week 9 discussion

Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development

Yazan Al-Thibeh

Week 9

This week’s readings examines the book “Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development” by Allen F. Isaacman. This novel explores the Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River, built in the 1970s, which was one of the largest and last infrastructure developments constructed in Africa during the turbulent period of decolonization. The book studies the social and economic impacts that the dam had on the citizens of Mozambique. In fact, the book also exams how Portuguese colonial power benefited from the dam – from expansion of the irrigated farming and European settlement, to improved transportation throughout the Zambezi River.


Chapter three: Harnessing the River: High Modernism and Building the Dam, 1965–75

This chapter looks at the construction of the dam in Mozambique in 1965-75. Isacacman brings up how the Portuguese tries to bring modernization to Mozambique by constructing a dam only realizing that they are lacking the basic infrastructure to build it. The dam was supposed to bring social and economic growth within the city of Mozambique, but the construction of the dam brought more bad than good. He mentions that many of the portages workers were very racist against the African workers. In fact, the book brings up that the locals from Mozambique were forced to migrate so European workers can settle in, “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” (pg 57). I personally think that the Europeans created structure violence with the Africans and othering there identity, “struggles among so-called identity groups-ethnic, religious, or nationalistic” (pg 36). This chapter can easily be compared when Mr. Ford lectured on Tanzania gold mining and how the African natives were dehumanized by the Chinese when they were working in the mine.


Chapter four: Displaced People: Forced Eviction and Life in the Protected Villages, 1970–75

This chapter talks about how the Europeans ousted from their village in 1970-75 and moved to aldementos, scheduled communities,  “Just as Lisbon sought to construct a wall of silence around Cahora Bassa, it tried to render invisible the experiences of the thousands of peasants forcibly transplanted from their homelands along the life-sustaining Zambezi River to the aldeamentos” (pg 95). This proved to me that the Portuguese are colonizing the Mozambique’s, manipulating them by proposing the dam and how that will help their economy by stimulating jobs, instead they are taking advantage of their resources. Colonial authorities thought that the work sites would indorse racial harmony and instill work ethics among the locals by emulating the culture of the Europeans.  Isaacman writes that colonial discourse created segregated labour practise at Kariba that dehumanized the locals and placed them in inferior social class to that of the colonist. In fact, the colonizers used propaganda to evict the Africans to the aldeamentos, stating they would be able to practise their religion peacefully and they would be able grow any crops. This chapter reminded me of the history between Canada and the Chinese and how Canada put a head tax on Chinese families. The problem was that Canada took Chinese workers and made them build the Canadian national railway with poor living and working conditions, thus when a person wanted to bring their family into Canada the government would impose a head tax.



Chapter Five: The Lower Zambezi: Remaking Nature, Transforming the Landscape, 1975–2007

The chapter emphasis on how the Cahora Bassa dam changed the environment and landscape from 1975-07. He writes that the alteration of the Zambezi River upset the social-ecological structure of riparian communities, interrupted fishing and farming practices, and undermined the local’s food security, social institutions, culture and health. What I don’t understand is the flooding in the region, I thought one of the reasons why dams were constructed is to prevent flooding, and the Cahora Bassa clearly fails in doing so (pg 146). Due to the leak disadvantaged communities are the ones that suffer the most from the leaking and the placement of the dam. The main problem of the dam is the continual water leak on downriver landscapes and the communities, this causes displacement amongst the locals and places negligent damages to the agriculture. This chapter reminded of


Chapter Six: Displaced Energy

            The sixth chapter articulates how the Cahora Bassa dam did not bring in capital to Mozambican, it has been only benefiting South Africa and Portugal for the revenues. What surprises me is that Portugal sold 2/3’s of its shares in the dam after finding out that the Mozambique regime will be constructing a dam of their own, this would reduce the profits of the Cahora Bassa dam (pg 166). It took until the year 2007 for Mozambique to be able to acquire main proprietorship of the dam, despite the success in relation of “resource sovereignty” (pg 166). Despite the fact the Mozambique government has ownership of the dam, many of the locals still lack electricity and comprehensive rural development. This really upsets me, it took until 2007 for the Mozambique to have full entitlement of the dam, and the fact that the Portuguese did nothing to fix issues or better the living conditions of the locals. The way I see it, Portugal infringed on human rights up until 2007, this makes me worried on how basic human rights are tossed out when there is colonization using their power to manipulate the weak.


Chapter seven: Legacies

            The chapter mentions how there are disenchanting parallels between the colonial and postcolonial regimes development, which comes at the expense of the rivers ecology and the rural poor. On page 167, Isaacman mentions how dams in Africa perpetuate a lasting legacy from colonialism. I agree with the statement because as a result of colonialism, the dams and other infrastructures perpetuate the impoverishments of societies and extinguish the agriculture. I also agree that developing nations, especially those who are post colonized, should improve social and economic growth internally, and should not rely on the help of international agents.



Why do you think that dams in Africa perpetuate a lasting legacy from colonialism?

What steps or models can Mozambique take to improve energy and agriculture for the locals who are affected by the dam’s issues?

Using the Cahora Bassa Dam as a case study in the future, what issues and solutions can be used to better the local’s livelihoods?


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