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Another Angola? Civil society protests against gas extraction in Mozambique

 

By Kate Symons (Geography, University of Edinburgh)

 

In June 2015, a civil society coalition took US oil and gas company Anadarko to court in Mozambique over the planned relocation of around 5,000 people on the Afungi Peninsula, in the north of the country.  The “new scramble for Africa” described by Carmody (2011:1) is in full swing in Mozambique, fuelled by mega-projects in coal, industry and agri-business. This is the uneven development of late capitalism embodied in securitised enclaves of giant coal projects, and enormous tracts of land transferred from peasant farmers to trans-national agri-business in contested land deals. The case of Anadarko versus civil society is the latest example of growing contestation against what is increasingly perceived as land grabbing by corporate and state interests.

In 2012, Anadarko and partners discovered 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the coastal waters of Cabo Delgado, reported as “enough fuel to build the world’s second-largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant”.

Location of gas finds off the coast of Northern Mozambique

Location of gas finds off the coast of Northern Mozambique

 

This find is set to transform Mozambique into a major exporter of LNG. Anadarko has proposed a large hyper-modern LNG plant, comprising extraction unit, gas pipelines, processing, storage and marine export facilities, accommodation for several hundreds of workers, an airport and administration quarters on a 7,000 acre facility site on the Afungi Peninsula.

Areas operated by foreign oil and gas companies Anadarko and ENI

Areas operated by foreign oil and gas companies Anadarko and ENI

Media reports suggest this will be “the largest private investment in Mozambican history”, estimated at US$20 billion. However, the plans include the resettlement of multiple communities and have been deeply contested. Activists and communities allege that government officials failed to follow legal procedures, that public consultation had not been adequate, that communities were denied fair compensation for loss of land access, that community representative signatures were falsified on minutes of meetings that were later cited by Anadarko as proving consent for the proposals, and that Anadarko and local state police harassed activists and paralegals (including the arrest and detention of prominent activist Alda Salomão). These allegations run counter to Anadarko’s claims to be running a legitimate resettlement process, and demonstrate the level of mistrust between communities and the LNG project.

The controversy culminated in a legal challenge heard in the national courts in June 2015. Though the case found that Anadarko’s land rights were legitimate, activists still claimed this as a significant victory. One told me: “What we have now is the locals sabotaging things. So there’s no shortcuts here, sorry!” Significant material benefits were gained as a direct result of this contestation. Anadarko offered a large resettlement package of $180m USD to affected communities, US$36,000 for every villager, along with greater consultation and commitment to support local jobs and businesses. However, the government has responded with increasing authoritarianism, characterising activists as unpatriotic and against development (as one activist put it, they are framed as “working against development, fighting against those fighting poverty”). According to a local organisation, the harassment of activists continues and community dissatisfaction is reportedly growing over the perceived imposition of state and company will against local needs.  

This episode reveals several things about protest against capitalist projects in 21st Century Mozambique.

1.       There are new opportunities to protest

Many things have conspired to produce the particular form of engagement between the state, Anadarko and Afungi communities. Gas flows along similar physical and capital networks to oil. Oil is known for producing enclaves and clientelism in Africa. Donors and activists are explicitly drawing on this history - Mozambique becoming “another Angola”, as one donor put it to me, must be avoided. Consequently, new entrants into the LNG market are subject to greater scrutiny. In addition, Mozambique has a strong land law which protects informal community rights (although, like many laws in Mozambique this has often been stronger on paper than in practice). The scrutiny of natural resources, combined with strong legal protection for community rights, and the material support of donors who want civil society to be a watchdog for the extractives sector has created an opportunity for activists to mobilise international discourses of liberal governmentality. They have deliberately spoken in the language of rights, transparency and legal process, proactively using social and mainstream media and liberal legal institutions to highlight the gap between the commitments of the state and Anadarko against their actions.

2.       Forms of protest are rooted in the past

Mozambicans have often had to be persuaded into adopting and exercising (performing?) civil rights. They were not afforded many democratic opportunities by the Portuguese, and the revolutionary Frelimo government had to work hard to construct a notion of national consciousness – as one former government minister put it to me, “we were building a state out of a colony”. This language of persuasion is often reflected in the engagement between communities and their civil society spokespeople, who go to great lengths to convince local people of their rights, claiming to be acting in the communities’ own interests. Additionally, the central role of donors in driving this transparency agenda can be traced to Mozambique’s post-conflict dependence on external aid.

3.       Visions for development in Mozambique are contested

The legitimacy of mega-project development is being fought around ideas of the ‘national interest’. Those who oppose the LNG plant are painted as unpatriotic, an accusation also used to disparage protesters elsewhere in Mozambique (despite Frelimo government members accused of acting in their own rather than the national interest in early negotiations with Anadarko). This presents dilemmas for donors, who support civil society in acting as a watchdog for the extractive industry whilst also supporting extractives, and civil society, as they are sometimes accused of manipulating communities to drive their own anti-government, pro-democracy agendas.

Civil society is certainly growing in importance, capability and visibility. But, given that the LNG plant is going ahead, is this really victory? Have communities effectively been bought off? Gas extraction in Mozambique is becoming increasingly urgent due to competition from Iran, and it appears companies are willing to do whatever it takes to secure community compliance.

 

This blog post draws on Kate Symons' forthcoming paper 'Transnational spaces, hybrid governance and civil society contestation in Mozambique’s gas boom', published in the Extractive Industries & Society journal.