Week 9 Changing Landscapes: Dams, Degradation and Displacement

Sarah Virani

In the book, Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007, Allen and Barbara Isaacman discuss the case of the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique and the implications that the construction of the dam has had on the citizens of Mozambique. Chapter 3, Harnessing the River focuses on the building of the dam in Mozambique in 1965 until 1975. While focusing on the construction of the dam, the chapter raises some of the challenges that the Portuguese faced due to the lack of infrastructure in Mozambique. This chapter also highlights how the organization of the work on the Cahora Bassa was highly racialized, specifically between the African workers and the European ones. Workers were not the only ones affected by the construction of the dam, “Local African communities were forced to abandon their homes in the Songo highlands to make way for the construction of a segregated town for white workers recruited from abroad” (Page 57). An interesting point is raised as The Cahora Bassa was labeled by Frelimo’s first president, Eduardo Mondlane as a place of anti-colonial battle that if not destroyed would destroy them (Page 89). This created the rise of activists who began to boycott Western help and bring attention to the conditions that surrounded the dam, in order to create change. However, unfortunately the dam was not destroyed and continued to impact local populations.

Chapter 4, Displaced People discusses how the dam how they were evicted from their villages in 1970-1975 and many citizens were forced into modern planned communities, which are referred to as aldeamentos. I had never heard of aldeamentos, which are fertile lands that provided adequate water as a solution for displacement. We can see the devastating affects of Portuguese colonialism in Africa through the displacement caused by the Cahora Bassa and the villagization that occurred. However, it is evident that in order to get citizens to move, the colonialists used propaganda and false promises. One way was convincing communities that their agricultural cycle or religious practices would not be interrupted (Page 98). Nonetheless, the authors examine how the aldeamentos were not pleasant for citizens to live in and deprived them of their culture and identity and their basic human rights especially as they were constantly under the surveillance of the militia (Page 108). Despite that the colonialists said that the aldeamentos would have adequate water supplies, it was not surprising to learn that severe water shortages and health problems, including diseases stemming from lack of sanitation was one of the biggest consequences of the forced displacement and villagization (Page 114).

The Lower Zambezi, chapter 5 highlights how the landscape and nature has changed from 1975-2007 and the repercussions that the dam has had on its surrounding environment. The chapter specifically focuses on the Zambezi River valley and the surrounding communities. Flooding still occurs despite that the one of the reasons why the Cahora Bassa was built was to control floods and it fails to do so (Page 146). The dam sporadically releases water on downriver landscapes and human populations, which causes further displacement amongst populations and damage to the environment. It is upsetting that the impoverished communities are the ones that suffered from the war and are continuing to suffer because of the dam.

The focus of Chapter 6, Displaced Energy is on the ownership and control of the Cahora Bassa. The chapter examines how not only citizens were displaced from the dam but the energy itself was expatriated. Under control of a Portuguese company, they determined the outlay of the water and they discussed the sale of the majority of its electricity to South Africa. I was not surprised that Portugal only agreed to sell two-thirds of its shares in the Cahora Bassa dam after learning that the Mozambique government threated the building of a second dam, which would decrease the profitability of the Cahora Bassa dam (Page 166). Even though the dam is now under control of Mozambique, many citizens’ still lack electricity and rural development has a far way to come in order to benefit.

Chapter 7, Legacies, was the final chapter assigned this week and it highlights how hydroelectric dams in Africa are one of the most lasting legacies from colonialism (Page 167). I agree with this because even though the colonial presence may not be as prevalent within the country, the dams, as a result of colonialism, still continue to impoverish millions of residents and deplete the surrounding environment. The chapter also examines the second dam that could have possibly been constructed, Mphanda Nkuwa. By using the lessons learned from the Cahora Bassa dam, the authors assess the possible implications of a second dam. At the end of the book the authors raise a crucial point in saying that those that have suffered must resume conceptualizing how to both confront developmentalism and “decolonize development” (Page 187). With this being said, I believe that this is significant in dealing with developing nations and also with post-colonial countries and places more of an emphasis on empowering the locals rather than solely focusing on foreign assistance.

 Discussion Questions

  •  The Mozambican government wanted to construct a second dam, Mphnda Nkuwa.  Do you think that this could be a reflection of the colonialism they experienced?
  • If there is conflict arising over the control of a dam, who do you think you think should decide who controls it?
  • Do you think that it would be better to completely shut down the operation of the Cahora Bassa dam?
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