Blog / 30 april 2020

Discovery of gas in Mozambique: blessing or curse?

COVID-19is placing our economy under a magnifying glass. Now that a large part of global trade has come to a standstill, the tension between international economic activity and local well-being is becoming more visible. That is very clear in northern Mozambique, where one of the world’s largest gas fields was discovered in 2011. Dutch companies are investing in the processing and transport of the gas.

The people who live in the area where the gas was discovered were promised all kinds of benefits. Instead, however, they have lost their land, seen crime increase and have only been able to find low-skilled work. Despite the enormous investments, they have no basic services. This is fertile ground for militant movements like Al-Shabab, whichare growing rapidly. Since 2017, thousands have died and 200,000 people have fled their homes. Under pressure from the coronacrisis, the violence is getting more and more out of hand. In situations like these, COVID-19 aid to Africa can and must be deployed on the basis of a broader development perspective.

There is hope. In the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where the gas was found, a basis has been laid for rolling out broader development plans through consultations between the government, foreign investors and the local population. Local people have organised themselves and are working closely with civil society organisations on the negotiations with companies and government. Unfortunately, this has become more and more difficult in recent years. As a result of rising violence, companies are increasingly turning in upon themselves. The government has sent troops to the area, which has increased the tensions. Journalists are arrested and organisations that work with local people are being accused of recruiting members for the militant movement.

Now that Dutch trade and development minister Sigrid Kaag is taking resolute steps to alleviate the most severe needs in Africa, it is important to look at places like northern Mozambique through a different lens. The Netherlands can use the emergency COVID-19 aid to ensure a better balance between international commercial interests and the interests of the local population.

In concrete terms, that means investing in basic services and improving local food productivity. At the same time, we can reduce lawlessness by strengthening local governance structures and – as a first step – ensuring that our own embassy and companies take them into serious consideration in their decision-making processes. To put a stop to the current Wild West situation, rules on labour and environment must be clear and apply to all companies. That will also enable civil society organisations to perform their binding role more effectively.

Here in the Netherlands, we have first-hand experience of the consequences of a one-dimensional commercial perspective on gas extraction. Let us learn the lessons from our own problems in Groningen and make sure that an uncontrollable situation does not arise in which local residents systematically get the worst deal. If we do that, we can offer the people of Cabo Delgado real added value.

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