In these circumstances, gas became the great promise and gamble. The patron-client system was kept working by promises of gas money – cash as early as 2012 for those linked to the $2bn secret debt. From 2015, contracts for hotel rooms, transport and myriad services for the gas companies, as well as mandatory shares in gas-linked foreign investment projects, went to the local Frelimo fixers. For others, the gas bonanza was always just around the corner.
Like all good con artists, those at the top had to keep everyone believing the big payoff was coming. Frelimo’s gamble was that, like a juggler, it could keep the balls in the air, hoping no-one noticed that the project was shrinking and delayed. With no money for development and growing wealth at the top, poverty and inequality increased.
But in the past two years, four things have changed: environmental concerns, global politics, the market and war. The gas project projections were done assuming wells would pump for 30 years – to 2060 – and thus long-term profits were assured.
There was no serious pressure on fossil fuels in 2010, and by the middle of the decade gas was being promoted as a transition fuel with half the carbon of coal, thus replacing it until renewables were available. But last year, environmentalists moved against all fossil fuels, including gas, and put huge pressure on energy companies to move out of these fuels.
Global politics also became an issue. China, with its huge number of coal-fired power stations and commitment to move to gas, had been seen as a major gas buyer. But US sanctions against China and the US taking sides in the Middle East led to China seeking gas producers not aligned to the US and in March signing major long-term contracts with Iran and Qatar.