MAPUTO, Mozambique -- Extremist rebels in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province have killed a worker for the international charity Doctors Without Borders, shortly after a former vice president of the organization was asked to produce a report into the humanitarian situation in the conflict-hit region.
Mozambique’s Islamic extremist insurgency, which started in October 2017, is blamed for the deaths of more than 3,000 people and for displacing an estimated 900,000 people. In March 2021 the rebel violence forced the France-based firm TotalEnergies to put on hold its $20 billion liquified natural gas project in the north of the province. TotalEnergies invoked force majeure after the insurgents attacked the town of Palma, very near the gas project.
Palma was later recaptured by Mozambican and Rwandan forces and the government has urged TotalEnergies to resume work on the gas project.
Last week TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne made a lightning visit to Mozambique during which he inspected the gas project site and Palma as well as the port town of Mocímboa da Praia, once an insurgent stronghold. Pouyanne later dined with Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi in Cabo Delgado's provincial capital of Pemba before flying out the same day.
At the end of the top executive's visit, TotalEnergies announced the appointment of Jean-Christophe Rufin, “a recognized expert in humanitarian action and human rights,” to undertake “an independent mission to assess the humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado province.” Rufin is a former vice president of Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym, MSF, and former president of the non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger. Rufin also served as France’s ambassador to Gambia and Senegal, appointed by the then foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, one of the co-founders of MSF.
Rufin’s report is due at the end of February, and TotalEnergies said it will help it and its consortium partners in the gas project to “decide whether the conditions are met for resuming project activities.”
“The lifting of the force majeure and the resumption of activities at the Mozambique LNG project site require, in particular, the restoration of security in the region, the resumption of public services and the return to normal life for the people of the region," Pouyanne said.
But while gains have been made by Mozambique’s armed forces and its regional allies, the rebels are still capable of carrying out lethal attacks — including on the main north-south road that links the city of Pemba with the gas project in Palma.
On Feb. 1, two vans and a minibus were attacked south of the town of Macomia, killing an estimated seven people, including a nurse, and injuring seven others. The vehicles were left burned on the road, local outlet Zitamar News reported.
Then on Feb. 4, the day after Pouyanne's visit, another attack hit the same stretch of road. An MSF staff member, on his day off, was fatally injured while traveling on public transport to visit his family in Pemba, MSF announced. The man was a driver in Macomia for MSF, which he had joined in 2019. He is survived by his wife and five children.
ʺToday, we are grieving as we lost a colleague who, like all staff, are fully committed to assisting displaced families and often face significant risks,” said Federica Nogarotto, the director of MSF's mission in Mozambique. “This is a very sad day for us and for our team.”