The dire consequences of the gas expansion plans in Mozambique

  Published:  26 Oct 2021
Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique, is suffering.

There are two offshore gas projects in Mozambique. Daniel Ribeiro, a Mozambican activist and member of Justiça Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, offers a background to the long-standing struggle faced by the peoples and outlines the main demands of local communities affected by the gas industry.

Summary of episode:

Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique, is suffering.

There are two offshore gas projects in Mozambique. Daniel Ribeiro, a Mozambican activist and member of Justiça Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, offers a background to the long-standing struggle faced by the peoples and outlines the main demands of local communities affected by the gas industry. 

The resistance of Mozambique is explored throughout From Scotland to Sarawak

Full transcript:


We don’t have to create another example in Africa of extractive industries causing conflict and social instability. 

Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique, is suffering. The invasion of the transnational gas industry, attacks by extremist groups and military deployment from a government that seems to hate its people, are all creating a frightening breeding ground for murders, forced disappearances, the persecution of journalists and social activists and the displacement of peoples.

In a context of extreme poverty, local communities are feeling disrespected, disregarded and abused. They are awaiting answers from a government they do not trust. While families displaced by insurgency attacks and fossil fuel companies from the Global North are looking for ways to survive. 

The Covid-19 crisis introduced by the very same companies is already wreaking havoc in an area where health services are deplorable. The catalogue of abuses suffered by Cabo Delgado is more complex than the brutal attacks the local communities have endured for almost three years. Attacks from extremist groups including the al-Shabab group of Mozambique, also called Islamic State Central Africa, have been occurring weekly of late.

Hopeless, frustrated young peoples have found – in religious fundamentalism and its discourse against State corruption and the old politics – a sense of belonging never experienced before. They are attacking villages and cities, beheading civilians and kidnapping women and children, resulting in  an estimated 900 deaths. Approximately 100,000 people have been displaced and their villages set on fire.

The organization  Justiça Ambiental (JA!) – Friends of the Earth Mozambique, who are working with communities in Cabo Delgado, is sending out a global warning about the extreme situation in the area, and is urging people to act in internationalist solidarity. JA! is especially targeting the countries of origin of gas corporations from the Global North who are operating here and profiting from a business that relies on human rights abuses to thrive. 

Real World Radio interviewed Daniel Ribeiro, a Mozambican activist and member of JA!

Daniel Ribeiro: One of the reasons why the areas conflict is due to the social issues in the area, our Government has had decades of focusing  on the interests of the elites and land grabs,  the health system has been being deprioritised. The education is difficult.

In a country like Mozambique almost 80 percent of the Mozambicans are subsistence base farmers or fish hooks. 

So the link with the land and environment is crucial. It is critical for livelihoods, for wellbeing and the cultural links, it is home, it is their space. When you start taking away these lands and start making life more and more difficult and people start to have a lot of questions; ‘what is going to happen tomorrow?’, ‘How am I going to provide for my family?’ and you add to that oppression, not allowing the community to create movement , to allow the leadership to erase their voices and solve the problems . You oppress them. 

What happens is you don’t give any options for the people on the ground to solve the problem, to deal with the problems, to protect their families, protect their land. 

No individual goes into these extreme forms of violence if they have a more peaceful, easier option. So this is more of an indication of the frustration, anger  of the people north. Historically the first shot fired in Mozambique against the Portuguese for independence was in Cabo Delgado, the first attack on a Portuguese infrastructure was in Cabo Delgado. 

The community is very proud and respect is very important for them. When you continuously disrespect, disregard, abuse and take the little that the community has, that’s going to sooner or later start causing problems. And that's what you have in the north and of course you add into this difficult situation of extractive industries, multinationals coming in this little bubble of extreme elitism and privilege it’s pushing it over the edge. This goes on for many years and people are getting desperate and going for more extreme options. 

At the same time, the Mozambican North is one of the least developed areas in the country, with few hospitals and health posts and serious difficulties within the educational system. What has saved the population many times from serious health crises, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is the fact that they are not connected with the global system. But this changed with the arrival of foreign oil and gas giants. 

The arrival of Covid-19 is not surprising then with the movement of people from these corporations between Cabo Delgado, the capital Maputo and their countries of origin. Consequently the gas region has become the epicentre of the pandemic in Mozambique. 

The first confirmed case in Cabo Delgado was a foreign worker on Total´s construction site. And in two weeks, two thirds of people infected with COVID-19 in Mozambique were employees from the French oil corporation or linked to the company (Total staff or service providers).

The transnational corporation isolated the sick people on site, but cooks, cleaning staff and security guards, among others, arrive every day from the surrounding villages to serve them. Total started testing their employees, but their efforts to test and protect the local communities have been inadequate. 

But the government's plans to turn Mozambique into a global liquefied natural gas giant has already resulted in the displacement of over 550 families. To give way for infrastructure works, these families were taken far away from the Indian Ocean or given much smaller pieces of land far from their new houses.

This results in uncertainty for the peoples, who, having lost access to the sea or land, do not know if they will be able to produce their own food, and are bracing themselves for a food crisis. 

The government is now having to use around 30 experts, and send them to this area, which is putting a strain on the rest of the region. The whole country has only 34 ventilators. The only way we can survive this pandemic is not letting it inside and we had a multinational allowing it into the most vulnerable area - it’s unacceptable. 

Putting this on top of extreme attacks, on military oppression, because the problem is when you have these extremist attacks the government uses these attacks as an excuse to militarize the region. So you have a very heavy handed approach from the military to the individuals on the ground especially community leaders, activists and journalists who are trying to raise the voices of the local communities and social organizations, who are trying to tell the truth of what is happening on the ground there. They take advantage of this militarisation to try and press civil society and hide the truth. Many journalists were arrested. We had to remove our permanent staff from Cabo Delgado due to threats. They do not know when they will be able to return.

The military was going at night, breaking into houses. We can’t claim they were arresting people, because they were not making arrests, they were just taking people. We do not know where they have gone, we do not know what the charges are, we have no information. They have taken a journalist that used to work with us often. Sometimes we know because we have eye witnesses that the military came, but other times we don’t know. 

The government has plans to expand militarization and for this they are putting people through very fast training so you have a lot of young people who are suddenly given a lot of power without filtering what kind of person they are. Do they have the right training? Do they have the right stability?

You have an increase in cases of abuse. Military action won’t solve the social issues. It is necessary to address the structural causes of the serious situation in Cabo Delgado: corruption, the role of transnational corporations and a development model that benefits elites. The situation is dire, plus you add the epidemic to it, and it’s really a sad situation. 

First of all one of the demands for the fisherfolk is to be near the sea and farmers need land near their homes, no smaller than their original land. The reality is that fisherfolk were taken 15-16 km away from the sea and the farmers were given homes but no land yet, and the proposed land is far from their homes. 

They did, however, receive economic compensation. As a result, there are many people who have nothing to do all day, so they have money in their hand and the money is getting used to buy food but you also have a lot of people coming in from outside who are trying to take advantage of this and unfortunately some individuals end up picking up bad habits and you see alcoholism and domestic violence are increasing.

So a lot of people are saying first of all, it’s not the house or the money that are important, we need land, not only for us but for our future. For our kids, for future generations we need to be able to continue farming, we need to be able to continue fishing. And they are saying that since the companies and investments have come in they have got poorer. They wish this whole investment in oil and gas had never happened as things have never been this bad since the end of the civil war. 

This is not acceptable. Before at least they had food, they had the land, they had access to the ocean, they had peace. They say the government never listens to us so what's the  point in asking. 

Because it’s a very complicated and dangerous issue some NGOs have moved away with it so instead of doing on the ground work you see groups doing work at a distance, researching and analysing. Also what the government does is create these joint platforms with companies and representatives and NGOs talk but these processes don’t go anywhere, waste a lot of time and become greenwashing. The decision carries on regardless of what happens. We do not go anymore as there is no point sitting at this table. The power dynamic in these spaces are unbalanced; the communities and NGOs do not have the power to influence these decisions. Once you move away from the process and start challenging and raising the issues, that's when you start getting a lot of pressure, threats and other problems. 

Yeah, it’s not the first time we’ve been in this situation but the problem is our government is getting a sense of impunity because we've had major cases, we had one of the largest corruption cases in Africa where numerous of our high level officials including our ex minister of finance has international arrest warrant because of crimes and money laundering and so you have high level officials involved in crime  and no consequences and then you have  elections and a lot of irregularities and there’s no consequences and so our government does a whole bunch of human rights violations and there are no consequences.  So what do you expect from a government that does something that’s a crime and transnational corporations  still invest. The companies are accomplices, they are the catalysts, they amplify, they are the ones developing more resources for our government to do more of what it’s doing. 

They are the ones that give the confidence to our government to move forwards in more destructive inhuman ways. 

First of all we want to show that all eyes are on Mozambique, that they are watching what’s happening, that we have solidarity, that people are with us. The thing is, all of these companies are not from Mozambique, you've got Total from France, Shell from Netherlands, Eni from Italy, ExxonMobil from the US and on and on. There are so  many companies and these companies represent your flag. People do not want to be associated with the blood that’s occurring, but that blood is on the hands of these companies and on the hands of your flag.

We need to go to our governments in our countries and raise our voices and show support, email, contact,  bombard these companies and governments and say we do not accept this. We don't want this. The thing is, if we stop now there is still a chance we can turn this around.  

We do not have to create another example in Africa of the resource curse of extractivist industry causing conflict and putting a country into social instability but we can stop it. But we need to get our message very clear to the companies up north in France, Holland, Italy and all that, that hey - we do not want this. 

Every time we talk about numbers and facts and what's happening we have to not forget these are individuals' lives that we are talking about. And that all of this is being done in a time when we know the science and we know the science is clear, we have  alternatives - so extracting gas not only causing conflict and human rights abuses but is also lined to a system that is the cause of a lot of the problems that is the cause of the problems that are occurring now. For me, we need to let our voices be heard. 

There is nothing to be fixed in the capitalist system, the problem is that it’s actually working too well, the capitalist system is working exactly how it was designed, how it is meant to work. That’s the problem. Thinking that we can fix, or improve, or adjust it, is not realistic. We need a system change.

For me this is critical. This is happening all over the world because of a fundamental issue which is the system. 

Sometimes we focus on the emergency and we should be doing that but for the people that are far away from us it is difficult to get involved but you can get involved in what is causing the problem in Mozambique, in Colombia, in so many countries. All of us can get involved at different levels and it’s important to move past clicktivism and get involved in our communities. 

Spread the thought of what we want, because it's in our minds it's easy to get into our action. Sometimes we focus too much on action, we need people understanding this.