Mozambique is a small coastal nation in southeast Africa, north of South Africa and south of Tanzania that has become the most recent scene of Islamic terrorism developing and disrupting both the local economy and massive foreign investments to build a lucrative natural gas industry to supply local and export customers. Since 2019 the violence has increased to the point where most foreign natural gas operations have been shut down and neighboring countries have organized a peacekeeping force to restore order until local security forces are reformed and upgraded to do it themselves.
The Mozambique offshore natural gas fields up north in Cabo Delgado province halted their operation ashore in 2021 because of the growing violence. The unrest is not intense but it is widespread and persistent. The Islamic terrorists, most of them from outside the country, are not seeking to control territory but to disrupt economic activities. The purpose of this is to establish an environment where they can extort money from foreign firms This is a familiar pattern in Africa and experience has shown that making extortion payments makes the Islamic terrorists stronger and able to sustain themselves and grow stronger. The attacks are also expanding in the province and threatening existing mining operations.
Developing the extraction and export facilities for natural gas is expensive, complex and time consuming. The natural gas operation is managed by ExxonMobil and French firm Total. They are in the process of building onshore facilities for bringing natural gas from offshore natural gas fields to onshore LNG (liquid Natural Gas) facilities and a port for loading the very cold, but now liquid and concentrated, natural gas into special tankers that carry the 13 million tons of LNG a year to foreign markets. Demand, and the price for LNG has risen this year because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and European customers for Russian natural gas sharply reducing their imports from Russia. European nations are making this permanent and the only natural gas replacement available on short notice is LNG. Egypt is the major customer for imported LNG but several African countries in West Africa and South Africa are using more natural gas and that’s why South Africa has been a major contributor to troops to keep the peace in Cabo Delgado province. Other neighboring nations are also contributing troops. It’s a matter of self-interest, and preventing the Islamic terrorists activity from spreading to their territory.
LNG is still being shipped from offshore natural gas fields. A second, smaller (3.4 million tons a year) effort called Coral South and operated by Italian firm Eni, took a different, more expensive, approach and used floating LNG production and a loading platform. The Eni effort was not disrupted by the recent violence in Cabo Delgado province and is on schedule to begin LNG exports this year. Encouraged by that, Eni is building a second offshore platform that will begin LNG shipments in four years. Other firms, like South African SASOL, are handing local pipelines for overland export, mainly to South Africa but also to other neighboring countries as well as within Mozambique. Those pipelines are vulnerable to Islamic terrorist attack
Since 2010 natural gas related activity has grown in northern Mozambique. This meant more business for local firms and jobs for people in the area. That attracted the attention of criminal gangs in Mozambique and throughout East Africa. The current Mozambique government is something of a political gang itself, which is common in Africa and many other parts of the world. Local expectations soon exceeded reality so gangsters and the usual corrupt incompetent local politicians took advantage of this. They were joined by Islamic terrorists from other parts of East Africa where there are larger Moslem populations.
In Africa, there tend to be fewer Moslems the further south you go and eventually the majorities are Christian or ancient local religions. Mozambique, with 30 million people, is 20 percent Moslem and 60 percent Christian. Cabo Delgado is the only province with a Moslem majority.
To the north, Tanzania, with 56 million people, is 35 percent Moslem. You don’t encounter a Moslem majority nation until you reach Somalia, which is currently the source of most of the Islamic terrorist activity in East Africa. For that reason, it was Somali Islamic terrorists who were attracted to northern Mozambique and played a role in creating some of the local Islamic terrorist groups. Some of these new groups borrowed names from existing Somali groups like al Shabaab for the new Mozambique terror groups. The Somalis included local chapters of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). In Somalia the Islamic terrorists are almost all locals and are taking a beating from AU (African Union) peacekeepers, the new Somali army and local militias. Over the last decade a growing number of veteran Somali Islamic terrorists have left Somali looking for a less lethal environment for themselves and their families. Some showed up in northern Mozambique and spoke or preached in favor of Islamic terrorism, but did not try to organize new groups because these exiles would be quickly identified, arrested or killed and end up in prison or in some other nation. This has been a common pattern for three decades and what made it easy for Islamic terrorism to develop quickly in Mozambique once there was something valuable enough to steal in the name of defending Islam.
Mozambique now realizes that the LNG bonanza won’t happen unless the gas LNG producing areas are safe and secure for foreign as well as local workers. Neighboring countries planning to be customers for the natural gas also have a very real interest in a peaceful Cabo Delgado province. Despite over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence in Somalia, a stable government was recently achieved in part by suppressing most of the Islamic terrorist activity.
Currently work on the onshore LNG facilities is stalled and restarting work cannot take place until the area is safe. If that happens in the next year or two, onshore LNG shipments won’t begin until 2025 at the earliest. It’s up to Mozambique, currently rated as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, to overcome its past of civil wars, corruption and general inability to keep the peace. They have a major incentive, but often that is not enough.