On 11 August 2015 Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi replaced Nelson Ocuane, the Chairperson of the National Hydrocarbons Company (Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos ‒ ENH), with the former Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Oscar Mitha, who was relieved of his ministerial duties at the same time.
Mitha was appointed Deputy Minister by Nyusi in January 2015 when he constituted his new government. Before this Mitha was chief economist at the country’s largest commercial bank, the Millennium International Bank of Mozambique (BIM).
The displaced Ocuane was once a rising star in Mozambique’s gas and oil sector and observers ascribe his removal partly to delays in securing agreements with major gas and oil companies, and perceptions that he has become too close to these companies.
Besides these more pragmatic considerations, there is some consensus that the move is part of Nyusi’s broader agenda to gradually consolidate his grip on all critical areas of governance, in both political and business terms. In this context the removal of high-profile officials aligned to former President Guebuza, such as Ocuane, means that Nyusi is continuing his drive to rid his ranks of any potentially disruptive forces and signals a strong intent to steer the oil and gas sector firmly and proactively. The fact that the new appointee Mitha comes from the same province as Nyusi, Cabo Delgado, reinforces the notion that the changing of the guard is gaining traction.
Underscoring government’s intent to take the oil and gas sector in hand, Carlos Zacarias has also replaced Arsenio Mabote as the Chairman of the National Institute of Petroleum (Instituto Nacional de Petróleo ‒ INP). Zacarias is a geologist and was previously the Exploration Manager at INP.
The fact that these announcements come close on the heels of the 30 July announcement by the INP that bidding for the fifth licencing round for exploration and production of hydrocarbons in 15 blocks is now closed, suggests that Nyusi is not willing to take any chances on future decisions on oil and gas ‒ especially at a time when Mozambique’s economy is in the spotlight of consecutive ratings agency downgrades.