Week Nine- Dams, Displacement and Development

Naomi Pearson

This week’s readings centered around Allen F. Isaacman’s  and Barbara S. Isaacman’s book “Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007″ which discussed the construction of the  Cohora Bassa dam project. The dam was the conception of the colonial power -the Portuguese, as a way of creating cheap power for the country in order to surge Mozambique forward into a new age of development. However, according to Gilberto Freye’s theory of “lusotropicalism,” it also had a much more insidious purpose. At the time, many colonial powers were in the process of – or already had – relinquished control of their colonial lands. The dam was a strategy by the Portuguese to show the world that Mozambique was not a colony, but a “foreign province” in which they were demonstrating great care by developing significant infrastructure and investment. This strategy was a way of taking the pressure of their government to leave the country and give the people of Mozambique their independence. (p. 59)

One can see evidence of this theory in the construction of the Cohora Bassa dam. Though it was highly publicized as a great development project for the people of Mozambique; meant to “bring the people out of poverty and close the wage gap,” what it actually did was displace thousands of peasant farmers and marginalize thousands more workers in unsafe and radicalized working conditions. However, even though the project was advertised as a modern development miracle, the state evidently knew full well of the contradictions of its words because it imposed a strict media blackout at the site except for journalists loyal to their views.

Therefore, many of the deaths and stories of terrible working conditions at the site went largely unreported. In the past weeks in class we have been talking about the mining sector and co-operations in business between China or India and various nations proficient in IT, mineral, oil, and other sectors. However, Cohora Bassa is an example of how these kind of co-operations between big businesses and nations can go wrong if not heavily monitored, and all in the name of “development.” Generally, everyone has an agenda, as the Cohora Bassa dam demonstrated – whether that be profit, to hedge of an attacking rebel group, or to hang on to political power. As the readings stated, fervent post-colonial theorists tend to look at development “as a continuation of colonialist process of the Third World as an object to be developed.” or “Just another way to gain access to their resources.”  (pg 19) I believe this is true to a certain extent, certainly in the case of the Cohora Bassa dam, where the development rhetoric was used in such a way as to exploit the very people it was supposed to help.

However, then one must ask, if development rhetoric is capable of producing this affect, is it really helpful at all? Is it meant to help, is it it also born out of these colonialist structures as well? Were the Portuguese simply using another piece in the colonialist tool box, or were they manipulating the international community with words they would understand?


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