Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development

Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 - 2007

Allen F. Isaacman
Barbara S. Isaacman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Ohio University Press
Pages: 324
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  • Book Info
    Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development
    Book Description:

    Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River, built in the early 1970s during the final years of Portuguese rule, 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, even after the former guerrillas of FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) came to power; instead, it fed industrialization in apartheid South Africa." (Richard Roberts) This in-depth study of the region examines the dominant developmentalist narrative that has surrounded the dam, chronicles the continual violence that has accompanied its existence, and gives voice to previously unheard narratives of forced labor, displacement, and historical and contemporary life in the dam's shadow.

    eISBN: 978-0-8214-4450-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Cahora Bassa Timeline
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. 1 Introduction Cahora Bassa in Broader Perspective
    (pp. 1-28)

    Dams have histories that are located in specific fields of power. Unlike the dams themselves, however, these histories are never fixed; whether celebrated or contested, they are always subject to reinvention by state and interstate actors, corporate interests, development experts, rural dwellers, and academics. Too often, though, the viewpoints of people displaced to make room for a dam are lost or silenced by the efforts of the powerful to construct its meaning in narrow terms of developmental or technical success. Yet, the voices of the displaced endure, carried by memories as powerful as the river itself. Such is the case...

  8. 2 The Zambezi River Valley in Mozambican History An Overview
    (pp. 29-56)

    Well before the Portuguese arrival in the Zambezi valley, in the sixteenth century, the Zambezi River had attracted Shona- and Chewa-speaking peoples who settled permanently along the banks of the river (see map 2.1),¹ as well as hunters, traders, and adventurers in search of gold, some of whom remained in the region. For over three centuries, the waterway also figured prominently in Portugal’s plans to control the Mozambican interior. The Cahora Bassa Dam was merely its most recent effort to colonize the Zambezi valley and domesticate the river. During these centuries, the Zambezi was a porous frontier that both separated...

  9. 3 Harnessing the River High Modernism and Building the Dam, 1965–75
    (pp. 57-94)

    On December 6, 1974, two pressure-driven steel gates, each weighing 220 tonnes, stopped the mighty Zambezi River in its course. After five years of toil by more than five thousand workers, the construction of Cahora Bassa was complete.¹ Portuguese colonial officials, representatives of the new Frelimo-led government, church leaders, engineers, hydrologists, and journalists who were present on that day marveled at the dam’s majestic 170-meter-high walls, its five massive General Electric turbines, and the vast man-made lake that would cover more than twenty-six hundred square kilometers.² The technical complexity and skill needed to erect the world’s fifth-largest hydroelectric installation in...

  10. 4 Displaced People Forced Eviction and Life in the Protected Villages, 1970–75
    (pp. 95-121)

    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. To the extent that senior officials addressed the complexities of relocating thousands of peasants whose homelands would be inundated by the dam, they framed the move in narrow technical terms, focusing on the need to establish aldeamentos on fertile lands with adequate water supplies.¹ The governor of Tete, at a 1968 strategic planning meeting, assured local administrators from the affected areas—who...

  11. 5 The Lower Zambezi Remaking Nature, Transforming the Landscape, 1975–2007
    (pp. 122-149)

    In Mozambique, as elsewhere, the social and ecological impact of damming on communities downriver has attracted less attention than either the dam’s construction or the forced displacement of thousands of peasants whose homelands were submerged. While researchers studying similar megadam projects have documented the devastating eviction of millions of rural poor from their homelands,¹ the radical transformation of physical landscapes around dams, and the inundation of treasured cultural sites,² they have often ignored the less visible, but often more deleterious, consequences for downriver communities.³ Thus, little is known about the millions of river basin families who have been adversely affected...

  12. 6 Displaced Energy
    (pp. 150-166)

    That few citizens of Mozambique have, to this day, derived any real benefit from the massive hydroelectric project on the Zambezi River is one of the harsh realities of Mozambique’s postcolonial history. Rather than promoting national economic development or sustainable livelihoods for the people living adjacent to the river, the dam instead robbed Mozambique of precious energy. By harnessing the river’s flow regime to meet the needs of the South African state, Cahora Bassa deprived rural communities in the Zambezi valley of the life-sustaining nutrients that had supported human society and local ecosystems for centuries. Additionally, peasants and the urban...

  13. 7 Legacies
    (pp. 167-188)

    Hydroelectric dams in Africa are among colonialism’s most enduring legacies. They stand fixed in the landscape, changing the world around them while they stubbornly resist significant change. Almost fifty years after its completion, the Cahora Bassa Dam continues to impoverish the more than half a million residents of the lower Zambezi valley and to devastate the region’s local ecosystems and wildlife. Mozambique’s legal sovereignty over the dam has not significantly altered this reality. Despite the state’s assertions that Cahora Bassa and the river were now national assets, which could reduce poverty and promote “development,” its vulnerable position in the global...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 189-254)
  15. Glossary of Select Local Terms
    (pp. 255-258)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-282)
  17. Index
    (pp. 283-292)