This full withdrawal has placed a large question mark over the future of the $60-billion project to tap Mozambique’s vast Rovuma Basin offshore gas reserves which it is counting on for its future development.
Total had announced a partial withdrawal after insurgents affiliated to Islamic State overran Palma last week. But French officials and security sources in Mozambique told Daily Maverick that Total had now pulled the last of its personnel out on Friday. This followed a resurgence of jihadi violence this week, including an attack on the command post of the Joint Task Force of government security forces between Palma and Afungi, about 12 kilometres southeast. This is the force assigned to defend Afungi.
Total’s complete withdrawal had left the defence of Afungi – and the future development of Rovuma Basin gas-fields – to the Mozambique government security forces.
These forces have so far shown themselves inadequate to the task and their capabilities appear to have been significantly diminished by the withdrawal from the battle this weekend of the South African private security company Dyck Advisory Group. (DAG)
DAG’s small helicopters gunships have been providing air support to the Mozambique ground forces for a year and seem to have prevented the insurgents from making even greater gains. Over the last week, they were very active in Palma, helping to escort locals and expatriate contractors to safety by firing on insurgents from the air and also rescuing over 200 stranded individuals.
DAG’s one year contract expires on April 6 and it tried to negotiate an extension of at least three months but Maputo refused to budge. So the outfit was due to fly its last sortie on Friday – still battling insurgents in Palma – and then to leave after a few days.
The Mozambique government has hired or bought three similar Gazelle light helicopters and three larger Russian helicopter gunships from other sources including the South African arms company Paramount which is training Mozambican pilots to fly at least the Gazelles. But the pilots do not seem ready for combat yet and so security analysts believe there will be a security vacuum now – which the insurgents might very well fill.
There is some speculation that the Mozambique government’s refusal to renew DAG’s contract may have been a factor in Total’s decision to pull out on Friday. Daily Maverick approached the company’s spokesperson in Mozambique for confirmation of its withdrawal and the reasons why but has not received a reply.