There Is More to Mozambique Than an AK-47 Assault Rifle on the Flag
Here is a story of a young man who was born in one of Africa's poorest countries. But thanks to the degree from the Russian university, it took him just a few years to head the branch of an international mining enterprise in his homeland.
This September the Russian government's website was updated with information that Russia would allocate funds on humanitarian aid to African countries to the UN World Food Programme. The countries in question are Burundi, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and the Central African Republic.
Mozambique is not in the list of aid recipients, although some ten years ago one of the world's poorest states would have likely been there. The Mozambican Civil War was fought from 1977 to 1992. Then the beginning of the 21st century saw the rise of terrorism. As a result, roads were destroyed, mines and quarries were flooded, and the unemployment rate reached 25%.
"The economy has gone through the worst, and now it is referred to as 'dynamically growing' despite the situation still being challenging. Anyway, the country is no longer as poor as people outside of it tend to think. Life in Mozambique is changing for the better, all because of the mineral wealth. The fact that we are rich in mineral resources is hardly news. Still, we have only started beneficially exploiting them," says Remo Celso Cipriano, a graduate of St Petersburg Mining University.
The Republic of Mozambique has been extracting natural gas since 2004. Sasol, a South Africa-based energy and chemical company, exports gas by pipeline and intends to build an LNG plant in the future. Locals are, however, not happy about the concluded contract, for the company set quite a low price on gas. Yet, there is very little left for domestic needs. Ensuring access to energy, in turn, remains a recurrent problem, thereby leaving country people with coal and firewood to use for fuel.
US-based Anadarko and Italian ENI discovered several massive gas deposits on the deep-sea shelf of Mozambique in between 2010-2012. The find instantly moved the country up the rankings, placing it onto the number 14 among the list of countries by natural gas proven reserves.
Based on the data from the USGS, technically recoverable hydrocarbon resources of the offshore province of Mozambique equal 11.7 billion barrels of oil and 182 trillion m3 of gas.
The discoveries raised the spirits of Mozambique nationals. People shared their hopes and dreams with the local media, believing they would study at night and work during daytime hours. They thought they would get the highest-paying jobs. Instead, foreign companies decided to develop the fields on their own and brought the floating LNG plants into the country. Crude products go straight into exports. Considering that the deposits are located at sea depths of 1,500 to 2,000 metres, tens of kilometres away from the shore, the outcome is by no means surprising.
The country's government came up with a solution on how to deal with this situation and launched a new legislative initiative in 2017. Under the latter, foreign companies operating in Mozambique are obliged to purchase a certain amount of goods and services from domestic manufacturers. They also need to provide a particular number of jobs to local inhabitants and invest in developing infrastructure. Finally, if employee training is required, this has to be ensured and paid by companies themselves.
On the one hand, such measures help grow Mozambique's economy. On the other hand, if nothing changes, Mozambican citizens are doomed to remain a low-skilled workforce. After all, the training of local employees is mostly limited to teaching the necessary skills required for entry-level jobs. Some changes to business arrangements are evidently long overdue.
According to Filipe Camundimo, a student at Mining University, "The mining industry is currently the most promising in my country. The problem is that we have no universities offering educational programmes in oil & gas engineering. Besides, the quality of education obtained from abroad is considerably higher than what local universities provide."
The sustainable economic development of Mozambique does not seem to be possible unless solving the problem the shortage of qualified engineers poses. Higher engineering education has become a cornerstone for the country rich not only in hydrocarbons but also in coal, graphite, rare earth metals, ilmenite, bauxite. In the end, the state flag does not consist of a Kalashnikov assault rifle - a symbol of defence - alone but also features a book and a hoe symbolising education and production.
"I was born in Beira, which is among the largest cities of Mozambique. I was a schoolboy when I found myself interested in geology. Back then, I also participated in a local study group for schoolers helping protect the environment. Beira is a port city wherein several oil refineries operate, and both the city itself and Sofala Province as a whole generate significant incomes through the exports of petrochemicals. Years went by, and my interest in mining kept growing. The mineral resources sector provides excellent career opportunities, both now and always. And the future outlook is even more promising if taking into account the discovery of gas reserves. So after graduating from school, I decided to apply to a mining engineering programme.
Russia is one of the global leaders in oil production. Hence the country has acquired over the years extensive experience in processing raw materials, adapting industry-specific technologies, and managing systems of staff training. Many of our skilled specialists in Mozambique actually graduated from Soviet or Russian universities. Therefore I did not hesitate much when choosing a country to leave for. Rossotrudnichestvo, an organisation responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad and distributing quotas to international students,helped me fulfil this plan," says Remo.
The Mozambican graduate returned to his homeland after earning the degree, but, regardless, retains the pleasant memories of his university life and the alma mater. The African fellow points out that it was the university that made him understand what academic and scientific achievements a student should reach to pursue a successful career.
"St. Petersburg Mining University is the oldest engineering university in Russia. I am happy to have studied there since it provided me with remarkable knowledge and practical skills. We spent a great deal of time working in the labs and research centres. We learnt how to administer projects in offshore hydrocarbon production via modern simulator complexes. And finally, through the use of a drilling simulator, we learnt how to deal with technical issues arising at well construction.
I returned home in 2018 and, thanks to the qualification I had obtained, soon found a well-paid job. Notwithstanding I studied oil & gas engineering, I switched to the mining industry. Not that it was a problem! At Mining University, I was taught to advance and work on my own: that is, monitor scientific papers, carry out my own research, and analyse the market trends," explains Remu.
The Mozambican graduate, as of now, holds simultaneously two positions - Head of Production and Engineer - at Tazetta Resources. The enterprise belongs to East Minerals, the group of companies under the control of several Russian investors. Tazetta Resources' activities include, among others, mining, processing, inclusive of primary treatment, and exporting zircon/ilmenite, with facilities located at Pebane District and Idugu Island.
The plant in Pebane was opened last summer. Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, the President of Mozambique, was one of the attendees at the opening ceremony. In his speech to the enterprise's employees and area residents, he particularly emphasised the importance of the new facility for the country's economy. Mr Nyusi addressed the locals and asked them to respect the Russian-based organisation, as well as he promised to deliver administrative support to the company.
The Russia-Africa Summit of 2019 followed with the write-off of African countries' debts totalling 20 billion dollars. The decision caused mostly misunderstanding at the time; news headlines more often than not featured the word 'why'. Here is how the Mozambican politician answered that question:
"Russia forgave 90% of Mozambique's national debt - $40 million altogether - dating as far back as to the Soviet times. We are highly grateful and value such partners; of course, they will be first to whom we offer new opportunities once they arise. In Mozambique, we say: whoever comes first takes it all. Russians were helping us to fight for Mozambique's independence, but many opportunities were lost. Now, we have started to reform the economy and are giving a big welcome to Russian entrepreneurs. Russians are truly a nation of winners. And if they expand their projects to our country, they will invariably succeed. We have got raw materials, but hopefully, we will extract and process them with the help of Russian investments".
The President stayed true to his word. The new MPP of high export potential in Pebane is the first organisation in two decades to have been built from scratch by Russian specialists.
"There are 5 Russians, 24 Vietnamese, and 263 Mozambicans working at my company. Locals are usually blue-collar workers. When I first joined Tazetta Resources, I was employed as a marine engineer. Later I was promoted up the career ladder. High task performance, deep understanding of the mining industry, the ability to learn quickly, and leadership skills - this is what helped me to become the head of the department. Certainly, a good command of Russian and the fact that I studied at Mining University - Russian education is of high value in Mozambique - also helped me through. So here I am today: leading the team of 220 employees. My main responsibilities are quality control of ilmenite production at all of our MPPs, staff training in mining technologies and production methods, supervision of personnel from all departments. That is not all - I am also responsible for ensuring that wet magnetic separation is handled properly, and, for example, compiling daily production reports. It takes time indeed to keep up with the schedule: I usually have 3 months of work followed by 2 weeks of rest. Such a workload nonetheless is more than beneficial in terms of the pay-off," says Remo.
Russia and Mozambique have already signed a memorandum on technical cooperation in geology and subsoil management. The document, in particular, concerns the implementation of joint projects in such areas as regional geology, exploration and development of mineral resources, application of geophysical research to the discovery of deep-sea resources. Rosneft, a Russian oil & gas corporation, for instance, found the initiative interesting, particularly in its part relating to the development of offshore natural gas fields. New projects will undoubtedly need people to run then. But will they be found among locals is a question that remains unanswered for now.