Total Runs from its Responsibilities with its ‘Force Majeure’ Announcement on Mozambique Gas

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29 April 2021

On 26 April, 2021, French transnational corporation (TNC) Total announced, “Considering the evolution of the security situation in the north of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, Total confirms the withdrawal of all Mozambique LNG project personnel from the Afungi site. This situation leads Total, as operator of Mozambique LNG project, to declare force majeure.”

Our analysis of the “force majeure” phrase is that Total is trying hard to absolve itself of its commitments and slip out of its contracts with its sub-contractors, many of whom are local. With the “force majeure” announcement, it can claim that it is not responsible for complying with the terms of its contracts, but that it continues to hold the benefits of being the project concessionaire.

A press statement from the Mozambican National Petroleum Institute confirmed the situation of Total’s contracts and obligations, stating: “With the temporary interruption of operations, Total will not be able, during this time, to comply with the contractually assumed obligations and may also suspend or terminate more contracts with other providers of goods and / or services, depending on the time the interruption lasts… we clarify that Total did not abandon the Project, they remain as Concessionaire and Operator, with all the rights, duties and obligations…” (translated from Portuguese).

Sadly, both Total and the authorities fail to mention what will happen to the farming communities that have already been displaced and dispossessed to build the onshore Afungi LNG Park, who have still not been given land promised to them and remain without livelihoods. They cannot wait any longer especially given that it is projected the site will likely be dormant for over a year. Survival is at stake. Neither Total nor the government seem to have made any plan for them.

Total and the other TNCs involved in gas exploitation have already created havoc in Cabo Delgado. The people of the province have suffered immensely. Total has caused loss of livelihoods of local communities, due to land grabs for the gas project and all its secondary industries, and has blocked access to the ocean for fisherfolk who have been dumped inland and left without livelihoods. They were promised jobs in the industry which did not materialise. The area has faced a huge increase in militarisation, conflict and insecurity; the ‘resource curse’ theory has repeatedly shown how these link to fossil fuel development, especially in Africa. All warnings of these risks by JA! and civil society for years went ignored. It is sad to see this scenario play out again.

Cabo Delgado has been in flames. People already living in poverty, facing continued injustice and neglect, are under brutal attack. Palma was attacked by armed and organised insurgents on 24 March 2021 and the siege lasted for 10 days. This and previous attacks, starting in 2017, did not come out of nowhere, and the simplistic narrative of Islamic terrorism hides the social hardship that has given traction to extremist narratives. While the roots of the conflict are complex, the gas industry is fuelling social tensions as local communities feel frustrated, disrespected and desperate, seeing their province’s wealth being plundered by national political, and international economic elites and extractive companies, while the government continues to ignore their complaints and disregard their basic human rights and needs. Mercenaries, who have been indiscriminately killing civilians, are fighting this faceless insurgency alongside heavy-handed military and the conflict has left over 700,000 refugees in Cabo Delgado. When the lion and the elephant fight, it is the grass that suffers, as an African proverb reminds us.

Since the attacks in Palma, thousands of people are unaccounted for, missing or dead. Total evacuated its own staff and contractors, and only days later did some of the local population have a chance to be rescued to safety. Many others met a different fate. Of course the TNCs want more security for themselves, but what about the people? Joseph Hanlon writes in the Mail and Guardian that when Palma was attacked, “there was no security protecting the town, although 800 soldiers were inside the walls at Afungi protecting Total workers”.

Now, after creating havoc, Total wants to maintain itself as the lead gas operator but refuses to comply with its commitments, the most basic commitments to some of the poorest people on earth, like food security for gas-affected communities. The Mozambique gas project has already created deep social and economic issues. These will not go away overnight. Total must stop the gas exploitation entirely, but it cannot slink away from the mess it has already made. It must take responsibility and provide reparations for all the lives destroyed, all the lands grabbed, and the livelihoods lost. Total and the gas exploitation must stop, but that by itself does not erase years of abuse and dispossession overnight! The TNCs must be held accountable for the impacts and human rights violations faced by affected communities and be obliged to fully compensate the communities and remediate the damage caused.

JA! has always asserted and shown that our country should not be going down the dirty and unjust development pathway of fossil fuels, since it worsens the climate crisis, causes displacement and land grabbing, pollutes the air, water, soils, has terrible health impacts on local people and destroys the local ecology and livelihoods, and overall only serves the elites. Rather we need community-owned renewable energy for our millions currently without energy, and we need peoples’ centred development. More Mozambicans are now saying that we need to reflect as a country whether or not it is worthwhile to continue with this gas project.

But one also wonders why Total declared the “force majeure” position. Total is a TNC which secretly prides itself in being able to handle fossil fuel extraction in difficult situations. As Le Monde reported, the Total LNG site in Yemen has been used as a military base and secret prison by UAE militias after activities were suspended because of the war. Total also declared ‘force majeure’ in the Yemen site in 2015. What guarantees will be given by Total and the Mozambican government that the Mozambique Afungi site will not become like the Yemen site?

There is speculation in Mozambique about possible reasons for the ‘Force Majeure’ announcement:

  • It plays on the government’s fears of the project failing or being delayed, which could be used by Total to force the Mozambican government to renegotiate the contracts, already so favourable to Total, to give an even worse deal to the Mozambican people, while corporate elites and Mozambican elites make off with millions.
  • It also allows Total to demand more control over security of the gas region that prioritises their investment, that could come at the cost of broader national security and sovereignty.
  • It could help Total assert power over the Mozambican state and even a threat to use trade and investment agreements and their notorious Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system to demand compensation of millions for their losses.

What we do know for sure is this is a way for Total to indefinitely suspend its operations and not incur costs. Foreign contractors/ banks will likely file claims with Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) to be paid back. But Mozambican contractors do not have this option – they will be hit badly while citizens of global north countries will subsidise the fossil fuel TNCs, leaving Mozambique with an even larger debt, which is ironic since the gas revenues were the false panacea meant to solve the debt problem. We denounce these systems that threaten the future and well-being of the poorest peoples while benefiting the wealthiest.

Demand to the transnational corporations, banks and investors:

  • We demand that Total and all transnational corporations, all purchasers and all investors involved in gas extraction in Mozambique cease all activities related to the gas projects right now and we demand an end to fossil fuel finance.
  • We demand Total and the TNCs and all involved provide fair and just reparations to those who have already been affected.

Demands to the Mozambican government:

  • We demand that the Mozambican government stops gas and fossil fuels exploitation in Mozambique, awarding no more concessions and choosing a path of peoples-based renewable energy instead, since the current energy path is destroying the peoples’ livelihoods, the environment and exacerbating the climate crisis.
  • We demand that the Mozambican government ceases putting transnational corporations and foreign investors ahead of the well-being of the Mozambican people and takes urgent measures to effectively regulate big companies operating in the country.
  • We demand that the Mozambican government focus on the socio-economic drivers of the violence and deal with the loss of livelihoods, loss of community lands, oppression of the people and other injustices.
  • We demand that the Mozambican government starts providing regular and credible updates about the situation in the ground in Cabo Delgado, including information about people killed, missing and displaced.
  • We demand that the Mozambican government stops harassing, intimidating and threatening journalists and activists reporting about the situation in Cabo Delgado, and takes concrete measures to punish those who do so including an investigation about the military’s role in human rights abuses.

By JA! Justiça Ambiental/ Friends of the Earth Mozambique

Supported by:

Friends of the Earth France

Friends of the Earth International

Friends of the Earth US

Womin African Alliance

Friends of the Earth Africa

Re:common

Gastivists

Milieudefensie

Global Aktion

Groundwork

Climaximo

Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland

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