Cabo Delgado insurgency a classic case of resource curse


The insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has been described as a classic case of resource curse, with the Mozambican government mainly addressing the insurgency in order to get liquid natural gas (LNG) companies to return to the area.

Senior researcher and project leader for Southern Africa at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Liesl Louw-Vaudran, at a recent defenceWeb event on countering the insurgency in Mozambique said there are many who believe Mozambique is affected by the resource curse. This is where a country underperforms economically in spite of being home to valuable natural resources, and is vulnerable to violence and instability as well as corruption.

Louw-Vaudran does not see clear evidence of Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) insurgents trying to occupy LNG sites or get control of natural gas resources. She believes the insurgents are motivated by a sense of injustice resulting from poor governance, neglect, and displacement due to mining – many residents of Cabo Delgado have been pushed off the land to make way for ruby mines. Economic marginalisation, poor governance, and greed are the main grievances the insurgents have.

Louw-Vaudran does not discount the role of LNG in the insurgency, but believes its main impact has been intensifying inequality in Mozambique, raising tensions and being used as a tool to promote and aggravate a sense of injustice amongst the population, which plays into the insurgents’ narrative.

Since the insurgency escalated in October 2017, around 3 000 people have been killed and 900 000 displaced. The attack on Palma in March 2021 was a key moment, as South Africa in particular realised it cannot afford to have such incidents occurring in the region. Several months later, South Africa and other regional countries sent troops to Cabo Delgado.

The SADC’s Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) was deployed in July 2021, around the same time Rwanda sent 1 000 troops to help Mozambique.

“I think there is political will to resolve the crisis so there is security so that LNG companies can return to Cabo Delgado,” Louw-Vaudran said. “This gives us some indication why the Southern African Development Community (SADC) deployment was accepted. Urgent solutions were needed to secure the Afungi Peninsula.”

Total, amongst other foreign companies, have major investments in Cabo Delgado. TotalEnergies, a subsidiary of Total, alone has a roughly R308 billion LNG project investment off the coast of northern Mozambique. Louw-Vaudran believes that as huge investments have already been made, it is hard for companies like Total to withdraw – the LNG industry is also a huge boost for Mozambique.

“There are lots of strong rumours that Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi was pressured by Total into accepting the intervention by Rwandan forces,” said Louw-Vaudran, adding that the French government denies giving any funding to the Rwandan forces.

“We still do not know exactly who is funding this [Rwandan deployment] and what is the payback for Rwanda. We know there are some economic links and agreements that have been signed between Rwanda and Mozambique but this is the big problem, the agreements are not transparent,” said Louw-Vaudran.

On 31 January, TotalEnergies and the Rwanda Development Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop collaboration on projects related to energies. A permanent representative office is being opened in Kigali.

Louw-Vaudran believes the long-term solution is for the Mozambican military to secure Cabo Delgado and then for the government to create employment and counter violent extremism. Addressing the root causes will not be a quick fix, however.