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Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development

Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965 - 2007

Allen F. Isaacman and Barbara S. Isaacman

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Series: New African Histories


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

Cahora Bassa Timeline

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pp. xv-xvi

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1. Introduction: Cahora Bassa in Broader Perspective

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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...

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2. The Zambezi River Valley in Mozambican History: An Overview

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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...

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3. Harnessing the River: High Modernism and Building the Dam, 1965–75

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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 Frelimoled government, church leaders, engineers, hydrologists, and journalists who...

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4. Displaced People: Forced Eviction and Life in the Protected Villages, 1970–75

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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...

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5. The Lower Zambezi: Remaking Nature, Transforming the Landscape, 1975–2007

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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...

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6. Displaced Energy

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pp. 150-188

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...


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pp. 189-254

Glossary of Select Local Terms

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pp. 255-258


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pp. 259-282


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pp. 283-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444504
E-ISBN-10: 0821444506
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821420331
Print-ISBN-10: 082142033X

Page Count: 308
Illustrations: yes, B&W photos and maps
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Series Title: New African Histories
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 837528083
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development