Overcoming Instability: TotalEnergies Maintains Link with Local Communities in Mozambique


Residents of Mocímboa da Praia, a strategic seaport in the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique, recently received 20 rehabilitated boreholes and 4 new ones that will provide them with accessible drinking water and 208 public lighting poles with solar-based lamps to light their streets.

While boreholes and lighting poles might not seem that impressive to some, the arrival of basic necessities signifies hope for a better future in a town that has been ravaged by violence over the past five years. As Carlos Momba, the Mayor of Mocímboa da Praia, describes, “In this process of population return, what we, as leaders, were dreaming of, we have achieved today: water and electricity”.

The items were delivered by the Pamoja Tunaweza (Together We Can) initiative which is part of the Mozambique LNG project, run mainly by TotalEnergies. The initiative works on projects designed to improve the socio-economic development of Cabo Delgado. It is a collaborative association with engagement from community members, associations and public and private actors.

Through initiatives such as Pamoja Tunaweza, TotalEnergies is trying to be part of bringing sustainable development to the region. Even though Mozambican gas projects have been on standby for over a year for security reasons, the French energy major has continued to be active in the country and plans to resume operations when security conditions are acceptable.

Stopping the Insurgency

The conflict that has devastated the region began on October 5th, 2017, when heavily armed assailants from a group called Ahlu- Sunnah wal Jama’ah (ASWJ) attacked police stations in Mocímboa da Praia.

ASWJ initially recruited fighters frustrated by the region’s poverty. Others joined because they believed local authorities botched the installation of gas projects. A survey from the Institute of Security Studies found that “…locals feel marginalised by corrupt elites. Some have lost their land and livelihoods to the gas infrastructure built onshore.” To date, attacks by the insurgents have forced almost a million people to flee their homes and more than 4,200 people have been killed.

When insurgents took over the town of Palma on March 24th, 2021, President Nyusi was forced to seek international help. In June and July of 2021, troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Commission (SADC) arrived in Mozambique and have finally made progress securing the region.

By 2022, foreign forces had recaptured insurgent-controlled towns, but terrorists are still launching smaller attacks in other areas. As Phipps Campira, operations director with Save the Children, explains, “The situation is still volatile. The sporadic attacks are destabilizing our efforts to reach out to displaced people.”

With strategic districts such as Palma and Mocímboa da Praia now under control of Rwandan security forces, about 130,000 internally displaced persons have cautiously returned home.

TotalEnergies Wants Back

When Palma, located just 6km from TotalEnergies’ Area 1 Afungi project site, was overrun, the company evacuated employees and issued the following statement:

“Considering the evolution of the security situation in the north of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, Total confirms the withdrawal of all Mozambique LNG project personnel from the Afungi site. This situation leads Total, as operator of Mozambique LNG project, to declare force majeure.”

A company may declare “force majeure” to be relieved of contractual obligations when events outside its control (natural disasters, wars…) have a major impact on its business – as with TotalEnergies in Mozambique.

Nevertheless, since its announcement in April 2021, the group has repeatedly insisted that under the right conditions, it will maintain the project and appears to be hinting at an impending return. For that to happen, TotalEnergies is asking the government to first provide locals with the security needed to launch cooperative development projects that would alleviate the causes of conflict. The company is also participating in this, like with the Pamoja Tunaweza initiative. As Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, recently declared, “When I see that life is back to normal, with State services and the population, then the project can start over,” and that “(t)he normalization of social life is part of security, it is not just a matter for the armed forces.”

High Hopes

When large reserves of natural gas were discovered in northern Mozambique between 2010 and 2013, a country plagued by civil war and poverty saw hope. Proven gas reserves for Mozambique of 2.8 trillion cubic meters place it third in Africa just behind Nigeria (5.4 tcm) and Algeria (4.3 tcm).

Late 2019, three consortiums of companies led by Eni, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies were awarded licenses to exploit the resources through offshore gas extraction and onshore LNG production. The discovery of gas, “…stirred anticipation nationwide of a windfall of economic and social benefits. The expected benefits included increased government revenue, industrial development, local employment, and relatively clean energy.” The country’s leaders hoped to see 55,000 skilled and 100,000 unskilled jobs created.

The entirety of the Mozambique LNG offshore project is expected to generate profits of US$60.8 billion with about half going to Mozambique. TotalEnergies promised thousands of jobs would go to locals and that project-related deals would give preference to Mozambican companies.

Ending a Vicious Circle

Instead, the project and the region have been stuck in a vicious circle. Because operations never really got started, the expected employment and benefits didn’t materialize and the site simply appeared deadweight for everyone. Plus, when local businesses lost customers and millions in revenues overnight as violence forced TotalEnergies to evacuate, people realized the project was vital to their economy.

While ExxonMobil and ENI now rely on a purely “offshore” solution, the best hope now for Cabo Delgado is for TotalEnergies’ Afungi site to resume operations so the project can actually start. This would create desperately needed jobs and finally generate profits for the country.

And TotalEnergies has been moving in that direction. Local workers laid off when the project was shutdown have recently been offered new contracts in community-related activities. Additionally, Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, signed an agreement with Mozambican authorities on January 31st, 2022 that would provide training for 2,500 young people from Cabo Delgado.

Local communities might blame the discovery of gas for current troubles, but it might also be what gets them the development they need. TotalEnergies’ security demands for reviving the project coupled with the government’s desire to collect revenues from gas exports could push Mozambican authorities to finally address problems that have long plagued Cabo Delgado.

Beyond Water and Light

Despite having declared force majeure in the spring of 2021 and shutting down its Afungi site, TotalEnergies has been working to bring stability so operations can resume and all stakeholders can benefit.

When the company joined the project in 2019 after buying the shares from American-owned Anadarko, it also inherited the initially limited approach to the human side of the project. Since then, the company has worked to bring a truly collaborative dimension to the project.

This new approach is best illustrated by Maxime Rabilloud, Country Chair of TotalEnergies in Mozambique. Upon delivery of the lighting poles and boreholes to Mocímboa da Praia, he explained:

“Months ago, I came here and saw that the city was empty. The Mayor was here and said: We need TotalEnergies’s help. Please, bring water and light. And then I thought: let’s do this together. For me, the delivery of the lighting poles and water is the most important thing we could do together. TotalEnergies and Mozambique LNG would like to be with you in this initiative [Pamoja Tunaweza].”

Bringing light and water to a town might seem small, but for residents, it is a first step towards rebuilding. Once security is ensured and “life is back to normal,” as Pouyanné says, the region might also start benefiting from its large natural gas reserves.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.