Erik Prince, founder of the notorious Blackwater security company best known for the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, is set to take over policing and counter-terrorism operations in Northern Mozambique, an area that has been hit by dozens of violent extremist attacks over the past few months.

In return for his efforts against the shadowy group, which is behind a series of gruesome attacks, Prince and his company will be paid out of a special tax levied by the Mozambican government on the gem mining and natural gas industries operating in the area.

Prince is the sister of Betsy de Vos, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education and a subject of interest in Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged conspiracy with Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The son of a billionaire engineering company owner, Prince sold Blackwater in 2009 and now runs Frontier Services Group, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Its main investor is the Chinese government.

Frontier Services Group aims to turn profits by investing in Africa on behalf of its corporate backers. According to Deutsche Welle, Prince has proposed funding 80 percent of the costs of fighting the Mozambican insurgency in return for a large cut of the taxes levied on the oil, gas, and gem mines in the area. Prince has suggested the operation will cost US $750 million.

Prince has already taken control of the Mozambican national tuna fishing fleet after buying up the company’s debt, which allowed the fleet to take to sea after months of lying at anchor without fuel. After taking over the tuna fleet, Prince set up a second Mozambican-registered company called Pro6 in January this year. Pro6 is a joint venture between ProIndicus, a security company run by the Mozambican government, and the Lancaster 6 Group, a company run by Christiaan Durrant. Durrant is a long-time senior employee of Prince at Frontier Services Group, which owns the Lancaster 6 Group.

ProIndicus owns a number of naval vessels that were purchased secretly by senior Mozambican cabinet ministers, who hid from parliament that hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent on fishing boats for the national tuna fishing fleet, as well as on naval vessels and military equipment for ProIndicus.

The ministers believed that a windfall from the natural gas discoveries in northern Mozambique would pay for this equipment. When the windfall did not materialise in time, it was revealed that the Mozambican government did not have the money to honour its debts. The tuna fleet was unable to purchase fuel and salaries at ProIndicus went unpaid.

ProIndicus was supposed to turn dividends by generating income from oil and gas companies, which were expected to hire the company to provide security for offshore drilling operations at risk of attack by pirates. However, the multinational companies operating in the area were never consulted, and they refused to hire ProIndicus or its successor Pro6.

In May of this year the subscription-based news service Africa Intelligence reported that Prince’s company had secured contracts from several important oil and gas companies, including Exxon and ENI. However, in the past week both companies have flatly denied ever having even entered into negotiations with Prince or his company. Both firms deny ever having hired Prince to perform any service for them at all.

With the eruption of the insurgency in recent months, the businessman has pivoted to preparing to take control of operations to tackle the extremists. A series of attacks on local Mozambican subsistence farmers were so gruesome that on 15 June 2018 U.S. oil giant Anadarko placed all its employees on lockdown, restricting them to their compound out of fear that they may be victimized.

Prince is known for moving in shadowy circles. The former U.S. Navy Seal is under scrutiny by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly staging a secret meeting in the Seychelles shortly after Trump’s inauguration with an emissary of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting is believed to have been facilitated by the United Arab Emirates. According to the report, Prince met with the unnamed Russian in an attempt to set up a secret “back channel” communication network between Trump and Putin.

In May of this year, the New York Times reported that Prince also took part in a secret meeting between Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; princes from Saudi Arabia and the UAE; and an Israeli social media manipulation expert. If it occurred as reported, the meeting contravened U.S. law, which prohibits foreign entities from funding or supporting U.S. electoral candidates.

Now defunct, Prince’s infamous Blackwater security company was by far the most notorious of the private military contractors operating in Iraq. Apart from the Nisour Square massacre, where 17 unarmed Iraqis were killed by Blackwater’s guards, Prince’s men were involved in a series of questionable shootings in the country. On Christmas Eve 2006, a Blackwater contractor shot and killed a bodyguard of the Iraqi vice president. Blackwater flew the guard out of Iraq before he could be arrested or tried. And in May 2007, the company was involved in an armed standoff with Iraqi police after shooting dead two Iraqi civilians, including an interior ministry employee.

In October 2007, after the Nissour Square massacre, Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute wrote:

Several weeks before the most recent Blackwater incident, an Iraqi official explained how the contractors’ actions were reverberating against the wider U.S. effort in Iraq and beyond. “They are part of the reason for all the hatred that is directed at Americans, because people don’t know them as Blackwater, they know them only as Americans. They are planting hatred, because of these irresponsible acts.

Displacement and dispossession in northern Mozambique

On 25 October 2017, Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi sacked the head of his intelligence service, Lagos Lidimo, and the chief of the army, Grace Chongo, after a series of attacks on police and government facilities caught his government and its security services by complete surprise. The attacks took place in a remote part of northern Mozambique where communications and road networks are very poor, and where the locals have become disaffected after years of being ignored by their own government.

Elite units of the Mozambican army moved into the area to fight the Islamic insurgents, who call themselves Al Shabab, or “The Youth,” and appear to be largely disaffected locals who have a grudge against the Mozambican state. They do not appear to be connected to the Somalian terrorist group that goes by the same name.

Over the past five years, subsistence farmers and others who call the area home have been increasingly displaced and prevented from accessing the lands they farm, first by a ruby mining operation, and subsequently by the discovery of one of the world’s largest natural gas fields, which has attracted numerous multinational corporations, including Exxon, Anadarko, and ENI.
Those displaced were not compensated, though the multinationals who took their place have agreed to fund the construction of villages for those left homeless. The villages, in most cases, are yet to be completed, and are located at great distances from the villagers’ original homes.

Mozambique does not allow for the private ownership of land. However, people can obtain land use rights in the form of DUATs, or Direito do Uso e Aproveitamento da Terra. DUATs provide some security of ownership and are valid for up to fifty years at a time.

However, as Ana Paula Tuacale of the Mozambican National Union of Peasant Farmers points out, over 90 percent of the population in Northern Mozambique is illiterate. Few northerners are aware of their rights, and fewer can be expected to know how to enforce them.

Furthermore, mining operations supersede DUATs: any Mozambican is liable to lose his or her land rights to mining operations at any time. Improvements on the land made by the holder of a DUAT can be seized by the state in exchange for compensation. But in the case of rural farmland, the value of the land is calculated as the value of the crops growing on the land at the moment the land is seized.

As all land belongs to the government, it is legally possible for the Mozambican government to expropriate land “in the national interest.”

The first land dispossessions for mining purposes in the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique began around 2011.

Beginning in late 2008, Thai markets began to feature a number of high quality rubies that were traced back to northern Mozambique, where artisanal miners had accidentally stumbled on a rich vein of quality gems. In 2009, Thai ruby buyers, keen to trace the origins of their rubies, found their way to the land of an illiterate local farmer, Suleimane Hassane, in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. The mining giants moved in soon afterward.

Hassane does not appear to have benefitted from his discovery. He is neither a director nor a shareholder of Gemfields, the multinational company that owns the mining rights on what was his farm, and which has made millions from mining the area.

The land where the ruby was discovered is now owned by the retired governor of Cabo Delgado province, General Raimundo Pachinuapa, who is partnered with a number of billionaire South Africans, including Christo Wiese of Steinhof fame, through the London listed Gemfields. The joint venture is known as Montepuez Ruby Mining, or MRM.

Gemfields claims to maintain the highest ethical standards and denies media reports that locals have been mistreated by the company’s security forces.

Called the Nacatanas, or “Men of the Machete,” a group of local toughs armed with heavy clubs and machetes reportedly act as a private militia for the mining company, attacking, robbing, and allegedly hacking to death locals who illegally mine for rubies on the land to which Gemfields holds the rights.

Gemfields strongly denies that it employs the “Men of the Machete.” However, in April, London-based law firm Leigh Day filed a lawsuit against Gemfields in London’s High Court.
The lawsuit alleges that the firm has benefited from the expropriation from land without compensation from subsistence farmers and their families. The claim also accuses the firm of employing security guards who have not only beaten and in some cases raped locals but have actually murdered residents in order to drive them off the land.

In a press statement, Gemfields announced they had not yet been served legal papers, and attempted to “pass the buck” onto the Mozambican government:

The claim alleges that Gemfields and MRM are liable for human rights abuses including the deaths and mistreatment of artisanal miners and the seizure of land without due process. Those acts are, in many instances, alleged by the law firm to have involved the Mozambican police and/or other Mozambican government forces, for which the claim seeks to hold Gemfields and MRM liable.

We recognise that in the past instances of violence have occurred on and off the MRM licence area, both before and after our arrival in Montepuez. These have often been between rival groups of artisanal miners and their handlers competing for control of territory, or involving security forces, typically in preserving the safety and wellbeing of employees, service providers and members of the local community. However, where such incidents have occurred, including instances involving our own employees, MRM has taken decisive and appropriate steps, working closely with the authorities, including providing humanitarian assistance to artisanal miners and community members.

We are working with our legal advisors in England and Mozambique to ensure that the claim, despite the limited details provided to date, is fully examined and also to defend robustly our hard-earned reputation as a leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones.

The Mozambican Boko Haram

In June 2017 the locals of Cabo Delgado, especially those living near Palma, found themselves in the same situation as the subsistence farmers who had earlier been booted off their farms. A major Liquid Natural Gas project in the area, which had been talked about for years, kicked off when multinational oil companies commenced construction on a major gas field. The construction of the gas field came at the same time as a shadowy group of Jihadis began to step up their terror campaign.

Early in June at least one major oil company, Anadarko, placed its employees on lockdown, instructing them not to venture outside their gated residential compound for fear of their being attacked.

The violence, orchestrated by a group of shadowy men speaking Swahili, Portuguese, and the local dialect of Kimwani, has been described as the work of an Islamic extremist sect. However, as one very reliable source based in Cabo Delgado pointed out, all the more recent attacks bear the marks of a well-known local gang of criminal thugs: the Nacatanas.

“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but the change in tactics and focus has had consequences. There are many reports in the media quoting people who believe that the attacks might be the work of security companies looking for easy contracts,” said one source in Cabo Delgado. “Most of the expats here believe that as well. Personally I don’t believe that, but the only reason I don’t believe it is that the risks of doing so would be too high for even the most despicable security operator to take.”

The source also pointed out that it is nearly impossible to know exactly what is going on in Cabo Delgado. “The locals are not literate. There is no real media presence in the area, and in very few cases will the government or any of its agencies talk about what is going on. That means the only way of gathering information for journalists is in face to face meetings with locals. Because the area is so remote and because the roads are so poor not much of that happens.”

From October 2017 until the beginning of this year, Mozambique was rocked by a series of well-planned attacks by gunmen targeting government buildings and occasionally looting police stations for firearms. Early in 2018, the nature and focus of these attacks changed, from well-armed attacks on government institutions to attacks on local population groups. The recent attacks were carried out by men armed only with machetes, knives and clubs.

Violent death at the hands of thugs is not a new thing in northern Mozambique. On 3 April 2014, Hélder Xavier wrote in the Mozambican weekly newspaper Verdade that at least three illegal or unlicensed miners were being killed every week in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. Verdade laid the blame for these deaths squarely on the Nacatanas.

A source in Northern Mozambique, who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time Blackwater existed, said that should Prince become involved in fighting the Jihadis in Northern Mozambique things would get much worse.

In Iraq Prince caused way more trouble than he was worth. Every time his people went out they created instant enemies for the US forces by roughing up locals. The same will happen in Mozambique. The man is a total asshole and anyone who deals with him is looking for trouble. The Jihadi attacks are getting more brutal every month, but at the moment they are still low level and not aimed at anyone other than local populations. There is a great deal of confusion and very little information coming out the area – but it seems that the attacks may be aimed at targeting suspected government informers or those few locals who are working for the mining companies.

From my knowledge the attackers are Islamist in nature, but they are mainly fighting back against a government system that has robbed them of their land and their ability to feed their families. If Prince gets involved he will hire thugs, who will brutalize the locals and the attacks will target Prince’s men and the gas and oil companies they work for. If that happens it will make the area more attractive to foreign Jihadis and will instantly make Northern Mozambique a serious war zone. Then of course the Mozambican National Resistance, Renamo, could also get involved, and start attacking the police and army in areas they have never been able to operate before.

Prince’s Frontier Services Group did not respond to requests for an interview.

Erik Prince Buys a Navy in Mozambique

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