For several years, radical Islamists have been carrying out deadly raids in northern Mozambique. They sometimes venture into southern Tanzania. Their attacks kill hundreds of people and force tens of thousands to flee the region. Affiliated with the Islamic State, the Shabab managed to occupy the port of Mocimboa da Praia, with its 30,000 inhabitants, for almost a year and the town of Palma (75,000 inhabitants) for a month before being driven out. This move led to the withdrawal of the French group TotalEnergies, which was ready to invest several tens of billions of dollars in a very large gas project near the town of Palma. For a decade, Mozambique has been presented as a future gas Eldorado.
Since then, with the reinforcement of South African and Rwandan soldiers, the Mozambican army has regained ground. “The number of terrorist attacks has been reduced by three, from 52 to 160 in 2020,” said President Filipe Nyusi in December 2021. But the jihadists, estimated at between 300 and 1,500, remain established in the north of the country. Not only in the province of Cabo Delgado, but also in the neighbouring province of Niassa. “The Chabab’s momentum has not really been broken. There is a victorious discourse that does not correspond to the reality on the ground,” says Jasmine Opperman, an independent consultant on terrorism based in South Africa(1). Tanzania, which could also join the gas exporters’ club, is also affected by terrorism. A police station in the Mtwara region, 35 kilometres from the Mozambican border, was attacked by jihadists. According to US intelligence, the Islamic State of Mozambique’s emir, Abu Yasir Hassan, is a Tanzanian national.
Gas exploitation responsible for terrorism?
But this war is not only waged with weapons. It is being waged by environmental groups. Since 2018, they have been demanding a halt to gas exploitation in Mozambique. “This campaign is mainly led by Ilham Rawoot, a South African who presents herself as an independent journalist and researcher. In fact, she is an activist working for Qatar. Her writings are systematically taken up by Al-Jazeera,” points out Paulo Casaca, a former MEP and author of a study entitled “Jihad in Mozambique”, published by the School of Thought on Economic Warfare (2). Through the Mozambican NGO Justica Ambiental, which is part of the Friends of the Earth NGO network, Ilham Rawoot is multiplying alarmist reports to prove that gas projects in Mozambique are catastrophic for both the environment and local populations.
An article in the daily newspaper Ouest-France headlines: “In Mozambique, gas exploitation worsens the chaos”(3). The South African journalist explains that the local populations “are the first victims of the militarisation of the area for the benefit of the gas industry”. She attacks not only TotalEnergies, but also the banks that financed the gas project. Ilham Rawoot claims that gas exploitation in Mozambique could generate up to “seven years of greenhouse gas emissions from France”… Previously, on 7 March 2021, she co-signed a text on Al-Jazeera claiming that the gas company is outright responsible for terrorism. She asserts that local journalists who “report on the violence and their links to the multinational liquefied natural gas industry” are allegedly victims of “arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, torture and assaults committed by the Mozambican army and police since 2018”.
Of course, there is no denying that gas exploitation can be a source of pollution, that populations have undoubtedly been displaced and that the Mozambican regime is not a model of democracy. But why so much hatred? Especially since Qatar, a major gas producer itself, is most likely behind this campaign, with Ilham Rawoot being the author of virtually all the articles and studies, entitled: “Mozambique LNG destroys villages and environment”, “From gas eldorado to chaos”, “Banks look the other way on Mozambique’s gas fields bribes”. The report “Jihad in Mozambique” points out that this activist does not even hide her links to radical Islam. She writes on the blog of the Islamic Research Foundation International that “Sharia lawmaking should be strengthened in the Republic of South Africa”. She calls for a boycott of Israeli products and denounces India’s occupation of Kashmir.
“The result is that, believing they are defending a just environmental cause, the international press – in good faith – relays this tidal wave of accusations originally made by a single person. As the press does not read Portuguese, it misses the reports of journalists and the work of researchers in Mozambique,” laments Paulo Casaca, a former MEP from Portugal.
But why would Qatar try to block gas development in Mozambique? The Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a group of gas exporters, is forecasting slower growth in production. The findings of the report, which was released in February 2021, show an excess of supply over demand. This excess will obviously penalise supply. Is Doha, one of the world’s largest exporters, simply afraid of the possible arrival of Mozambique on the gas market?
In his study, Paulo Casaca states that the Chabab in Mozambique have links with those in Somalia, and therefore, at least indirectly, with Qatar and Turkey, which are very present in Mogadishu. While the majority of the jihadists are from Mocimboa de Praia and the neighbouring regions, women who have been enslaved and who have been able to escape tell of the presence of foreigners, Tanzanians, Somalis, but also Arabs and Asians. Jihad would not only serve to establish an Islamic state in Mozambique. It would also allow Qatar to maintain its opulence, by scuttling a future competitor in the gas market.
1- Laure Broulard, « Au Mozambique, la bataille sans fin contre les djihadistes », Le Monde, 22 December 2021.
2- Paulo Casaca, « Djihad au Mozambique. Acteurs, intérêts et perspectives », l’École de pensée sur la guerre économique, June 2021.
3- Au Mozambique, l’exploitation du gaz aggrave le chaos, Ouest-France, 28 March 2021.