Week 9 – Delusions of Development

This week’s readings were from the book Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development by Allen and Barbara Isaacman.  It focused on the construction of the Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River in Mozambique.  On the first two pages of chapter three, we are immediately introduced to the theme of the book, oppression of the local population by colonial powers in the name of modernisation.  “Local African communities were forced to abandon their homes…to make way for the construction of a segregated town for white workers…” (pg 57), “state officials often relied on conscripted labor” (pg 57), and “colonial powers used coercion to silence, repress, and discipline angry workers…”(pg 57-58).  This was all done to construct a dam that was “supposed to improve the lives of African communities in the area” (pg 58).  This becomes an increasingly common theme throughout the book as many other examples of colonial exertion of power and authority over local populations and also racially defined social structures within this development process (“Not even long-term Mozambican dam workers were able to break out of the racially defined unskilled positons to which they had been consigned”pg160).  This project had many obstacles to overcome, including financial crisis, supplying an adequate workforce, and even local and national resistance to the Portuguese colonial powers.  With all of the negatives associated with this project, such as the local displacement, violence, ecological and environmental impacts, it is not entirely surprising to find out that the colonial powers never did succeed in construction.  Instead, the project was taken up by the government of Mozambique who has been faced with their own challenges of building the newly proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam.  This process, which was a national initiative (as opposed to one proposed by an international or colonial power) seemed to operate in a similar fashion to the previous colonial powers under the guise of national unity.  Local were seldom interviewed and/or consulted about the new project.  When meetings took place about the project and local peasants attended, they were “rarely asked questions or challenged the plan in any way. Their silence at the meetings…reflected a top-down culture of governance” (pg 178).  This style of government and approach to development is eerily similar to that of the colonial powers.  Even some of the statistical environmental and ecological data collected to understand more about the impacts construction would have were questionable.  So what has changed? In recent years, there has been increased popularity and movement for local initiatives to take place for development and that international parties do not reflect or fully understand the local perspective, lifestyles, or traditions.  Yet according to this book, development taken on by national government are not much better.  Which is more effective?  This sort of national development? Or perhaps the models shown by Chinese and Indian business models which envelop trade and development?

Josh S


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