Global North ‘climate reparations’ to prevent Southern fossil-fuel conflict

Mozambique’s gas curse, Islamic insurgency, imperial-sub imperial capital accumulation and a climate-just alternative to international military intervention

19 August 2021 by Patrick Bond

The climate crisis is amplified by socio-political and economic injustices everywhere but in 2021, perhaps nowhere as acutely as northern Mozambique. There, the Cabo Delgado province is a site for military intervention against Islamic insurgents, by local and regional armies (from the Southern African Development Community and Rwanda), backed by mainly South African mercenaries as well as European and U.S. armies. If successful, the main beneficiary will be Big Oil firms, which seek to extract 165 trillion cubic feet of offshore gas. But this too is a site where the region’s most extreme cyclone barreled down in 2019 (in the wake of severe droughts), as a result of higher temperatures in the Mozambique Channel. On the one hand, the overarching narrative promoted by media and intervention advocates, is that oil companies – Total (France), ExxonMobil (U.S.), ENI (Italy), Galp (Portugal), the China National Petroleum Corporation, Sasol (South Africa) and others – will provide Foreign Direct Investment, infrastructure, gas revenues, jobs and GDP growth to develop Mozambique’s impoverished northern-most province. On the other, a growing network of anti-intervention and climate activists suggest this is a recipe for disaster, and instead demand that reparations for the Global North’s “climate debt” must be invoked as an alternative source of income, that ordinary residents of Cabo Delgado should be the appropriate recipients through direct cash transfers to limit state corruption, and that the gas be left unexploited to avoid further climate chaos. The case is one of the most urgent to consider, en route to identifying a climate justice geopolitics that transcends scales and spaces.

Prospects for climate justice are worsening in part because, in spite of intensified consciousness and rhetoric about the need to keep temperature increases to 1.5C this century and in the process leave most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels unexploited, there is a growing unevenness in the scales and spaces of climate politics. There is a growing realization – in part thanks to Greta Thunberg’s (2020) frank analysis – that elites have failed when it comes to:

  • implementing appropriate global policy, addressing not only greenhouse gas emission cuts but also reparations (“climate debt”) owed climate victims for loss and damage;
  • embracing regional unity among subaltern countries, as a result of negotiator divisions, especially between a sub-imperial layer and the poorer countries;
  • adopting national mitigation and adaptation plans, conscious of internal inequality; and
  • halting local fossil fuel extraction and promoting “Just Transitions” away from high-carbon economics, often in sites of frequent socio-ecological-political-economic conflict.

These difficulties – as well as potential resistances from climate activists – are explicitly evident in Mozambique, one of the world’s lowest-income countries and also among the most climate-vulnerable (Reliefweb 2021). From 2000-19, only four others (Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti and the Philippines) suffered worse damage, culminating in 2019 with two Category 5 cyclones: “Idai” and “Kenneth”. The latter reached 225 kph wind speed when it hit the northern province of Cabo Delgado, the first time a major cyclone had made landfall that far north. Kenneth killed at least 45 people immediately, destroyed more than 45,000 houses and 55,000 hectares of crops (in the midst of the harvesting season), and left 374,000 people displaced (United Nations 2019). But Cabo Delgado’s deep structural problems date back much further.

Mozambique’s contemporary injustices partly reflect the extreme mode of Portuguese settler colonialism that ended in 1975, only after a decade-long liberation war. After at least 10,000 deaths of mainly black combatants and civilians, the struggle was won by the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo), following a left-wing army coup in Portugal a year earlier. In Lisbon, dissidents were motivated in part by backlash costs associated with the country’s colonial oppression in Africa (including also Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau). But with white-settler regimes neighbouring Mozambique to the south and west, Frelimo was not given room for manœuvre. The subsequent 17 years witnessed civil war between Frelimo and Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Renamo), initially sponsored by Ian Smith’s Rhodesian regime prior to Zimbabwe’s 1980 liberation, and then for a dozen years by the apartheid regime in South Africa. [1] Although still disputed, the Pretoria regime is also held responsible for the assassination of Mozambique’s founding president, Samora Machel, in a 1986 airplane crash.

After peace was achieved in 1992, economic recovery appeared to move quickly, for Mozambique became an aid industry and Bretton Woods Institution poster child, achieving GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
increases of 6 to 12 percent annually from 2000-15. Yet Frelimo’s original anti-colonial search for genuine democracy and economic justice was hijacked and derailed, replaced by the kind of neo-patrimonial class formation Frantz Fanon (1963) had predicted in Wretched of the Earth. Factors preventing genuine economic development include the country’s persistently weak productive base, periodic foreign debt crises, the loss of a major cash-crop processing industry – cashew nuts – due to World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

-imposed liberalization, widespread resource cursing (e.g. by mining houses Rio Tinto, Vale and Coal of India, and by Chinese timber interests), and the commodity supercycle’s collapse in 2015 which especially hurt coal.

The state also relied in part on mega-projects to generate not just high GDP growth but also backward-forward linkages, but these were notable failures, especially the Brazilian-Japanese ProSAVANA corporate agriculture strategy and the Mozal aluminium smelter mainly run by BHP Billiton (Mosca and Selemane 2012, Castel-Branco 2014, Garcia and Kato 2015). Frelimo’s predatory economic activities were also debilitating, including arranging a secret $2.2 billion loan in 2013 for a non-existent tuna fishing fleet. Corruption in that deal implicated both national political leaders – including current president Filipe Nyusi, former president Armando Guebuza and especially former finance minister Manuel Chang – as well as Zurich and Moscow bankers and a Lebanese boat dealer. All these factors contributed to systemic underdevelopment, but the overall location of Mozambique in the regional and world economies – as a site primarily for cash-crop, and later mineral and metal exports and manufactured imports – was not beneficial given how difficult it was to ensure surpluses were shared fairly and circulated locally.

The resource-rich province of Cabo Delgado, where Nyusi was born and raised, is the most obvious case. Although it was the original site for Frelimo’s military struggle against Portuguese colonial rule given its border location with Tanzania, the province’s location at the other end of the country from the capital Maputo left it under-resourced by a desperately poor state after 1975. Economic prospects and social relations were hugely complicated over the past decade by renewed state and military malgovernance, and by ruby mining (especially by a South African firm), timber exports (by Chinese exporters) and gas processing by transnational corporations. Infrastructure built at the Afungi Peninsula, first by U.S.-based Anadarko and then the French firm Total after 2019, displaced more than a thousand households (local farmers and residents) and 3000 fisherfolk (Wiegink 2020). The Afungi facility threatened further oceanic disruption what with dredging, waste disposal and construction, as research by Ilham Rawoot (2020) of Friends of the Earth Mozambique/Justiça Ambiental (JA!) revealed:
The project will produce a large amount of greenhouse gases and sulphur dioxide, introduce new species into the sea, and cause soil erosion. There are growing fears that gas drilling will affect biodiversity in the area, especially the Quirimbas Archipelago, a Unesco biosphere… home to 3,000 floral species, 447 bird species, eight species of marine mammals, as well as lions, elephants, buffalo and leopards.

On top of “extractivist” damage – in the forms of uncompensated socio-economic deprivation and local ecological destruction – both periodic droughts and major storms hit the province hard in recent years. In April 2019, Cyclone Kenneth proved severely damaging to the built environment and agriculture, and partly as a result of heightened climate consciousness, a new form of regional and international popular solidarity advocacy emerged, especially from Johannesburg, Lisbon and London, promoted by JA!, the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network and allies. Nevertheless, by mid-2021 the movement had not achieved substantial grounding at the site of struggle, Cabo Delgado, due to the difficulty the main NGOs and social movement networks faced in the war zone. There, humanitarian refugee support was of increasing urgency by mid-2021, as the numbers of displaced reached 800,000 of the province’s 2.3 million residents, and as the war zone heated up.

Reducing the uneven development and addressing the climate catastrophe while negotiating complex divisions of labor between spaces and scales is of great strategic importance, but – as shown below in the course of analyzing narratives associated with resource curses, military intervention and climate catastrophe – it is best not left to the mainstream commentators whose militarist orientation and fossil fuel fixations are contributing to the crisis. Along with the opaque politics of Islamic insurgents, three advocacy standpoints emerged:

  • militarists believed in a rapid military intervention by both regional and Western armed forces – bringing Mozambique’s army up to a much higher level of fighting capacity – so as to restore gas production as soon as possible;
  • centrists argued for armed intervention but with more attention to underlying socio-economic injustices and emergency relief needs; and
  • solidarity activists, pacificists and environmentalists insisted there should be no military intervention on behalf of Big Oil, but instead, a climate debt paid to the people of Cabo Delgado and Mozambique (directly, without state predation), in part so as to justify leaving the gas unexploited.

To assess the strengths and weaknesses of each, requires first, background analysis of the area and its particular climate-crisis experiences.

Source: Total

The promised gas boom and the Al-Shabab backlash

The coming months and years will challenge the contending forces in Cabo Delgado to confront an enormous problem: vast deposits of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) – potentially the world’s fourth largest gas field – lie in the Rovuma Basin within the Mozambique Channel, stretching 100 kilometers offshore. Multinational oil corporations showed interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. in the field once exploration by Lonrho’s petroleum subsidiary began in 1998. The firm’s early start partly reflected a major political investment by former chief executive Tiny Rowland in the early 1990s which contributed to the cessation of the Frelimo-Renamo civil war. Although Lonrho was overtaken by Anadarko (then based in Houston) – whose discovery of more gas deposits in 2010 led to a successful drill and rapid production in 2012 – the major gas field closest to shore was eventually sold to Total in 2019 as Anadarko managed a takeover by Occidental.

While the Rovuma Basin contains at least 165 trillion cubic feet of gas, extraction is difficult given the “ultra-deepwater” conditions in the Mozambique Channel, and the slow pace of building onshore infrastructure that can withstand both severe storms and the threat of guerrilla attack. Yet as David Figueira Bourton (2020) reported,

The Mozambican government hoped that the discovery of natural gas reserves would prove to be a critical juncture for the country in attracting new foreign direct investment, and trickle-down job creation to bring about economic prosperity in poorer regions of the country. According to the UN Environment, construction of the new natural gas projects is estimated to create more than 700,000 jobs by 2035, and add $39 billion to the economy in the next twenty years.

By 2022, anticipated annual LNG production would have been more than 30 million tons (mt), led by Total with 13 mt and ExxonMobil with 15 mt, followed by Rome-based Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI) with 3.4 mt. Consortium partners in the various drills were to have included the Mozambican state oil company Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos (ENH), China National Petroleum Corporation, Galp Energia from Lisbon and the Korea Gas Corporation, Kogas. [2] By 2014, plans had even been laid for an “African Renaissance Pipeline” to transport the LNG 1600km from the Afungi Peninsula of Cabo Delgado to the Johannesburg area, although when in 2017 the insurgency began, it appeared too risky to implement. [3]

Number of attacks per week (2020-21) and locations of Cabo Delgado attacks (2021)

Source: United Nations 2019

Yet arguments have continued for such a pipeline, and remain central to the potential for the South African government and corporates to fuse their interests in a classical “sub-imperial” mode, as originally theorised by Ruy Mauro Marini (1972). In this sense, Pretoria’s “deputy sheriff” duties – both for multinational corporate and self-interest – remind of the way sub-imperialism has been identified as vital to reproducing the world economy (Garcia, Borba and Bond Bond A bond is a stake in a debt issued by a company or governmental body. The holder of the bond, the creditor, is entitled to interest and reimbursement of the principal. If the company is listed, the holder can also sell the bond on a stock-exchange. 2021). Local underdevelopment in sites like Cabo Delgado is not an aberration, given the adverse power relations. Indeed by all accounts (aside from the Mozambican government’s), the insurgency reflects decades of pent-up frustration at systemic economic oppression, as well as the area’s centuries-old ties to Islamic traders and a majority Muslim population in the province. In 2018 Nyusi dismissed his Cabo Delgado critics as merely “a group of malefactors, allegedly with religious or social motivation” (Nhamire 2018). Indeed the Al-Shabab (‘youth’) movement – also called Ahlu Sunnah wa Jamaa – apparently developed relations with East African coastline Islamic State (ISIS) forces, a network strongest in Somalia but with affiliates further south in Kenya and Tanzania. In March 2021 the U.S. State Department formally designated Al-Shabab a “terrorist” organization.

The first economic implications of the revolt were delays in finalizing onshore infrastructure 25 km south of the small city of Palma, at Total’s Afungi Peninsula facility. The initial fighting in the province compelled a retreat by Total, which was in the process of investing $20 billion at Afungi. There, by 2020, first Anardarko and then Total had built a substantial dock, a light airplane landing strip, a massive LNG processing facility and both a typical enclave elite housing development and a massive township for lower-skilled workers. The 800 Mozambican army troops guarding the facility stayed put during much of the early-2021 guerrilla fighting, venturing out from their safe Afungi base at times. But after the insurgent attacks subsided, the troops emerged to commit human rights violations and blatant criminality (Amnesty International 2021, Hanlon 2021a). At that point, in mid-2021, Total declared force majeure so as to cancel contracts with suppliers and builders, mainly affecting South African firms.

The Al-Shabab insurgency was sporadic but had apparently attracted an estimated thousand militants by 2020, and there were accounts of a few ‘foreign fighters’ (some with lighter skins) joining local residents. Al-Shabab’s vicious tactics of disruption mainly affected local Cabo Delgado residents. In addition to massive displacement of residents, several thousand deaths were estimated to have occurred at the hands of both Al-Shabab and the Mozambican military. Through mid-2021, the insurgents expressed a distinct lack of interest in negotiating or even articulating concrete demands, aside from the imposition of Sharia law and closure of secular schools (The Economist 2020a). They terrorized the area, with unpredictable attacks across the province numbering from 1-24 per week. Total had attempted to restart operations from January-March 2021 but the attack on Palma led to renewed shutdown at Afungi. ExxonMobil and ENI were opaque regarding their plans. In mid-2021 Galp also announced a withdrawal (Reuters 2021).

Labeling Cabo Delgado a religious battleground would be inaccurate, and the Islamic character of the revolt should not distract from a deeper reality: sustained local anger at resource looting and underdevelopment, beginning with hardwood timber, sand and ruby mining, with no regard for local interests (Valoi 2016). As a result, sometimes the rebellion targets high-placed government officials, sometimes leading civilians, sometimes simply those in harm’s way, and sometimes women who are kidnapped and sexually abused. The Economist (2020a) traces Al-Shabab’s origins to 2013. Its first attack in October 2017 was on the Mocimboa da Praia police station, where allegedly a young man had been unjustly imprisoned. According to the country’s leading English-language journalist, Joe Hanlon (2021a), “Of course religion plays a role in the war. Most, but not all, of the insurgents are Muslim and the original organisers are from Cabo Delgado, including local fundamentalist Muslim preachers.”

A small insurgency of this type worried regional leaders and fossil fuel industry employees once small towns in the province were repeatedly occupied and then abandoned by the insurgents. In August 2020, insurgents demonstrated a dramatic increase in capacity by killing at least 55 Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique (FADM) troops. Al-Shabab fighters then settled in [4] Mocimboa da Praia, sinking an FADM boat in the harbour and setting fire to Chinese-owned businesses, including sawmills. The town, 200km north of the provincial capital of Pemba, was too far away to allow for the refueling required for its defense by the army or its mercenaries.

However, until March 2021, the insurgents had stayed away from the gas processing area more than 80km north of Mocimboa da Praia. Then, a well-coordinated surprise attack on Palma created a new power dynamic that threw the gas extraction into question. From March 24-28, for the first time, insurgents murdered local and foreign contractors working on Total’s gas-processing infrastructure, with several dozen confirmed dead in Palma, including at the expat-oriented Amarula Hotel [5] After the attack ended, the Mozambican army redeployed some of the troops protecting Afungi Peninsula to Palma. There, witnesses told the media (including the New York Times), undisciplined and underpaid FADM troops also engaged in widescale looting, including blowing up international bank buildings and Automatic Teller Machines, as well as other human rights violations (Hanlon 2021b, Selemane 2021, Willis et al 2021).

What had still not (by then) come to the attention of the world, however, was background information associated with fossil fuel combustion in Cabo Delgado itself. The province was already a site of climate catastrophe, in which social inequality was being rapidly reshaped by the differential impacts of the gas boom: benefits flowing to those involved in extraction – with its potent methane from leakage, flaring and combustion – on the one hand, and victims of severe weather, cyclones and droughts on the other.

Cabo Delgado’s amplified cyclone and drought seasons

The scales of socio-economic and environmental justice had long been weighed, heavily, against ordinary people in Cabo Delgado. But the Palma attack was a moment when the stakes were raised to a new level, inviting a myriad of commentators and also kickstarting regional solidarity, including awareness of climate connections. Cabo Delgado residents had, after all, suffered Cyclone Kenneth in April 2019, a storm of unprecedented force on the East African coast, peaking at 225 kph wind speed. Kenneth destroyed an estimated 35,000 houses in Cabo Delgado alone, but state assistance and the aid industry failed to match the loss and damage (since this was the second storm within a month), generally providing Mozambicans only a quarter of what was needed to recover. Far less was available in the distant, hard-to-reach far north. Insurance against storms in such settings is rare, with the Global South having only insured 4 percent of its 2019 climate-related damage, compared to 60 percent insurance in the Global North (Christian Aid 2019). The Cabo Delgado wreckage caused by Cyclone Kenneth – including damaged roads and other state infrastructure – remained unrepaired, aside from the rebuilding of ports, telecommunications and electricity lines needed for enclaves like the Afungi Peninsula.

The climate crisis has been bearing down on northern Mozambique but was experienced with even more ferocity in the middle of the country in March 2019. Cyclone Idai had travelled first into Mozambique up to southern Malawi, and then out again, returning to flatten 80 percent of the country’s second largest city, Beira, before hitting Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, leaving more than 1000 dead. Most curiously, the cyclone had returned to the Mozambique Channel to gather more force, a phenomenon never before observed. There were much higher seawater temperatures in the Mozambique Channel, well above the 26.5°C typically required to generate weather systems hospitable for cyclones sustaining their strength. [6] In 2021, Cyclone Jobo followed, generating winds at nearly 100kph. Jobo then moved further north into Tanzania, which was also highly unusual since the earth rotation’s contribution to cyclone strength closer to the equator was typically much lower than in the tropics, further south. Now, warned climate scientists Declan Finney, Hellen Msemo and John Marsham (2018), “Once-a-century extreme sea-level events, which can result from these storm surges, could strike the East African coastline every year by 2050.”

Southern Africa has also suffered intense droughts in the recent period. Cape Town faced what was termed a “Day Zero” emergency in 2018 when water supplies were anticipated to collapse entirely (though rain ultimately broke the drought in the nick of time). Other sections of South Africa also suffered devastating dry spells, including the fifth largest city (Gqebera) in 2019-21 and the Western and Northern Cape regions. And in Mozambique, just as Cyclone Kenneth hit in April 2019, drought had also caused an agricultural crisis south of Palma. Also in 2019, as Cyclone Idai pounded the center of the country, killing more than 600 Mozambicans (over 1000 overall), areas to the north in Tete and to the south near Maputo were affected by drought.

Global climate risk (darker are higher-risk countries; gray signifies no official data available)

Source: Reliefweb 2021

The weather continued to reveal the erratic character of the climate crisis. By late 2019, Victoria Falls – the best-known landmark within the vital Zambezi River catchment (on the Zimbabwe-Zambezi border) – had “dried to a trickle” due to the worst drought in a century, leaving Lake Kariba at 15 percent capacity and Zimbabwe facing severe hydroelectricity shortages. The region as a whole counted 45 million people suffering food insecurity (Reuters 2019). Cyclone-induced flooding in Mozambique, added to the sustained drought elsewhere, left the country as the world’s most adversely climate-affected in 2019. The severity that year was so great that as a result, Mozambique ranked fifth in the world for the first two decades of the 21st century (Reliefweb 2021) (Figures). Moreover, all these instances of climate crisis were anticipated to worsen considerably in coming decades. Hanlon (2021c) was the first influential analyst to link climate threats and Cabo Delgado’s fossil fuels:
Banks, the gas industry, and Mozambique leaders whistle in the dark and desperately hope that governments do not agree to meet the 1.5 degree climate crisis target and that all the gas will still be sold. But as the gas window closes on climate change grounds and the costs rise due to the insurgency, the likely income for the Mozambique government and the Frelimo elite gets smaller and recedes further into the future.

For that reason, he continued, “it seems unlikely that ExxonMobil will go ahead with its repeatedly delayed part of the project.” Hanlon (2021c) concluded, “the worst case scenario is that Mozambique is turned into Afghanistan to produce gas to create worse droughts in South Africa. The best case is that instead of sending troops, the outsiders create tens of thousands of jobs, but the gas is not developed. The war stops and much worse cyclones are avoided” (emphasis added). Before considering how that best case might be achieved, consider the standpoint of those arguing, in contrast, on behalf of sending troops from South Africa and other countries to intervene, even if it means creating a new Afghanistan-type conflagration.

Sub imperial-militarist lobbyists downplay dangers of self-harm

An anonymous analyst at the Texas-based political consultancy Stratfor – a firm referred to by Barrons as a “shadow Central Intelligence Agency” (Laing 2001) but whose main database was exposed by WikiLeaks in 2012 – assessed South Africa’s long-term sub-imperialist fusion of economic interests and regional military prowess:
South Africa’s history is driven by the interplay of competition and cohabitation between domestic and foreign interests exploiting the country’s mineral resources. Despite being led by a democratically-elected government, the core imperatives of South Africa remain: maintenance of a liberal regime that permits the free flow of labor and capital to and from the southern Africa region, and maintenance of a superior security capability able to project into south-central Africa. (Stratfor 2009)

Over the subsequent decade, SANDF capacities deteriorated substantially even as it was called into service in several African missions. As described below, the army’s performances in south-central Africa – as well as at home – left much to be desired. Nevertheless, both before and after 1994, and especially in 2021, SANDF’s supporters include a highly-vocal, well-connected militarist lobby Lobby
A lobby is an entity organized to represent and defend the interests of a specific group by exerting pressure or influence on persons or institutions that hold power. Lobbying consists in conducting actions aimed at influencing, directly or indirectly, the drafting, application or interpretation of legislative measures, standards, regulations and more generally any intervention or decision by the Public Authorities.
, the vast majority of which is white and upper middle-class in race-class terms. Some are consultants to the local Military Industrial Complex, though this is rarely disclosed in public commentary. Many contemporary security operatives and promoters of subimperial extractivism date to apartheid-era service (and indeed many are male with Afrikaner surnames and served in the military prior to 1994). In their analyses of the 2017-21 Cabo Delgado war theatre, there was only occasional, slight hesitation by subimperial-inclined think tanks, journalists and commentators when making the case for armed intervention. Some, like the International Crisis Group, were somewhat more reserved, i.e., requesting both military and humanitarian aid, and suggesting more sophisticated relations with ex-colonial or other imperialist countries’ armed forces. Most of the commentariat, though, proved unable to grasp the human costs of war, were uncritical of multinational corporate arrangements with Mozambican elites, exhibited no climate consciousness (either of cause or effect) and were, finally, subtly Islamophobic.

The advocates of militarism were given an opening in mid-2020 when South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor established Pretoria’s subimperial agenda in no uncertain terms. Pandor (2020, 12) testified in parliament that a “great opportunity exists for South Africa to import natural gas from Mozambique, thus the security of Cabo Delgado is of great interest to South Africa and her energy diversification strategy. South Africa’s security agencies need to enhance their capacity.” As discussed below, that strengthening wasn’t likely to happen under conditions of austerity over the subsequent seven months, and indeed capacity to purchase equipment and sustain personnel fell much more rapidly as a result of Treasury’s 2020-21 budget cuts, as well as a surprise mid-2021 deployment when the SANDF policed sites of unrest within KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces during a week of rioting and widespread looting.

Nevertheless, the potential that South Africa would benefit from Cabo Delgado gas allowed war-drumming to thump ever more loudly throughout the most influential local media in 2021, periodically amplified by Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s comments favoring import of Mozambican gas (Omarjee 2021). The beat emanated most consistently from South Africa’s two main metropolitan areas, home to the Pretoria-Midrand-Johannesburg elite-regionalist intelligentsia (foreign policy specialists, scholars, journalists and researchers), and the Stellenbosch-Cape Town military-strategic zone (with Potchefstroom an important Old School outlier). [7] This network represents South Africa’s version of “laptop bombardiers.” [8] These analysts advance the argument made by Pandor (2020), namely that if South Africa’s state managers consider the Rovuma Basin gas “of great interest” for an “energy diversification strategy,” then a corresponding logic is that “security agencies need to enhance their capacity.”

The most prolific military commentator in Africa, long-serving Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent Helmut Heitman, made a similar energy-security case in 2021: it is “purely selfish self-interest for us to try and stabilise at least our region” with a SANDF intervention, in part because of the insurgency’s potential to “place at risk Cahora Bassa hydroelectric power station. It places at risk the gas fields from which we now draw gas. In fact if you look longer term, we need the gas fields in Cabo Delgado as well, because the gas fields we now use [i.e. Sasol’s offshore central Mozambique, at Temane-Pande] are running down” (SA Broadcasting Corporation 2021). To illustrate the upgraded security required for transferring gas from Cabo Delgado, the proposed African Renaissance Pipeline to Johannesburg was greeted with enthusiasm in the mid-2010s, although it became a pipe dream once the insurgency began. [9] Yet the main opposition party militarist, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister for Defence Kobus Marais, stressed precisely such direct importation (i.e. by pipeline not ship) when speaking to Cape Talk a few days after the Palma attack:
South Africa most certainly do have a direct interest in what is happening in Cabo Delgado. There are South African mining companies that is operating officially with all the necessary authority in that area. It is rich in minerals and gemstones and then obviously the whole LNG industry. South Africa has got major investments in terms of construction, providing construction material, maintenance, etc there. Also remember we are already getting LNG from Mozambique to Sasol. And then there is the possibility of getting something like that directly to Gauteng from Cabo Delgado. So we have to become involved. (Marais 2021a)

To not intervene, Marais (2021b) continued, would be “unsustainable, unaffordable, and indefensible from a foreign policy perspective. Although the USA, France and Portugal all currently have a presence, it is not ideal for the region not to be part of any stabilisation force.” In the same spirit, University of the Free State political science department chair Theo Neethling (2021) advocated “South African military support to stabilize Cabo Delgado and restore law and order in the short term. Wider international support might even be necessary,” in part because “Sasol has invested heavily in gas exploration projects since 2014.” Neethling (1999) had argued, similarly in 1998, on behalf of the South Africa’s messy military intervention in Lesotho because the Katse Dam supplies Johannesburg with water.

Francois Vreÿ (2021), Emeritus Professor of Strategy at Stellenbosch University’s war college, was even more frank about multinational corporate beneficiaries: “The impact spilled offshore as gas companies placed extensive foreign infrastructure development for the energy sector on hold. Rebuilding the confidence needed for the gas industry to resume activities is a major incentive to get the insurgency under control.” From the same generation (and ethnicity), Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project analyst Jasmine Opperman was hopeful the imperial-subimperial combination might actually work: “a foreign/regional joined force with a streamlined command and control can shift the momentum away from the insurgents... It is an insurgency that cannot be viewed, and must not be regarded and underplayed, as not only a risk to Mozambique but also the region” (Essau 2021).

That particular part of the narrative – that the insurgency will spread, not just into Tanzania where conditions are ripe, but perhaps to Johannesburg-Pretoria, to Cape Town and to Durban (where in each there are large Muslim populations) – could be based upon paranoia or justified fear. It could also be a ruse to promote militarism. But concern about Islamic-terror contagion is just as easily a narrative to not introduce troops into northern Mozambique, so as not to kick the hornet’s nest and potentially be met with a backlash elsewhere. As Opperman (2021) put it, “The problem we are sitting with is the Islamic State threat directed at South Africa if they should get involved in Cabo Delgado, and that threat must be taken seriously. We know we have Islamic State disciple figures on home soil” (le Roux 2021).

A second component of the pro-intervention narrative is that if SADC doesn’t step in, then the U.S. or other foreign interests will. Opperman referred to the new administration of Joe Biden, “There are clear foreign agendas at play… This is old wine in an old bottle with a new label… The US is merely going to aggravate the situation” (le Roux 2021). Would the U.S. military be able to defeat Al-Shabab? To prosecute a bush war against insurgents of this sort will be difficult, as the fighters are apparently able to blend in and out of the dense Cabo Delgado terrain. After nearly four years of fighting there have only been a few prisoners taken, with no apparent Mozambique army successes in capturing leaders or retaking guerilla bases.

Given the local army’s appalling record, a careful but nevertheless militaristic approach was advocated by the International Crisis Group, a network established in 1995 by U.S. and British diplomats which “aspires to be the preeminent organisation providing independent analysis and advice on how to prevent, resolve or better manage deadly conflict.” Its writers remarked,
To tame the insurrection, Maputo needs to use force, with bespoke assistance from outside partners, and to carefully address underlying grievances... Mozambique’s Western partners say they want to help but their diplomats say their capitals will be reluctant to supply materiel to the military without the institution going through significant training and reforms... A heavy deployment of regional troops unfamiliar with the local terrain may not be necessary. Instead, Maputo should welcome bespoke African and international assistance to support its own special forces, who are receiving training primarily from a few Western partners. It should task these special forces to spearhead restricted military operations to contain and then degrade Al-Shabab. (International Crisis Group 2021)

Indeed, another narrative acknowledges that without addressing socio-economic grievances, the necessary military suppression of Al-Shabab will not resolve the local tensions. Diverse sources of regional power and humanitarian aid will be required, according to SA Institute for Security Studies commentators Jakkie Cilliers, Liesl Louw-Vaudran, Timothy Walker, Willem Els and Martin Ewi (2021). For Opperman, “We don’t have a choice. We cannot let the ISIS or an international terror group direct our foreign policy, but we also have to apply caution here. We cannot simply deploy soldiers. That will not solve the problem” (le Roux 2021).

Finally, one other factor occasionally hinted at in laptop-bombardier narratives (and also by Nyusi’s aide Raul Domingos) is Qatar’s alleged interests, both as a source of funding and ideological support for Islamic extremism and as the main potential LNG export competitor in proximity (as the other two main producers are the U.S. and Russia). No evidence was produced to prove a Qatari role, nor was evidence presented (through mid-2021) of paid-for foreign Islamic fundamentalist fighters, even if occasionally reports emerged of light-skinned guerrillas, or different languages spoken. Instead, the ability of the fighters to blend back into Cabo Delgado communities was formidable, to the point alleged Islamic militants reportedly infiltrated the ranks of escapees on boats to other coastal towns, immediately following the Palma attacks (Fabricius 2021).

Setting pro-intervention advocacy aside, there were in mid-2021, several genuine dangers associated with further armed incursions into Cabo Delgado. One danger was in ignoring the disgust that local residents had for the Mozambique government, especially the army and also mercenary allies like the Wagner Group, Dyck Advisory Group and Paramount Group, which had committed countless, blatant atrocities (Sauer 2019, Hanlon 2021b, The Economist 2020b), in the context of systemic underdevelopment and wealth extraction over the decades. In turn, a related danger was an inappropriate delegitimization of the insurgents through underestimating the degree to which socio-economic desperation and anger created a durable rootedness for their base-building. A third obvious danger was completely ignoring the role of the climate crisis in exacerbating both the roles of victims (cyclone and drought victims) and villains (Big Oil) in Cabo Delgado.

The pro-intervention analysts themselves are thus guilty (in varying degrees) of denialism, defined as taking three forms Stanley Cohen (2001): whether literal (e.g. in disputing the local factors, thus assuming that regional and Western troops can solve the problem as it were merely surgical “degrading” the insurgent enemy); interpretive (e.g. in downplaying the socio-economic and ecological factors); and implicatory (failing to acknowledge the need to leave the fossil fuels unexploited and pay reparations for climate damage). However, the laptop bombardier analysts were only as serious a problem as there were real forces on the ground to activate the threat. These took the form of mercenaries, the SA army and other countries’ troops, most immediately from Rwanda, as well as other SADC countries and potential Western powers, including the former Portuguese colonists.

Mercenary mistakes

On the side of the Mozambican government and Total, hundreds of foreign soldiers were hired to fight in Cabo Delgado, including the world’s best-known employer of mercenaries, Erik Prince, formerly chief executive of Blackwater. In mid-2018, he appeared on the verge of managing counter-insurgency work in Mozambique through a majority Chinese-owned company, Frontier Services Group, which held a security contract with state oil company ENH. But the terms and conditions were never agreed upon, so in September 2020 he withdrew from the terrain (Feller 2021). [10]

Meanwhile, security for Total’s Afungi operation was being partly managed by a subsidiary –Arkhê – of a Mauritius-based, South African-owned firm, Omega, which served numerous international corporations and embassies in Mozambique. It had already achieved notoriety in Cabo Delgado while protecting a South African ruby mining house, Gemfields. With 40 percent of the world’s rubies in the province, the firm’s Montepuez mine was highly profitable. But in 2016-19 there was such intense violence by Arkhê’s troops against artisanal miners there, that London lawyers Leigh Day opened a class action suit on behalf of community residents, including family members of several people killed by Gemfields’ security. Without admitting its own guilt, Gemfields settled out of court in 2019 for £5.8 million. Nevertheless, violence continued in subsequent months, given the mining firm’s failure to plow back profits into Cabo Delgado ( 2020).

Gas-related mercenary activity in Cabo Delgado began in mid-2019 with the entry of the Moscow-based Wagner Group. [11] When setting up an initial long-distance supply line to Mozambique in September that year, Wagner’s forces were reportedly supported by the Russian Air Force. More than 200 Wagner operatives, three attack helicopters and heavy munitions were shipped to Cabo Delgado by October. But that month, at least eleven Wagner troops were killed (of whom four were beheaded) in an ambush; others died due to friendly fire from Mozambique’s poorly-trained army. As the Moscow Times reported of Cabo Delgado, “The undergrowth is so thick there that all the high-tech equipment Wagner brought ceases to be effective. The Russians arrived with drones, but they can’t actually use them” (Sauer 2019). By November 2019, Wagner’s relations with the FADM had reportedly deteriorated so far that the Russians departed, apparently humiliated by their losses (The Economist 2020b).

Following Wagner’s withdrawal, two teams of South African-based mercenaries played leading roles in fighting – or supplying the Mozambican army to fight – Al-Shabab: Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) for 12 months in 2020-21, and then from April 2021, the Paramount Group, including its newly-acquired armed training wing, Burnham Global, which had earlier served the British and Canadian armies in the Middle East. Both represented the worst traditions of white settler-colonial militarism, yet were apparently seen by Nyusi as preferable to bringing in a SADC army, which he resisted until June 2021. As The Economist (2020b) interpreted Nyusi’s hiring of Wagner, Dyck and Paramount, “professional gunmen are cheap, efficient and deniable.”

The region’s senior mercenary was Lionel Dyck, a local legend in his late 70s when deploying DAG troops to Cabo Delgado in 2020, as the Russians evacuated. He began his career in Ian Smith’s rebel Unilateral Declaration of Independence army and still loyally called himself a “Rhodesian,” notwithstanding his valued service to Robert Mugabe after liberation was won in 1980 by the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) (ZanuPF) party he led. Controversially, during the mid-1980s Dyck defended Mugabe’s widely-condemned military attacks on the Ndebele people, which killed more than 20,000 civilians. But he was especially appreciated in both Harare and Maputo for his subsequent role in routing Renamo in one battle when Mugabe’s troops were defending the Beira Corridor link to Mutare. He later turned to demining operations and also supporting South Africa’s “fortress conservation” war against rhino poachers.

In just over one year’s action in Cabo Delgado in 2020-21, DAG had a dubious record. On the one hand, Dyck’s soldiers were credited with saving several foreigners and many local residents who during the March 2021 Palma attack might not have otherwise survived were they not rescued by DAG’s small helicopters. Dyck had initially deployed only 30 of his men, and not many more were added. But they had a devastating impact on life in the war zone. Based on 53 interviews with residents, Amnesty International’s (2021) report “What I saw is death”: War crimes in Mozambique’s forgotten cape accused DAG of widespread human rights violations. DAG troops in helicopters “fired indiscriminately into crowds, or dropped ordnance, without distinguishing between combatants and civilians.” Dyck himself told CNN nonchalantly, “dissidents ran into a hospital shooting at us so we shot them… I have no idea why mercenaries are so badly spoken of. We have that reputation too, good or bad, I don’t understand it” (McKenzie 2021).

Although reports emerged of DAG continuing its service to the military after several months’ break in mid-2021, the official departure was in early April. At that point, Ichikowitz’s men from Paramount and Burnham Global took over training and weapon supplies to the FADN, notwithstanding provisions in South Africa’s own anti-mercenary laws that may have thrown these relationships into question. Ichikowitz had enjoyed close relations with the ANC since the early 1990s (when he was a student at the main university in Johannesburg). [12] By the 2010s his relationship was so strong with the ruling party that he was chosen to ferry Zuma to Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Washington DC in his private jet. The main international geopolitical crisis he (and his brother Eric) caused was in Malawi. In 2013-14, Ichikowitz gifted the small central African country’s president Joyce Banda free jet airline use and public relations support through the notorious consultancy Bell Pottinger. (That London firm also served the Gupta family as it corrupted Zuma in 2016-17, until it was closed down due to outrage by other clients and broader British and South African society.) [13]

Ichikowitz repeatedly claimed not to be in violation of South African laws prohibiting arms sales to repressive regimes. “We will not supply countries that have a bad human rights record, will not supply countries that are in active warfare and will not supply countries that have the risk of using it against their people.” Yet the Mozambique government’s – especially army’s – brutalization of the Cabo Delgado population is not contested. [14] Moreover, with Paramount came a newly-acquired armed training wing, one that once served the British army during Afghan and Iraqi tours of duty, known as the Burnham Global (an advisor to which was Sir Graeme Lamb who was the second main military leader in occupied Iraq). Denying any intent to deploy mercenaries onto the Mozambican battlefield, Paramount’s other main duty aside from training the Mozambican military was supplying three types of helicopter (Gazelle, Mi-17 and Mi-24) and vehicles (Marauder).

These mercenary forces were often an acute embarrassment to host country South Africa, with coups and corruption plotted frequently from Johannesburg and Cape Town even in post-apartheid times. What, then, did the main SADC army – the SANDF – bring as a potential replacement, and what other militaries were lined up just ahead and behind the South Africans?

Interstate militarisation of Mozambique

We begin a brief review of the other armed forces on the verge of mid-2021 engagements in Mozambique, with the largest regional force: South Africa’s. Recall Stratfor’s (2009) view that an ‘imperative’ of post-apartheid South Africa remained not only “the free flow of labor and capital” intraregionally, but to enforce this, “a superior security capability able to project into south-central Africa.” The latter role, however, has long given both South African militarists and anti-militarists great cause for concern, in part due to the SANDF’s illegitimacy before 1994 and to its uneven competence since. There was no question that under apartheid, superior security capability permitted the SA military to conduct unrivaled regional state-terrorism during the 1970s-80s. That ended, though, with the 1987-88 Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, during which Cuban air support to the Angolan army was decisive and more than a hundred white soldiers returned to South Africa in body bags. [15]

The apartheid regime’s army was also brutal when working inside South Africa – in the black townships and rural Bantustans alike – but, after the late 1980s, also increasingly ineffectual in repressing the democratic mass movement. In the period from the 1976 Soweto youth rebellion, when soldiers became a constant presence in townships, to early-1990s “Third Force” activity, the SADF purposively created mayhem in many areas of South Africa. Especially in its collaboration with the South African Police and the Inkatha Zulu-nationalist movement, tens of thousands of deaths of black activists (and a few whites) were attributed to state terror, including 14,000 from 1990-94 alone (Stott 2002, 36).

The post-apartheid era witnessed six major engagements by the SANDF, which are worth briefly revisiting to assess whether by far the largest military force in the region is capable of carrying out a long-term pacification of the Cabo Delgado insurgency: Lesotho in 1998; Burundi in 2001-09; Sudan since 2004; the Central African Republic in 2013; the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2013; and internal deployment of troops within South Africa to impose Covid-19 lockdown regulations. To sum these up,

  • In Lesotho, a September 1998 SANDF counter-coup mission initially to the Katse Dam wall – meant to halt threatened sabotage of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (supplying Gauteng Province) by mutinying Lesotho Defence Force soldiers – led to over 50 of the latter’s deaths alongside 9 SANDF troops (out of 600 deployed) and 40 civilians (Ka’Nkosi 1998), in a series of fights described by South African political scientist Philip Frankel (2000) as a “debacle” that fulfilled “some of the worst predictions of brutality, ill-discipline and poor leadership” in the new democratic army;
  • the Burundi mission was successful within the narrow terms of a 2001-09 mandate – in which 750 SANDF troops were deployed to help the local army halt a 1993-2005 civil war, and specifically to protect 150 formerly exiled Hutu politicians – but it was not a lasting peace, for shortly after SANDF left, dissatisfaction over the 2010 and 2015 elections led to an attempted coup and widespread civil society protest;
  • in Sudan, SANDF deployment – through the UN-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur – left troops vulnerable in mid-2015 to an (alleged) near-hostage situation for hundreds of South African troops, due to Sudanese soldiers’ anger at their leader Omar Al-Bashir’s potential arrest while visiting Johannesburg for an African Union conference, [16] and although that was resolved thanks to Al-Bashir’s escape before the court-ordered arrest was implemented, humiliations continued; [17]
  • in the Central African Republic capital Bangui, in March 2013, the deployment of 220 SANDF troops was even more chaotic than in Lesotho, because both Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Zuma had agreed to defend the dictator Francois Bozizé following a 2006 deal for diamond market monopoly control and other commercial opportunities shared with the African National Congress’ investment arm Chancellor House (Amabhungane 2013), but 15 SANDF fatalities resulted when Bozizé was overthrown by the rebel Séléka movement that month, leaving bitter troops to tell Sunday Times reporters, “Our men were deployed to various parts of the city, protecting belongings of South Africans. They were the first to be attacked… outside the different buildings – the ones which belong to businesses in Jo’burg” (Hosken and Mahlangu 2013); and
  • in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013 (shortly after the Battle of Bangui), Zuma renewed SANDF’s 1300-strong role in the UN peace-keeping mission – including deployment at Bunia, within 50km of a Lake Albert oil concession worth $10 billion that his nephew Khulubuse Zuma very dubiously acquired in 2010 from DRC president Joseph Kabila Jr. – notwithstanding allegations of South African troops’ abuse of local residents, and indeed further scandals soon followed including drunken (and sexual) rampages, and one case in which SANDF troops ignore a 2016 massacre by warlords just a kilometer from their base (Allison 2016), which along with other grievances led to intense youth protests against the UN mission in 2021; and
  • the internal South African deployments of SANDF troops began in 2019 in Mitchells Plain and other Cape Town working-class townships in order to subdue gang war, and by April 2020 were amplified into enforcement of one of the world’s most stringent economic lockdowns – with nearly 80,000 troops (including reserve forces) serving at peak from May-September – but with continual controversies over abuse, such that the main newspaper in Johannesburg editorialized, “Many stories of brutality by SANDF members are doing the rounds among communities and on social media. The military had been found to be enforcing the Covid-19 lockdown at the expense of undermining human rights, personal dignity and common sense. A solution is needed, urgently, to deal with the mindset of the men and women in the military” (The Star 2021).

(At the time of writing, mid-July 2021, the SANDF was suddenly called into service to quell rioting in two South African provinces, which led to more than 330 deaths and $5 billion in damages over four days. These were not the usual South African service delivery protests which in some periods of dissent occur thousands of times annually, nor instances of progressive advocacy pressure by unions or social movements. They were chaotic revolts, with no logic aside from consumerist looting, although the initial spark had a Zulu-ethnicist flavor in support of jailed former president Zuma. The SANDF deployment began with an initial 2500 troops but these had so little visible presence in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, Pretoria or two dozen other sites of rioting. The force was suddenly boosted to 25,000. This left reduced capacity to send the scheduled 1500 troops to Mozambique at an anticipated cost of nearly $70 million. However, an advance SANDF team did deploy to Cabo Delgado on schedule in late July 2021.)

In many such settings, SANDF troops appeared not only unwelcome but also unprepared, as several otherwise pro-intervention commentators (not just Heitman) grudgingly acknowledged. This was in part because of persistent post-apartheid budget cuts exacerbated in 2021 by the Treasury’s renewed austerity drive, in the wake of a substantial budget deficit opening up due to the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 (GDP was 7 percent lower than in 2019 and tax revenues had dropped even more). In April 2021, following a $1.04 billion budget cut over three years, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (2021) complained to parliament, “Our defence capabilities are under extreme stress. Our ability to equip and train our force appropriately has become progressively more difficult. The current threat manifestations require more boots on the ground, which is contrary to the imposed funding ceiling on personnel.” According to Heitman,
the army bluntly doesn’t have enough infantry to handle the Mozambique deployment plus the one in the Congo plus the border. We don’t have the air lift to move troops around quickly. We don’t have enough Rooivalk attack helicopters. We don’t have the naval assets to really secure the Mozambique Channel as well as our own waters… We haven’t been spending money to maintain our frigates. We haven’t like given them refits. They’re starting to have problems. Things are starting to break. There aren’t enough spares. I think only one of the three submarines is operational at the moment. (SA Broadcasting Corporation 2021)

As for the SADC force recommended in May 2021, it was “laughably too small to do the job” with “no real reconnaissance capability, no tactical mobility. It’s actually a joke in poor taste” (SA Broadcasting Corporation 2021). Heitman’s agenda has always been to beef up military spending (he is a defense industry consultant, having served in the SA military during apartheid). So the critique above might be taken as akin to a boy crying “Wolf!”, with respect to SANDF’s capacity to mobilize roughly 1000 troops.

There were other major problems with deploying SANDF fighters in tropical Mozambique, where language and communications, as well as the unfamiliar character of the terrain, would be as difficult to overcome for South Africa’s armed forces as they were for the Wagner and DAG mercenaries. This was obvious already by mid-2021. In April, the army sent a plane to Cabo Delgado in order to remove a reported 50 South African survivors of the Palma battle (along with the body of a white Durban resident who was killed trying to escape in a convey from the Amarula Hotel). But soon thereafter, four undercover state security operatives from Pretoria were captured by Mozambican counterparts, and when the State Security Agency’s foreign intelligence director Robert McBride was confronted with the information by a journalist, he “responded to City Press’ query with two laughing emojis” (Stone 2021). The following week McBride was suspended because of the humiliation Ramaphosa and State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo felt when meeting Nyusi and requesting him to release the South African spies, in the course of thorny negotiations then underway over SADC troop deployments (Felix 2021). However, it later transpired that Dlodlo had approved the spies’ mission in writing during the Palma attack in late March, reinforcing Pretoria’s Keystone Cops image (Masondo 2021).

Aside from the SANDF, the second major SADC military force that had earlier engaged in interstate activity is the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) which has nearly 30,000 troops and operates alongside an air force with 4000 staff. Its role in the region included defending Mozambique from Renamo during the 1980s and Angola from right-wing guerrillas in the late 1990s, as well as service within United Nations missions in Angola and Somalia. In 1998-2002 the ZNA played a role akin to a mercenary army in the DRC, given its close association with Zimbabwean mining interests. The army’s presence in Equatorial Guinea starting in 2015 remains opaque, at a time the Obiang oil dictatorship ranks as among the most repressive, corrupt in the world.

But the ZNA’s worst conduct has been internal, in two periods. First, between 1983-87, the ZNZ’s Operation Gukurahundi sought to neutralize dissident forces who had allegedly broken away from the post-independence army and in the process killed an estimated 20,000 civilians from the Ndebele ethnic group. The ZNA’s Fifth Brigade was trained by North Koreans, and was notoriously vicious. This set the stage for periodic bouts of internal repression, but from the early 2000s the ZNA had accumulated sufficient power to act as an internal ruling junta, often controlling Mugabe himself. When the country’s founding president was increasingly manipulated by his wife and a small group (the “Generation 40”), ZNA leaders embarked on a 2017 coup to install the former Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and army leader Constantino Chiwenga as president and deputy president. The ZNA’s own entrepreneurship was most controversial on the eastern diamond mines bordering Mozambique, where in league with Chinese mining companies and Israeli processing networks, an estimated $13 billion in diamonds were illicitly taken from Zimbabwe aside from those that remained in ZNA accounts and that periodically funded ZanuPF election campaign budgets.

Two other armies within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries have similarly repressive reputations, from Angola and Eswatini, with the latter demonstrating its willingness, in mid-2021, to kill dozens of protesting citizens while defending a crudely repressive, corrupt, hedonistic monarchy. Only one of the SADC forces deployed – Botswana’s, with its 300 soldiers – did not have a reputation for brutality. The SADC decision to develop a force of 3000 troops to move into Cabo Delgado to suppress the insurgency came after a year of deliberations during which it became evident Nyusi opposed the deployment. So too did the Tanzanian government, as local journalist Bethsheba Wambura (2021) reported in May 2021: “Tanzania will not send troops to Mozambique to counter insurgents … and has, instead, emphasised the need for talks as a means of promoting peace and tranquility in Mozambique, calling on the international community to help the country by sending development aid.”

The other army that Nyusi initially brought in, prior to SADC forces arriving, was the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), supported by the Rwanda National Police. Serving a repressive government led by Paul Kagame, who came to power to end a genocide in 1994, required the RDF to play controversial roles internally and in the region, e.g. in the eastern DRC where Rwandan military figures control the flow of illicit minerals – especially gold, coltan and diamonds – for processing in Kigali. The RDF was ready to deploy troops in mid-2021 – and indeed within days the RDF claimed to have killed 30 insurgents near Palma – as they had more than 5000 troops serving in UN missions in Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic in 2021. But the RDF and other Kigali security agencies had a thuggish reputation in Mozambique, in part because of long-distance assassinations of leading opponents, including at least one in Maputo – Theogene Turatsinze, former director of the Development Bank of Rwanda – and three others in South Africa (Wrong 2021). Just as the Rwandan forces arrived, a journalist based in Maputo – Cassien Ntamuhanga – was deported to Kigali, and was not subsequently heard from. Of greatest immediate embarrassment, perhaps, was Amnesty International’s mid-2021 revelations that Kagame’s regime used Pegasus software developed by an Israeli firm to hack Ramaphosa’s phone, among 3500 other perceived opponents (Ntreh 2021).

Behind these African forces were at least three international armies: the U.S., Portugal and Italy, with French naval capacity close by in the island of Mayotte. In each case, the presence of these countries’ leading oil firms in Cabo Delgado was an obvious incentive. Although each was committed to “training” Mozambican troops, Africa Report journalist Nicholas Norbrook (2021) summarized the potential for deployment of Western forces within the war zone itself: “Given the French islands that dominate the Mozambique channel, and Operation Atalanta, the EU’s naval force offshore Somalia, Europe is well placed to extend naval forces into the area. Similarly, the US Joint Task Force in Bahrain could play an interdicting role.” One justification he stressed is that traditionally, the East African coastline was a site for drug smuggling, especially heroin sourced in Afghanistan and transported through Pakistan across the Indian Ocean, for trans-shipment to Johannesburg and then by air on to Europe. One Washington analyst, Michael Shurkin (2021) of New Lines Institute (linked to both the Pentagon and Muslim Brotherhood through its founder Ahmed Alwani) predicted more international interest in formalizing war against the insurgents, as a result of:
South Africa’s own vulnerabilities and energy needs; France’s interest at the very least in maritime security and any events that might negatively affect nearby French territories; Russian interest in the region, demonstrated recently by the deployment of mercenaries in 2019-2020 to Mozambique and interference in elections in Madagascar; and competition between China and India, which increasingly is aligned with France. It would not be surprising if some outside power were to step in.

As for the U.S., it appeared that Joe Biden wanted to return Africa to the Obama-era level of military engagement, following a four-year period of neglect by Donald Trump’s State Department and Pentagon. Dating to the mid-2010s Nick Turse (2014) recorded the Pentagon’s Africa Command (Africom) “war fighting combatant command” in dozens of African countries, yet there was also a blunt division of labor between Washington and African armies. As a leading U.S. strategist explained in 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense would consider its role successful
if it keeps American troops out of Africa for the next 50 years… a large part of Africom’s mandate will be to build the indigenous capacity of African defense forces… to professionalize local militaries so that they can better ensure stability and security on the continent… we don’t want to see our guys going in and getting whacked.... We want Africans to go in (Cochran 2011).

A non-intervention option, based on paying reparations to halt gas drilling and climate chaos

Maputo-based political economist Tomas Selemane (2021) offered the essential rational for a stance very different to those reviewed above: “There is no military solution to the conflict which has exploded in the gas-rich northern province of Mozambique since 2017. It will end only by addressing its root causes, among them, extreme poverty, unemployment, lack of health and education services, and lack of water supply.” But under wartime conditions, could material assistance along these lines really be made available, perhaps beginning with a simple Basic Income Grant similar to the one that worked in Namibia’s Otjivero pilot project (Bond 2018)? Selemane (2021) believes that circumstances would allow for large-scale socio-economic reconstruction support to be supplied to Cabo Delgado residents, since Al Shabab’s grounding worked in favor of relief:
Many reports by refugees state that most of the insurgents are known, are ex-village members, and maintain contacts. The best example is the current humanitarian aid for refugees in Chitunda camp, where insurgents are not preventing local volunteers from operating around Palma district, the most affected by the insurgency… Short-term alternatives must be offered to young people living on the periphery of conflict and beyond. For example, through “cash for work” programs, rehabilitation of social infrastructure, soil and water conservation, erosion control, reforestation and road construction, among others. Local NGOs, socio-culturally anchored, should have a relevant role here.

If there are prospects for a non-interventionist strategy, would funding be made available to replace Mozambique’s fossil-fuel economic strategy with one based on meeting needs, i.e., to leave gas (and coal) unexploited, and to instead channel funding towards a Just Transition based on mitigating climate crisis, adapting to further extreme weather, and compensating for cyclone- or drought-caused loss and damage? These were audacious demands, yet even one African Union (2020) statement also insisted on “implementation of the Warsaw International Mechanism” so “African countries should be supported to deal with loss and damage associated with floods, droughts, cyclones and other disasters.”

Ironically, it was South Africa – the government owing the highest amount of climate debt to the continent – which in March 2021 suggested this very strategy to the United Nations, through the state’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) offer: “The just transition in South Africa will require international cooperation and support… by the international climate and development and finance community for non-fossil-fuel development in Mpumalanga…” (Republic of South Africa 2021, 28). [18] That specific clause is just as – if not more – appropriately directed at Cabo Delgado’s gas fields. The strategy of paying poor countries to leave fossil fuels underground was innovated by Ecuador’s government from 2006-13, so as to prevent oil drilling in the Yasuni Park (on its eastern Amazonian border with Peru, the world’s main biodiversity hotspot) (Bond 2018). Could such financing for state social and development programmes – and in Mozambique’s case also ensuring a Basic Income Grant is available to Cabo Delgado communities – justify a halt to fossil fuel extraction? The climate link is obvious, as JA!’s Rawoot (2020) points out: Mozambique’s “coal and LNG projects – which are more carbon-intensive than the regular extraction and processing of natural gas – will only further contribute to global warming.”

Indeed local, regional and international civil society advocates highlight the climate justice implications of the Cabo Delgado crisis, at a time in 2021 that three other SADC countries – Eswatini, South Africa and Zimbabwe – were suffering major internal socio-political conflicts that were serious distractions from solidarity. The alternative narratives stressed not war, but peace; not more gas, but none; and not foreign corporate financing to develop the gas fields, but a climate debt payment to develop the people and environment.

In Mozambique, the organizations advancing this narrative have included the Alternactiva progressive activist network, the União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC) peasant movements, the Friends of the Earth affiliate JA! (host of the “Say No to Gas!” international campaign) and the Centre for Living Earth’s Territórios em Conflicto project with scholar activists including Boaventura Monjane (2021), Teresa Cunha and Isabel Casimiro (2021). South Africa’s solidarity activist groups which in 2021 commented along the same lines include the International Labour Rights Information Group and South African Federation of Trade Unions (2021). In Harare, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development were similarly in solidarity. Regional networks committed to leaving fossil fuels under the Mozambique Channel and solidarity payments to compensate, include Women in Mining, the Rural Women’s Assembly and the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN). In Lisbon, solidarity protests were organized by Climaximo, 2degrees artivism, and the youth movement’s Greve Climática Estudantil. In London, Friends of the Earth UK offered support.

Each made statements from April-June 2021 reflecting on the climate crisis and the need to leave fossil fuels underground, with increased aid to compensate Mozambique for both mitigation costs (including non-utilization of carbon space) and concrete loss and damage plus adaptation. As Samantha Hargreaves (WoMin) and Anabela Lemos (JA!) (2021) put it, instead of promoting a “suicidal SADC military deployment” based on a majority contingent of 1500 South African troops, Pretoria “must publicly acknowledge the climate debt owed to Mozambique by the SA state and polluting national corporations, and establish specific mechanisms to quantify and settle this debt. Given the pressure on Mozambique to not exploit the remaining gas reserves, SA should work with polluting countries to financially support Mozambique to keep its oil and gas reserves underground.”

Likewise, SAPSN’s (2021) main mid-2021 statement insisted,
Emergency aid must be distributed to victims of the army, of the mercenaries and of Al-Shabaab, at a time the climate debt needs to be paid to Mozambicans, and at a time fossil fuels must remain underground for our future generations’ sake, the Cabo Delgado crisis requires the most urgent rethink by our entire society, especially by SADC’s leadership. Abaixo extractivism! Abaixo militarisation! Southern Africa is not for sale! Globalise the Struggle, Globalise Solidarity, Globalise Hope!

The demand was also articulated by the SA Federation of Trade Unions (2021) in its Africa Day statement: “Instead of bullets and drones, the South African government – and all the other high-emitting countries – owe Mozambicans monies as a down payment on our elites’ climate debt. Just as is called for by SAPSN, this climate debt should be paid not via a plainly corrupt government, but in forms that directly support basic income for the desperate residents of that resource-cursed area.”

One other solidarity strategy – articulated in an online (2021) petition aimed at Ramaphosa – was to not only demand South Africa pay climate reparations, but also impose oversight on mercenaries. The petition asked “whether the National Conventional Arms Control Committee has authorised any South African private security contractors to operate in Mozambique,” and if not, “those found guilty must be prosecuted.” It demanded Ramaphosa “prohibit arms trading Market activities
Buying and selling of financial instruments such as shares, futures, derivatives, options, and warrants conducted in the hope of making a short-term profit.
in countries in conflict where the weapons are being or may be used to violate human rights, such as in Mozambique, by withdrawing any export permits and prosecuting unlawful arms traders.” The activists also insisted on withdrawal of parastatal financial investments – specifically gas loans by the Industrial Development Corporation, Export Credit Insurance Corporation of South Africa and Development Bank of South Africa – “to protect human rights and reduce carbon emissions.” Another demand was that Ramaphosa pressure Nyusi to “release detained journalists and stop all harassment of journalists and all those addressing human rights abuses in Cabo Delgado” ( 2021).

Aside from a series of online webinars, SAPSN suggested the following concrete actions by members, although Covid-19 conditions made many difficult to immediately carry out:

  • Embassy protests and engagement meetings to press for a coherent SADC and AU response;
  • Boycotts and protests against extractive companies implicated in the conflict in Northern Mozambique;
  • Interfaith prayers in unity and solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters;
  • Mobilisation and distribution of humanitarian resources to men, women and children affected by the conflict;
  • Lobby and campaign efforts to put the voices and interests of the people of Cabo Delgado at the forefront of efforts to find lasting peace.

This general approach to raising consciousness about climate debt was prefigured in a 2019 statement by the Glasgow Caledonian University’s Centre for Climate Justice, whose researchers Michael Mikulewicz and Tahseen Jafry (2019) argued in the wake of Cyclone Idai,
The West’s responsibility – along with other big emitters such as China – is therefore also a matter of climate justice. Part of that responsibility lies in changing the current approach to disaster aid… In the case of Cyclone Idai, the Department for International Development has now earmarked £18m to assist humanitarian relief efforts in Mozambique and Malawi – tripling the original pledge from a couple of days earlier. To be clear, humanitarian responses are absolutely key, but insufficient on their own. They bandage wounds rather than fix what caused them. Instead, donor countries need to prioritize identifying the most vulnerable people both before and after a disaster, and ensure they receive the required support and are granted the agency to be actively involved in the process.

Indeed, setting aside hundreds of deaths where the loss of life cannot be priced, the estimated physical damages in Mozambique caused by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019 were “more than $3.2 billion, approximately as high as half of Mozambique’s national budget” (Eckstein, Künzel and Schäfer 2020). A small fraction was provided in additional Western donor aid to the country, at a time official aid boycotts were growing thanks to Maputo’s failure to prosecute the corrupt borrowers (of the $2 billion in hidden debt) who were at the time leaders of the prior Frelimo government. In short, reparations for what the North owes the Mozambican people by way of climate debt – not to mention broader ecological unequal exchange – have not yet begun to be paid, and yet an alternative arrangement would be required to gain support for this approach given the financial illegitimacy of the Maputo government .

By 2021 there was little doubt among international climate activists that mobilizing grant finance (not loans) to “leave fossil fuels underground” in sites like Cabo Delgado should be a top priority for the COP26 in Glasgow. Even as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reducing already-miserly British overseas aid, Christian Aid’s leader Amanda Khozi Mukwashi (2021) insisted (just after the Palma massacre), “Vulnerable countries on the frontline of a climate emergency they did not cause need financial support.” The Glasgow COP26 would be one site to amplify awareness and social mobilizations of these sorts, although since the late 1990s such calls had gone unheeded (Bond 2012).


The case of geopolitical-ecological crisis in Cabo Delgado has raised the stakes of climate-related reparations to new levels, and international advocacy is beginning to reflect this. As observed above, Mozambique’s climate-related conflicts are multifaceted. They arise not only from the vulnerable status the country suffers during cyclone seasons and with drought an ever-present threat to the majority of residents who depend upon rain-fed FED
Federal Reserve
Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank :
agriculture. But there are also causal factors related to the country’s history of neo-colonial extractivism, most recently Cabo Delgado’s gas, but also coal from Tete province mined destructively by Brazil’s Vale and by Coal of India, hydropower electricity – from Cahora Bassa dam (which is a high-methane emissions site given that it is a tropical dam) – for smelting exported aluminium for BHP Billiton at Mozal, eucalyptus monocrops for paper pulp and illegal hardwood harvesting, cashews exported raw (not processed as had been the case during colonial times), illegal ruby mining in Cabo Delgado, and many other sites of extractivism that are increasingly contested.

The quagmire that developed in Mozambique from 2017-21, as the insurgency rose and humanitarian crises followed, incorporated several components that provided scope for a different form of advocacy, than the military intervention favored by laptop bombardiers:

  • worsening climate catastrophe, especially in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe,
  • a South African sub-imperial military plus economic agenda, which as precedents since 1998 confirmed, often mainly advanced the interests of government-linked Johannesburg firms,
  • the corrupt leadership of former liberation movements Frelimo, ZanuPF and the ANC,
    • the corporate social and environmental irresponsibility of Total, Sasol and other Big Oil firms, and
  • the urgency of progressive international and especially regional bottom-up solidarity.

These factors made it logical that local and regional advocates of non-intervention would emerge. Most importantly, their narratives have often stressed not only the threat of spreading violence from a regional military quagmire, but also the need for climate reparations as an incentive to leave Mozambique’s gas underground. By mid-2021 after all, even Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry forcefully argued, “The International Energy Agency tells us we don’t actually need any new investment in oil, coal or gas production. [It is] simply not necessary to meet our energy needs given other technologies that are online and are coming online” (Dunne 2021). Biden, Kerry and the U.S. team were notorious, however, in denying climate debt obligations, as their lead State Department negotiator (Todd Stern) had in 2009 declared at the Copenhagen climate summit, “We absolutely recognise our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere up there that are there now. But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations? I just categorically reject that” (Bond 2012). The contradiction between this long-standing refutation of basic “polluter pays” logic, and the need to prevent further fossil fuel combustion by compensating Mozambicans like those who suffered so much in Cabo Delgado, would be left to climate activists.

But there is also a role for geopolitical theory, since applied to 21st-century Southern Africa, there is a relentless logic of natural resource conflict. In the case of Cabo Delgado, like so many others, these conflicts set the interests of multinational corporations, imperial and sub-imperial states (the Western powers but also South Africa, with fingerprints of accumulation and military intervention from other BRICS BRICS The term BRICS (an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) was first used in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, then an economist at Goldman Sachs. The strong economic growth of these countries, combined with their important geopolitical position (these 5 countries bring together almost half the world’s population on 4 continents and almost a quarter of the world’s GDP) make the BRICS major players in international economic and financial activities. countries), and the local state, against the campaign of insurgent Islamic fighters, against the citizenry and ecologies both local and global. The region had emerged from three prior decades of civil wars and mass murder that left many millions dead in Mozambique, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and tens of thousands more killed during resistance to settler-colonialism in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Rising evidence of resources then becoming central to conflict was registered particularly as the commodity super-cycle from 2002-14 and ‘Africa Rising’ dominated elite imaginaries, and after the 2020 price crash, there appeared in 2021 a major new speculative upturn in commodities Commodities The goods exchanged on the commodities market, traditionally raw materials such as metals and fuels, and cereals. including even fossil fuels.

The geopolitical agenda pursued by the South African government – with its historic semi-hegemonic white-supremacist role transitioning in the post-1994 era from apartheid destabilisation to Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation strategy and Thabo Mbeki’s revitalised PanAfricanism, also promised peace, stability and economic prosperity. But the reality by the 2010s had turned. There was a more blatant sub-imperial agenda unfolding, as indicated by the role of South African corporations, mercenaries and the SANDF in Cabo Delgado by 2020-21, egged on by laptop bombardiers from an earlier generation. Although some centrist geopolitical analysts argued in flavor of military action but also that Maputo and SADC countries addressing both socio-economic injustices and emergency relief needs, there is evidently a need for more work by solidarity activists.

Indeed what is new in this conflict, is an unprecedented fusion of pacificist civil society opposed to the militarisation of Cabo Delgado, with environmentalists who remind South Africa and the West of the climate reparations owed the people of Cabo Delgado and Mozambique. If such a campaign intensifies, to compensate the citizenry without state corruption, this would surely justify not extracting the gas. It would simply generalise the objective of the South African government (2021), which is to pursue a just transition funded “by the international climate and development and finance community for non-fossil-fuel development,” a strategy worthy not of a sub-imperial power (as Pretoria so often appears), but of one genuinely committed to the region’s and continent’s welfare, especially when it comes to the poorest people and most vulnerable ecologies.

African Union (2020). Draft Africa climate change strategy, 2020-30. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Alden, C. and M.Schoeman (2016) Reconstructing South African identity through global summitry, Global Summitry, 1:2, 187-204.
Allison, S. (2016). South African peacekeepers accused of failing to prevent DRC massacre. Daily Maverick, 21 January.
Amabhungane (2013). Is this what our troops died for? Mail & Guardian, 28 March. (2021). South Africans call on our government to act on the Cabo Delgado crisis. Johannesburg.
Amnesty International (2021). Mozambique: “What I saw is death”: War crimes in Mozambique’s forgotten cape. London, 2 March.
Bond, P. (2012). Politics of Climate Justice. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
Bond, P. (2018). Climate debt, community Resistance and conservation alliances against KwaZulu-Natal coal mining at Africa’s oldest nature reserve.’ in B.Engels and K.Dietz (Eds), Climate Change in Africa, Frankfurt: Peter Lang Verlag, 2018, pp.314-337,
Bourton, D. (2020). Drilling down for gas in Cabo Delgado: A dream for Mozambique? Bloomsburg Geographer, 21 August.
Burkhardt, P. (2020). South Africa cleans oil spill as Transnet fights pipeline theft. Bloomberg, 21 October.
Cabo Ligado (2021). Cabo Ligado weekly, 21-27 June. Maputo.
Castel-Branco, C. (2014). Growth, capital accumulation and economic porosity in Mozambique. Review of African Political Economy, 41, S26-s48.
Cheru, F. (2020). Harnessing south-south cooperation. In S. Adejumobi and C. Obi (Eds), Developmental Regionalism and Economic Transformation in Southern Africa. 204-228. London: Routledge.
Christian Aid (2019). Counting the cost. London, 27 December.
Cilliers, J., L. Louw-Vaudran, T. Walker, W. Els and M. Ewi (2021). What would it take to stabilise Cabo Delgado? Pretoria, Institute for Security Studies. 27 May.
Cockburn, A. (1994). The Charge of the laptop bombardiers. Los Angeles Times, 10 May.
Cochran, S. (2010). Security assistance, surrogate armies, and the pursuit of US interests in Sub-Saharan Africa. Strategic Studies Quarterly, 4:1, 111-152.
Cohen, S. (2001). States of Denial. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Cunha, T. and I. Casimiro (2021). “Cinderellas” of our Mozambique wish to speak. Feminist Africa, 2:1, 72-91.
Donzis, A. (2014). Envoy to South Africa suspected of taking illegal gifts. Times of Israel, 25 June.
Dunne, D. (2021). ‘No need’ for new fossil fuels anywhere in world, says John Kerry. The Independent, 20 July.
Eckstein, D., V. Künzel and L. Schäfer (2020). Global climate risk index 2021: Who Suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events? Weather-Related Loss Events in 2019 and 2000-2019. Berlin, Germanwatch.
Essau, I. (2021). ‘Monster insurgency.’ Upstream online, 31 March.
Fabricius, P. (2014). Not another murder in the Michelangelo. Pretoria, Institute for Security Studies, 24 January.
Fabricius, P. (2016). Darfur fatigue: Is South Africa retreating before the war is over? Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
Fabricius, P. (2021). Northern Mozambique. Daily Maverick, 28 March.
Fanon, F. (1963). The Wretched of the Earth. Boston, Beacon Press.
Felix, J. (2021). McBride suspended after Ramaphosa left red-faced over botched covert operation in Mozambique. News24, 9 July.
Feller, G. (2021). An overview of foreign security involvement in Mozambique. Defenceweb, 21 April.
Finney, D. H. Msemo and J.Marsham (2021). Tanzania’s ‘forgotten’ cyclones and concerns for the future. The Conversation, 23 May.
Fitchett, J. (2018). Southern Africa must brace itself for more tropical cyclones in future. The Conversation, 27 November.
Frankel, P. (2000). Soldiers in a Storm. Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press.
Garcia, A. M.Borba and P. Bond (2021). Western imperialism and the role of sub-imperialism in the Global South. New Politics, 18:2, 52-62.
Garcia, A. and K.Kato (2015). The story of the hunter or the hunted? Brazil’s role in Angola and Mozambique. In P.Bond and A.Garcia (Eds), BRICS. London: Pluto Press, 117-134.
Hanlon, J. (2020a). A more complex reality in Cabo Delgado. Mail & Guardian, 29 March.
Hanlon, J. (2021b). South Africa says send troops; Tanzania says no troops, instead negotiate, develop. Mozambique News reports & clippings. London, 31 May.
Hanlon, J. (2021c). Mozambique News reports & clippings #538. London, 18 April.
Hargreaves, S. and A. Lemos (2021). Suicidal SADC military deployment to Mozambique looms. Business Day, 28 May.
Heitman, H. (2021a). SA’s puny, rickety maritime hardware no match for threats. Business Day, 30 May.
Heitman, H. (2021b). Ill-equipped SA army in no position to confront regional crises. Business Day, 6 June.
Hosken, G. and I. Mahlangu (2013). “We were killing kids.” Sunday Times, 31 March,
International Crisis Group (2021). Stemming the insurrection in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado. Report 303, June.
Jordaan, E. (2003) The concept of a middle power in international relations. Politkon, 30:2, 165-181.
Ka’Nkosi, S. (1998). SANDF’s chaotic invasion. Mail & Guardian, 25 September.
Laing, J. (2001). The shadow CIA. Barron’s, 15 October.
Landsberg, C. (2007) South Africa and the making of the African Union and NEPAD: Mbeki’s ‘progressive African agenda’. In A. Adebajo, A. Adedeji, and C. Landsberg (Eds), South Africa in Africa: The post-apartheid era. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
le Roux, K. (2021). US military in Mozambique. Cape Talk, 23 March.
Samson, M. (2009) (Sub)imperial South Africa? Reframing the debate, Review of African Political Economy, 36:119, 93-103.
Mapisa-Nqakula, N. (2021). Defence and Military Veterans Department Budget Vote 2021/22. Cape Town, Parliament, 21 May.
Marais, K. (2021). South Africa has a direct interest in what’s happening in Cabo Delgado. Cape Talk, 31 March.
Marini, R. (1972). Brazilian subimperialism. Monthly Review 23:9,
Martin, G. (2019). Female SANDF commander leads combat engagement in Sudan. Defenceweb, 19 January.
Masondo, S. (2021). Mozambique spy operation that led to McBride’s axing approved by Minister Dlodlo, SSA memo reveals. News24, 24 July.
McKenzie, D. (2021). Leader of mercenary group in Mozambique says that ISIS-linked insurgents hold Palma. CNN, 30 March.
Mckinley, D. (2004) South African foreign policy towards Zimbabwe under Mbeki, Review of African Political Economy, 31:100, 357-364.
Mhanda W. (2011). Dzino: Memories of a Freedom Fighter. Harare, Weaver.
Mikulewicz, M. and T. Jafry (2021). Cyclone Idai: Rich countries are to blame for disasters like this – here’s how they can make amends. The Conversation, 22 March. (2020). Artisanal mining violence flares again at Gemfields Montepuez ruby mine in Mozambique. 25 February.
Monjane, B. (2016). Opposition to Prosavana in Mozambique: resisting a neocolonial ´development` model of a sub-imperialist power?, paper presented at Agrarian Summer School Programme of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Harare, January.
Monjane, B. (2021). Acumulación primitiva y la crisis del extractivismo: El caso de Cabo Delgado en Mozambique. Vídeos ALTA TENSIÓN Jornadas Internacionales sobre Emergencia Climática y Conflictividad, 17 June.
Monyae, D. (2014) Learning to Lead: South Africa’s Role in Africa - Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. PhD Thesis. Department of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Mosca, J. and T. Selemane (2011). El dorado Tete: os mega projetos de mineração. Maputo, Centro de Integridade Pública de Moçambique.
Mukwashi, A. (2021). UK urged to take lead helping poor countries fund climate action at COP26. The Guardian, 29 March.
Neethling, T. (1999). Military intervention in Lesotho. Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution 2.2,
Neethling, T. (2021). Offshore gas finds offered major promise for Mozambique. The Conversation, 30 March.
Nhamire, B. (2018). Mozambique president wants attackers in gas region ‘neutralized.’ Bloomberg, 25 June.
Norbrook, N. (2021). How Mozambique’s corrupt elite caused tragedy in the north. The Africa Report, 10 April.
Ntreh, N. (2021). How Rwanda spied on South Africa’s Ramaphosa with Pegasus software. Face2Face Africa, 26 July.
Nyale, E. (2016). Malawi’s Banda, arms firm rock the boat. Mail & Guardian, 29 January.
Omarjee, L. (2021). ‘SA isn’t Germany.’ Mantashe says SA can’t ditch fossil fuels, as govt looks to gas from Moz. News24, 9 July.
Opperman, J. (2020), Interview. Newzroom Afrika, 15 August.
Pandor, N. (2020) Briefing on the security situation in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique, and its impact on South Africa’s foreign policy aspirations for a secure and peaceful SADC region. Presentation by the Minister of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Portfolio Committee on International Relations, 2 September.
Pretorius, L. (2002). South African Foreign Direct Investment in Mozambique: A case study of the development impact of the cross-border natural gas pipeline between Mozambique –South Africa. Cape Town: International Labour Rights Working Group.
Rawoot, I. (2020). Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster. Al Jazeera, 24 February.
Reddy, M. (2020). Inside Ivor Ichikowitz’s Paramount empire. Business Day, 17 September.
Reliefweb (2021). Global climate risk. New York, United Nations.
Republic of South Africa (2021). South Africa’s First Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement. Department of Environment, Forestries and Fisheries, Pretoria.
Reuters (2019). Victoria Falls dries to a trickle after worst drought in a century, The Guardian, 7 December.
Reuters (2021). Galp to hold off on LNG investment until Mozambique ensures security. 15 June.
SA Broadcasting Corporation (2021). State of the SANDF with Helmoed Heitman. Johannesburg, 18 May.
Sauer, P. (2019). In push for Africa, Russia’s Wagner mercenaries Are ‘out of their depth’ in Mozambique. Moscow Times, 19 November.
Schoeman, M. (2000) South Africa as an emerging middle power. African Security Review, 9:3, 47-58.
Selemane, T. (2021). From promised land to hell. The Church in Southern Africa - Open to the World, 5:32, Aug-Sept, Pretoria.
Shevele, A. (2013). Defending the profits of the ‘peace’ industry. Business Times, 13 August.
Shurkin, M. (2021). Understanding the meteoric rise of the Islamic State in Mozambique. Washington, DC, New Lines Institute. 22 June 22.
Sidiropoulos, E. (2014). South Africa’s emerging soft power, Strategic Review for Southern Africa, 37:2.
South African Federation of Trade Unions (2021). SAFTU salutes the labour and social activists of our continent on Africa Day. Johannesburg, 25 May.
Southern African People’s Solidarity Statement (SAPSN) (2021). Double Troika Troika Troika: IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, which together impose austerity measures through the conditions tied to loans to countries in difficulty.

Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the SADC. Harare, 28 May.
Stone, S. (2021). SA spies bust in Mozambique. CityPress, 4 July.
Stott, N. (2002). From the SADF to the SANDF: Safegaurding South Africa for a better life for all? Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation Violence and Transition Series, 7.
Stratfor (2009). Monography for Comment: South Africa. WikiLeaks, May 5.
The Economist (2020a). Mozambique’s mysterious conflict is intensifying. 4 April.
The Economist (2020b). Why African governments still hire mercenaries. 28 May.
The Star (2021). Soldiers enforce lockdown rules at the expense of citizens’ human rights. Johannesburg. 23 March.
Thunberg, G. (2020). We are speeding in the wrong direction on climate crisis. The
, December 10.
Turse, N. (2014). Africom becomes a war-fighting combatant command, TomDispatch, 13 April,,_africom_becomes_a_%22war-fighting_combatant_command%22/
United Nations (2019). Mozambique flash appeal. New York, May.
Valoi, E. (2016). The blood rubies of Montepuez. Foreign Policy, 3 May.
van der Merwe, J. (2016) Theorising emerging powers in Africa within the western-led system of accumulation. In J.van der Merwe, I.Taylor and A. Arkhangelskaya, Emerging Powers in Africa: A New Wave in the Relationship?, London: Springer.
van der Westhuizen, J. (1998). South Africa’s emergence as a middle power, Third World Quarterly, 19:3, 435-456, DOI: 10.1080/01436599814334
van der Westhuizen, J. (2013) Class compromise as middle power activism? Comparing Brazil and South Africa. Government and Opposition, 48:1, 80-100.
van Nieuwkerk, A. (2014) South Africa and the African peace and security architecture. Journal of African Union Studies, 3:1, 37-60.
Vreÿ, F. (2021). Delay in sending regional forces to Mozambique could exact a high price. The Conversation, 26 May.
Wambura, B. (2021). Tanzania will not send troops to Mozambique to counter insurgents. The Citizen, 27 May.
Wiegink, N. (2020). Learning lessons and curbing criticism: Legitimizing involuntary resettlement and extractive projects in Mozambique. Political Geography, 81
Willis, H., C. Triebert, S. Cooper, D. Miller, A. Byrd and C. Goldbaum (2021). Militants attacked a key town in Mozambique. Where was the government? New York Times, 26 May.
White Mountain Research Group (2021). Is Africa lost to Islamist militants? 25 May. Moran, Wyoming.
Worrall, D. (1968). South Africa’s role as a middle power. Johannesburg, Jan Smuts House, 1 June.
Wrong, M. (2021). Do Not Disturb. New York, Public Affairs.

Presentation at the CESC & IESE Conference Indústria Extractiva em Moçambique: Desafios, Sucessos e Perspectivas (Maputo, 3-4 August)


[1With an estimated million fatalities caused by Renamo attacks, the subsequent three decades after peace was achieved – only in 1992 – were meant to be a period of multiparty democracy and capitalist restoration. Frelimo’s initial socialist orientation was replaced by neoliberalism in the late 1980s. Renamo’s fighters were assimilated into the political system where the party played a largely ineffectual role in preventing state decay and widespread corruption, and occasionally returned to “the bush” to signal the potential for renewed armed resistance.

[2Other firms that by the mid-2010s expressed interest included Technip (France), JCG (Japan), BP, Mitsui and some smaller Mozambican companies. By 2020, the financiers of at least $15 billion in fixed capital investment included major export credit agencies: UK Export Finance, U.S. Export Import Bank, Italy’s SACE, the Netherlands’ Atradius, South Africa’s Export Credit Insurance Corporation, Japan’s Bank for International Cooperation and Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, and the Export-Import Bank of Thailand. There were also 19 commercial bank facilities and a major loan from the African Development Bank (Bourton 2020).

[3The consortium would have linked to Sasol’s existing controversial pipeline (Pretorius 2002). It was led locally by ENH and Profin (owned by former defense minister and leading tycoon, Alberto Chipande), alongside China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau and SacOil, a private South African firm then chaired by future finance minister, Tito Mboweni. But two years later, SacOil hesitated. In spite of competition from the SA (white-dominated) Gigajoule Group which had installed and maintained the main gas lines to Maputo, the consortium could not move forward.


[5Though there is some dispute about how much race and class played a role in the hotel’s reaction to the attack, not only were foreign workers targeted by Al-Shabab for the first time. So too did the hotel’s South African managers and the main military security firm in the area at the time, Dyck Advisory Group, allegedly respond in a manner that reflected race-class-citizenship privilege, as the New York Times documented (Willis et al 2021).

[6Jennifer Fitchett (2018) confirmed the role of anthropogenic factors: “In the last 30 years, there’s been a progressive rise in the number of high category tropical storms,” in part because higher South Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures of 29°C have been “recorded over a much larger area,” in turn driving storms to category 5 intensity. Since the 1980s, Fitchett (2018) observed, their trajectory “shifted pole-wards in their location of origin and landfall”, so “storms which previously existed in the equatorial waters of the central South Indian Ocean, far from any landmasses, are now increasingly occurring in the southern tropical region” including Cabo Delgado.

[7This lobby overlaps to some degree with intellectuals working in the field of International Relations who vacuously term South Africa a “middle power.” This occurred first during high apartheid – specifically, by Dennis Worrall (1968) at the SA Institute of International Affairs – and again thirty years later. In recent manifestations, the point of the label seemed to be a desired rapid shake-off of apartheid-sub-imperialism’s ignominy, so as to adopt a more constructive tone for the 21st century. The scholars include a leftist – Janis van der Westhuizen (1998, 2013) – who revived the term. But its subsequent usage has been mainly to confirm Pretoria’s potential for both reconciling North-South conflict in the world, especially by Maxi Schoeman (2000), Eduard Jordaan (2003), Chris Landsberg (2007), David Monyae (2014), Anthoni van Nieuwkerk (2014), Elizabeth Siridopoulos (2014) and Chris Alden (and Schoeman 2016). In contrast, the term sub-imperialism has been deployed to signify a set of political agendas and practices akin to Ruy Mauro Marini’s (1972) introduction of the idea in late-1960s Brazil following a U.S.-supported military coup (see Bond 2020, Garcia, Borba and Bond 2021, and analysis by Dale Mckinley 2004, Melanie Samson 2009, Justin van der Merwe 2016 and Fantu Cheru 2020, and in Mozambique, Boaventura Monjane 2016). Those who consider South Africa a potentially benign Middle Power give ideological grounding to – yet are not necessarily the same group as – those who in 2021 vociferously advocated SANDF intervention in Cabo Delgado.

[8That phrase emerged to capture the spirit of mid-1990s U.S. intellectuals who advocated carpet-bombing Serbia. It was coined by Simon Jenkins in The Spectator but popularised most by Los Angeles Times columnist Alexander Cockburn (1994). The latter witnessed the debate about Yugoslavia’s tragic dismembering becoming “one of the most astonishing displays of high-minded warmongering since the cream of Europe’s intelligentsia of the left cheered their respective nations into the carnage of World War I.” The analogy stretches today to the squad of reinvigorated sub-imperialist boosters operating from the main South African think tanks.

[9To avoid shipping, truck and rail traffic when exploiting the Pande gas fields starting in 2004, a 900 km pipeline was built, crossing into South Africa at Lebombo-Komatipoort. The route begins at the Temane LNG facility (near Vilanculos) in the middle of Mozambique and ends in Secunda, where gas is squeezed into liquid petroleum at the single highest greenhouse gas emissions point-source in the world. Could an extension twice as long be built northwards to Palma? Even without civil war prevailing, maintenance of such pipelines is arduous, and as Bloomberg reported in October 2020, on much more secure South African terrain, “Transnet Pipelines has had over 80 incidents of fuel theft this financial year that involve tampering with infrastructure,” mainly to bunker stolen oil (Burkhardt 2020).

[10After embarrassments over Frontier contracts with the Chinese government and corporations in Myanmar and Xinjiang where respectively, democracy activists (and Rohingya Muslims) and the Uyghur people were brutally repressed, Prince resigned from the group in April 2021.

[11The firm’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was considered a favourite of Vladimir Putin, with Wagner often described as “Kremlin-linked.” Its first fighting was in the Ukraine in 2014 and soon, Wagner not only supported Russian troops in Syria, but began taking on assignments in Africa. By 2020 there were a reported 20 offices dotted across the continent, some of which had degenerated into either hot battlegrounds or sites where the military repressed the local citizenry: Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Zimbabwe, Angola, Madagascar, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Wagner’s mercenaries were paid only between $1800 and $4700/month, about a fifth as much as Western and South African fighters charge (Sauer 2019, The Economist 2020b, White Mountain Research Group 2021).

[12Ichikowitz had begun his career working to sell surplus SANDF weaponry, including to Kagame, and since then had praised Equatorial Guinea’s hated dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as well as the late DRC dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, whom he called “a strong, powerful leader loved by many of his people.” A 2020 Amabhungane investigation identified widespread malpractice, including several internal business rescues and bankruptcies within the Paramount Group, in part because Ichikowitz starved local subsidiaries and used Cyprus for illicit financial flows – allegations which Ichikowitz attributed to “industrial espionage and attempted sabotage” (Reddy 2020). By then, Ichikowitz had formally taken up citizenships and new residences in both Cyprus and Australia.

[13At the time, Paramount supplied Banda’s army with $145 million worth of high-priced military boats for use on Lake Malawi, the contract for which was questioned once she was defeated in an electoral campaign in 2014, in large part because of corruption allegations associated with Paramount’s gifts and contracts. Indeed, only a small fraction of the boat deal ($17 million worth) was retained by the new government (Nyale 2016). Ichikowitz had at the same time also illegally supplied the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa a free flight and weekend holiday, causing a scandal in Tel Aviv (Donzis 2014).

[14In general, Pretoria’s arms sales oversight is very weak, as witnessed just prior to the 2003 US/UK invasion of Iraq (on false premises of Saddam Hussein’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction). At that time, Denel supplied the Western belligerents with ammunition shell-casing, artillery propellants, and laser range finders. In 2010 the Auditor General slated 58 dubious arms deals between involving South Africans, including with rights-violating regimes in Sudan, Gabon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt and the Central African Republic. The South African government had also specifically accused Ichikowitz’s firms in 2005 of “violating arms control rules in exports to several countries, including Angola and Ghana.” Allegedly, at least one army colonel was bribed in the process. In 2007, Ichikowitz was involved in what the Sunday Times termed “a mining venture in the war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with the Makabuza family, whose members have been accused of illegal arms trading and funding a rebel group charged with war crimes.” In 2014, in addition to allegedly corrupting Banda’s government, Paramount supplied Brazil’s police with weapons to use in its clampdown on the favelas before the World Cup, featuring extra-judicial killings and mass displacements. In 2020, Paramount’s Mbombe armored troop carriers were found in war-torn Libya, which observers suspected occurred through Ichikowitz’s close relations with either Saudi Arabia or Jordan.

[15In between southern Angola and the South African border was Pretoria’s colony of South West Africa – whose liberation movement had by 1989 gained enough international support that the SA Defence Force (SADF) was forced to retreat and the country won its freedom. The SADF’s periodic incursions into the region also included state terror attacks against democracy proponents who were civilian members of the African National Congress, in Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The SADF’s role in Mozambique included support for the Renamo right-wing movement which like Unita in Angola, is accused of killing an estimated million civilians with nothing to show for it aside from post-1992 oppositional status.

[16The tensions between Sudanese troops and the SANDF apparently only cooled when Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was allowed to skip out of South Africa surreptitiously, after an arrest warrant was issued thanks to a local legal NGO’s desire to see the International Criminal Court’s mandate followed (which in turn led Jacob Zuma to begin withdrawal from the ICC).

[17On the one hand, Sudanese peace activists considered SANDF’s troop withdrawal in 2016 to be dangerously premature but on the other, as Heitman told Fabricius (2016), “the mission has been largely futile as a result of its forces being matched if not overmatched by the weaponry available to the various militias.” A small residual team was left behind, but in 2019 it suffered the temporary loss of two of their vehicles in a hijacking, although they were returned albeit at the expense of some local fatalities (Martin 2019).

[18The Republic of South Africa (2021, 27-28) assumes that funding will flow from wealthy countries via:
The Adaptation Committee, the Adaptation Fund Board, the Executive Committee for the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage, the Consultative Group of Experts, the Katowice Committee of Experts on the Impacts of the Implementation of Response Measures, the Least Developed Countries Expert Group, the Facilitative Working Group of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, the Standing Committee on Finance, the Technology Executive Committee, the Paris Committee on Capacity-Building and bodies of the Financial Mechanism, including the Global Environment Facility and the Green Climate Fund. The Paris Agreement specifies that support be provided to developing countries in relation to mitigation (Article 4.5, “..recognizing that enhanced support for developing country Parties will allow for higher ambition in their actions”), the conservation and enhancement of sinks (Article 5.1), adaptation (Article 7.13), loss and damage (Article 8.3) and transparency (Articles 13.14 and 13.15)., through the provision of finance (Article 9), technology development and transfer (Article 10) and capacity-building (Article 11). The basis for South Africa’s NDC is the assumption that support will be provided for the implementation of the targets and goals specified above, for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage.

Patrick Bond

is professor at the University of Johannesburg Department of Sociology, and co-editor of BRICS and Resistance in Africa (published by Zed Books, 2019).




8 rue Jonfosse
4000 - Liège- Belgique

00324 60 97 96 80