Week 9: Dams and Displacement

This week focused on the Cahora Bassa dam which was built in Mozambique across the Zambezi River. The text offered a summary of the project introducing it as a physical project and expanding as to how it affected those living near the dam. The text offered first-hand accounts of experiences from locals who had been promised new homes for their families.

Before being relocated families were promised new villages with schools, hospitals, houses, and other necessary amenities. However, when they arrived many locations were simply empty plots of land on which families were forced to build homes. These villages were also surrounded by barbed wire fences and the residents were required to ask for permission to leave the compound. This was interesting to me as it spoke less to the need to protect the residents from animals or people outside and more to keeping residents within the compound. It was explained that when leaving the compound villagers were supervised to ensure that they were not interacting with Frelimo vigilantes, or supplying them with food or weapons. Even in connection to the ongoing attacks though it seems as though these villages were established as means of supervising villagers and controlling their movement, rather than securing their safety and providing a place to live. To me was one of the most suspicious aspects of the dam project.

                 The number of lasting effects on the environment and people surrounding the dam brings into question the legitimacy of it as a development project. Although the dam did create energy for South Africa it provided little to no positive incentives for those effected. The effects felt by those living downstream were most surprising for me. Before reading this text I had understood that those living above the dam would be affected by the flooding, however, I had not realized the extensive drought and flooding patters that would be created for those living downstream from the dam. It makes sense due to the changes in water flow potential, however this is not something I had previously considered.

                One aspect of loss which I found especially interesting was the spiritual loss experienced by those living on the land. For many villages this land was connected to past generations and the spirits of past Chiefs. They were protecting sacred burial grounds and performing traditional rituals on the land. In these cases not only did they lose their homes but they also lost their connection to their spiritual history and their ancestors. With this some people believe the unpredictable flood patterns and negative outcomes they are experiencing due to the dam are also connected to a punishment from their ancestors. As a repercussion for abandoning their sacred burial grounds their ancestors are no longer protecting their crop yields.

Before working with my group to create our presentation I had also not considered the importance specifically of “development rhetoric” to promote this project and ones like it. I understood that the locals had been misled in terms of outcomes of the project but I had not realized the importance specifically of using the word development and the promise of becoming more developed to promote the project. I think this was an extremely important point which was raised by Naomi, and one which is important to consider when discussion projects like this in Global Studies.

Discussion Questions

  1. Was the security established as the displacement compounds focusing on protecting those in the compound, or is the focus on preventing the villagers from leaving the compound?
  2. If those displaced were not properly compensated for the land they lost, what would have been enough? Is there an amount that was equal to their loss?
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