the shore.[6] On land, elephants, lions, leopards and crocodiles roam through the National Park’s ancient forests.[7] If the gas companies caused just one single accident, they could completely destabilize this biodiversity paradise.[8] 

For centuries, national elites and multinational corporations have been plundering the province’s abundant natural resources.[9] Their greed for Cabo Delgado’s ruby, graphite, gold and timber has made it one of Mozambique's poorest provinces.[10][11] The people who live in Cabo Delgado have never seen any of this resource wealth. They live from hand-to-mouth with farming and fishing.[12] Many people have no access to health care, education or jobs.[13]

Since their arrival in Cabo Delgado, Total, Eni and ExxonMobil have been adding fuel to this resource curse. About ten years ago, geologists found enormous fossil gas reserves off the coast of Cabo Delgado.[14] The giant gas companies sensed big money and immediately began to invest billions of dollars.[15] Now, Cabo Delgado houses three of the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Africa: Total’s Mozambique LNG, Eni and ExxonMobil’s Coral South FLNG and ExxonMobil, Eni and CNPC’s Rovuma LNG.[16] 

Total, Eni and ExxonMobil promised the people from Cabo Delgado that they too would benefit from the gas discovery.[17][18][19] Instead, the companies bulldozed their villages to make space for gas processing facilities.[20] They forced 557 families to leave their land and belongings behind.[21] The land that the government offered the people as compensation on behalf of the companies, is as much as ten times smaller than the land they originally owned.[22] Often, it is far away from the sea without adequate public transport to reach the coast.[23] To only get a tiny plot of land kilometers away from the coast is disastrous for people who depend on farming and fishing.[24] Many families are still waiting for their promised compensation.[25]

The companies are bulldozing the people’s villages and forcing them to move into resettlement villages. Credit: Justiça Ambiental! (Friends of the Earth Mozambique)

With their projects, Total, ExxonMobil and Eni pushed the people from Cabo Delgado even deeper into poverty.[26] With every day that the gas companies stayed in Cabo Delgado, the people became more frustrated.[27] Once again, huge foreign companies were making money at their expense.[28] This was the perfect breeding ground for the extremist insurgency that was about to erupt.[29]

In 2017, a few years after the gas companies arrived in Cabo Delgado, the terrorism began.[30] Since then, rebels have been attacking the government and the gas projects – but mainly civilians. They are forcing people out of their villages to then burn them down.[31] Journalists are reporting that the extremists are beheading men and chopping up their bodies.[32] The rebels are raping women in the forest and kidnapping boys to force them to join their violent groups.[33][34] The girls they kidnap have to serve as their wives.[35]  Since 2017, the extremists have killed over 3,000 people.[36] At least 800,000 people have had to flee.[37] During their escape, thousands of children have lost their parents.[38] Many still don’t know where they are, how to find them or whether they are still alive.[39]

Eni, Exxon and Total are prioritizing the protection of their gas projects over people’s lives. They are paying the government to mobilize troops to defend their LNG infrastructure instead of the people.[40]  Cabo Delgado is now a war-torn place; the people who live in the province are those who are suffering the most.[41][42] Many people are afraid to leave their homes to go to work or get food.[43]  When they do leave their homes, they often fear for their lives. Rebels could attack them or the military could mistake them for rebels and attack them.[44] 

The people in the village of Milamba are dependent on fishing. Credit: Justiça Ambiental! (Friends of the Earth Mozambique)

In March 2021, the violence escalated further. In their largest and most organized attack so far, hundreds of heavily armed extremists took over the town of Palma.[45] Palma is a fishing town and the center of the gas industry.[46][47] For more than four days, the extremists robbed food shops and banks, set fire to government buildings, burned down people’s homes and killed dozens of people.[48] Their terrorist attack displaced around 40,000 of the 75,000 people who used to live in Palma.[49][50]

The extremists’ attack on Palma was also an attack on ExxonMobil, Total and Eni. When the gas companies realized their projects were no longer safe, they immediately reacted. French energy giant Total has suspended its operations in the province until 2026.[51] It simply left the country without having paid the promised compensation to many of the people it displaced.[52] Exxon hasn’t confirmed it will start producing LNG in 2024, as it had planned initially.[53]  Only Eni is convinced it will start producing gas in 2022.[54] 

Although the gas giants are temporarily leaving Cabo Delgado alone, they are determined to come back whenever security improves.[55] And once they return, Exxon, Total and Eni will continue to trap the people in poverty, fear and violence for the sake of their own profit.

“What is happening around my islands now reminds me of events in the Niger River delta. Ever since oil was found there, the region has struggled to find peace. The environment has been destroyed and law and order has collapsed. Nowhere in Africa, have oil and gas been good for the people. I wish the gas had never been found."

Issa Tarmamade, mayor of the Ibo island district in Cabo Delgado.[56]

Groups working on gas in Cabo Delgado: Justiça Ambiental! (Friends of the Earth Mozambique), Friends of the Earth International, Les Amis de la Terre France, EWNI (Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), Re:Common, Friends of the Earth US, Gastivists

The field information presented in this text and in the sources has been collected and investigated by Friends of the Earth Mozambique / Justiça Ambiental!.

Sources: