Week 9

This week’s readings were on the Isaacman’s (2013) Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development. Cahora Bassa and its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007. Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River was built in the early 1970s during the final years of Portuguese rule. It was the last major infrastructure project constructed in Africa during the turbulent era of decolonization. Engineers and hydrologists praised the dam for its technical complexity and the skills required to construct what was then the world’s fifth-largest mega dam. Portuguese colonial officials cited benefits they expected from the dam — from expansion of irrigated farming and European settlement, to improved transportation throughout the Zambezi River Valley, to reduced flooding in this area of unpredictable rainfall. The project, however, actually resulted in cascading layers of human displacement, violence, and environmental destruction. Its electricity benefited few Mozambicans and instead fed industrialization in apartheid South Africa.

Chapter 3 opens with the role of the Portugese government on African land as they began explaining the benefits of the dam to locals. Indigenous people of the area view the Zambezi River as a sustaining life source that must be respected as it holds cultural values for them, whereas, the Portugese viewed the river as a beneficial natural resource that must be extracted to reap benefits for the advancement in human lives. Chapter 4 of the book discusses the “promises” made by the Portugese to the Mozambicans with the construction of the dam. It was portrayed as a project that would allow Mozambique to move towards modernization and development as it was getting plenty of encouragement and positive feedback from the international community.

Chapter 5 explores the situation of the environment and displaced peoples after the Cahora Bassa was built. So prior to building the dam, there were promises of creating a society that would be free of discrimination of race and religion as a way for progression to occur in society, but the complete opposite actually took place. There was visible isolation among people as forced displacement of the indigenous population took place. There was also abuse, including beating and whipping, and major health impacts from increase in diseases, such as malaria. Chapter 6 then discusses how locals did not benefit at all from the dam. And as a result, there was change in ecosystems that not only harmed local economies but also displaced locals and animals that were dependent on the river for their survival. Chapter 7 analyzes the current state of Mozambique today in relation to the legacies of hydroelectric dams left by colonizers in Africa. After almost fifty years, the Cahora Bassa Dam still continues to impoverish more than half a million locals of the lower Zambezi valley while also deteriorating the region’s local ecosystems and wildlife.

While conducting extra research on this matter, I came to the conclusion that Cahora Bassa is one of the most controversial investments/ developments that ever took place in Mozambique, confirming the export oriented trend of the colonial authority. Its serious environmental impacts have always been and still are disregarded for other so called “development needs”, under the fallacy of “benefits outweighing the damage”, turning a blind eye to the “collateral” impacts. I do not think that the government of Mozambique will consult with locals for future projects on the river or other lands because projects such as a the Cahora Bassa produces profit for them. Indigenous people will never agree to have infrastructures built, so then the question is, how are these people going to survive if they keep getting displaced without the government not taking any initiatives to compensate them for their losses? Who holds the authority to make calls on behalf of such a large population that are being directly affected by construction of dams?

Arpita Biswas

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