Is this what you call development?
A few weeks ago, in a meeting held in Maputo about the controversial Anadarko and Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos natural gas project in Palma, Cabo Delgado, we heard the ENH representative say in a pleading tone that we all have a part to play in Palma, since we all have in common the desire to see the country develop and grow.
Well, right… and wrong.
Right, because we truly do want to see the country develop and we are perfectly aware that for the sake of that development sacrifices must be made, but if the idea is to sacrifice the local communities’ right to a good standard of living, then definitely wrong.
What if, as a result of that sacrifice, Mozambique and Mozambicans in general get huge benefits?
Photo: Communities that will be affected by the proposed destructive Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the Zambezi river.
Well, if the investment is really going to bring benefits to Mozambique and all Mozambicans, we believe that those directly affected by the project should be the first to be properly rewarded by it, rather than just compensated. They have to be the project’s main beneficiaries. If that is not possible and, like some of the megaprojects which have been implemented in our country in recent years, it turns out that that questionable development only helps the poor get even poorer, then the answer to the question above must be “thanks, but no thanks”. We are not going to throw someone into a volcano so that the rest can have prosperity.
Public consultation? What for?
The blatant proof of how dangerous is the development path we are being dragged into (and we say path and not plan because we do not believe there is any plan at all) is the way the purpose of public consultations has been wickedly subverted by the system. Public consultation processes, as they exist today, are nothing but sheer formalities; bureaucratic exercises for the sake of appearances that despite having been created to safeguard the rights and interests of the people, are nothing but propagandist meetings where the government officials place themselves on the side of the project proponents. These meetings are of an informative nature and only exist to validate the idea that the communities have been consulted and agreed on the project, when most of the times they do not understand its possible consequences and repercussions, nor the potential gains they could or should demand in return. Oblivious of their rights and made vulnerable due to the lack of reliable support and advice from a government that, truth be said, seems to be more worried about making money than defending the future and the interests of the Mozambican people, some communities end up becoming easy prey.
“What are we supposed to do then? Sit on top of our wealth and keep starving?”
Well, we would be lying if we said that it would not please us to see the country change its investment policies: stop investing in extractive industries and mining, abandon the idea of building dams and thermoelectric centrals to feed those industries, support agricultural projects for peasants – no agribusiness, no monocultures and no agrichemicals, stop allowing the wood industry to destroy our forests, etc.
Basically, as we have stated in previous occasions, our notion of progress and development is completely different to our government’s, but we are not as naïve or as radical as we are often conveniently portrayed, and, as we have mentioned earlier, we understand perfectly that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the common good. Nevertheless, in our humble opinion, justifying those sacrifices with a vague “fight against absolute poverty” speech, without explaining how, is, in the best of chances, an insult to our intelligence. That, we believe, is one of the biggest flaws of our actual government.
Photo: Coal-mining affected communities learn about their Constitution and rights in Tete province
What is the plan?
If our government promised us an honest answer to a single question only, that question would be: What is the long-term plan you have for the country? We honestly cannot figure it out.
In 35-40 years time, when the coal, the natural gas, the oil and the wood are finished, when the agribusiness and its tools have severely debilitated the fertility of our soils and our biodiversity has been depleted by all these actors, what use will we have for an infrastructure build to attend the needs of today’s companies and their labour? What are we doing to guarantee that in the future, cities like Tete and Nacala will not become white elephants? Ghost towns deserted and abandoned like many that exist today in the world. Orphans of yesterday’s development… Are we thinking about it? What are we doing for the future of national tourism? For the thousands of tourist operators in the country who today, due to the political and military tension we are going through, have barely any costumers and are faced with the possibility or having to close their businesses? Are we giving them tax exemptions and incentives so that they can survive? Other than the gigantic parcels of land we are giving to foreign corporations (always at the expense of coercively moving thousands of Mozambicans) so that they can grow corn, soya beans and rice for export, what are we doing to significantly increase Mozambique’s food production?