Week 9 – Changing Landscapes: Dams, Degradation and Displacement

This week’s readings were on Allen F. and Barbara S. Isaacman’s book ‘Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007’. The assigned chapters discussed the construction of the Cohora Bassa dam project and how it was a Portuguese colonial power concept, which aimed to generate cheap power for the country in order for Mozambique to stay competitive in the new age of development. According to Gilberto Freye’s theory of ‘lusotropicalism’, there was a greater purpose for the dam. He suggests that the dam was a strategic move by the Portuguese to show that Mozambique was not a colony, rather a “foreign province”, which is developing infrastructure and gaining investment. This was a tactic for the government to leave the country and grant independence to the people of Mozambique.

Although the dam was highly publicized in a positive manner and as a great development for Mozambique, which was supposed to “bring the people out of poverty and close the wage gap”, in reality displaced thousands of farmers and put many workers in dangerous conditions. This was attempted to be covered up by the government as they enforced strict media restrictions at the construction site with the exception of journalists loyal to the government. This left many of the stories of workers deaths and injuries unreported and brings to question what countries and governments are willing to do to become ‘developed’ and the motives behind their actions.

‘Development’ is meant to help local populations by lift them from poverty and improving economic conditions, however as seen by this example, it often involves greater negative costs throughout the process to locals and the environment. Are these the necessary consequences for successful development? How can local populations overcome colonial powers and resist their movements to displace them and regain control?

Emily McManus


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