Analysts told Lusa yesterday that TotalEnergies’ option to ask a human rights expert to assess Cabo Delgado aims to take responsibility away from the French oil company over the future of its presence in Mozambique.
If it decides to resume the project, which has been suspended since March 2021 following an armed attack on Palma, “the onus will not be on TotalEnergies to make a decision, but rather that there is an independent assessment that guarantees that there are conditions there,” Rui Mathe, a researcher in the area of extractive industry at the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), a Mozambican non-governmental organisation (NGO) told Lusa.
Mathe said that the French multinational could use the assessment of the independent expert – Jean-Christophe Rufin, a Portuguese-speaking doctor, writer and diplomat – to legitimise the option to restart the project in Cabo Delgado, even in a context where the armed insurgency is still active in the province.
“You are realising that the security situation is not going to be normalised in a short period and the window of time [for natural gas production] is closing, so you get this independent entity to give the go-ahead for TotalEnergies to come back,” that researcher pointed out.
Rui Mathe said that the increased volatility in the energy sector caused by the Russia-Ukraine war had opened up an opportunity for oil companies present in Mozambique to speed up their projects.
In that sense, he continued, TotalEnergies may have rethought its initial position that it would only resume the venture in Cabo Delgado with security restored throughout the province.
“TotalEnergies demanded that effective peace,” in northern Mozambique, so as not to operate in a “security cordon around the project,” noted Rui Mathe.
For Fátima Mimbire, a social activist with analyses in the extractive industry sector, by opting for an independent assessment of the human rights and security situation, the French multinational may intend to give credence to the decision of “a security belt” in the area of implementation of its natural gas project, with the argument that the prevailing risks are “mitigable”.
“These companies very much like to be an island within a territory and this document that is to come from an independent security consultant, should eventually say that there is risk, but that it is a mitigable risk, if TotalEnergies still has interests in Mozambique,” Mimbire said.
The company, she continued, may have abandoned the idea of only returning to operate in Cabo Delgado with security guarantees throughout the province, as it has become convinced of the “complexity” of the situation.
Fátima Mimbire said that an independent assessment of the situation would always back up any decision by the company, including negotiating more benefits with the Mozambican government, under the pretext of increasing the effort with security.
TotalEnergies may also use the independent assessment report to leave the country, “which would be strange, because oil companies are able to operate in turbulent territory, with wars and crises,” he noted.
For his part, Fernando Lima, journalist and analyst, also believes that with the choice of a human rights expert TotalEnergies intends to protect any decision it may take on the future of its presence in Mozambique.
“TotalEnergires is protecting itself and its partners” in relation to the resumption or not of its project in Mozambique, Lima stressed.
If something goes wrong, the company “can say that the independent advisors themselves said that there were conditions for the resumption of the project,” he argued.
The oil company’s position also shows that the security and human rights situation in Cabo Delgado is “complex and delicate.
Despite recognising progress in the fight against armed groups, government forces still do not have the situation completely under control, as shown by last week’s attacks on some stretches of road in Cabo Delgado, Lima added.
For this journalist and analyst, with the recent attacks, the insurgents want to show that “the situation is unsustainable.
Oil company TotalEnergies on Friday commissioned Jean-Christophe Rufin to assess the situation in Cabo Delgado, producing a report by the end of the month to decide if there are conditions to resume construction of the natural gas liquefaction plant, to be extracted from the Rovuma basin, 40 kilometres from the coast.
The decision was communicated by the chief executive of TotalEnergies, Patrick Pouyanné, to Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, after a visit to the region.
Cabo Delgado province has faced an armed insurgency for five years with some attacks claimed by extremist group Islamic State.
The insurgency has led to a military response since July 2021 with support from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), liberating districts near gas projects, but new waves of attacks have emerged south of the region and in neighbouring Nampula province.
The conflict has left one million people displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and about 4,000 dead, according to the ACLED conflict registration project.