"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy
Mozambican organisation Justiça Ambiental (JA!) last Wednesday (December 21st) submitted a petition with more than 2,600 signatures from Mozambican citizens to demand that the controversial Mphanda Nkuwa dam project, proposed for the Zambezi River, cease immediately.
The terms under which the Mphanda Nkuwa hydroelectric project was conceived, and under which it is proceeding, do not comply with the fundamental objectives of the Mozambican State enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution of the Republic, especially with regard to human rights and equitable development. Furthermore, this project entails very high environmental, ecosystem, climate, seismic, social and economic risks, which have not yet been properly assessed and studied by the Mozambican government. Despite these risks, and the numerous requests for clarification and information submitted by Justiça Ambiental to the government and to the Mphanda Nkuwa Hydroelectric Project Implementation Office (GMNK), the project has been moving forward, in this new phase, since 2018, in an accelerated manner and without due public scrutiny.
Furthermore, the project is also in violation of articles 21, 22 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which establish peoples’ right to the free disposal of the use of natural resources and prevent them from being deprived of their use; the right to choose the model of economic development, social and cultural with strict respect for their freedoms and identity; and the right to a balanced environment conducive to their development.
It should be noted that, although the project has been under way for 4 (four) years in this new stage, no public consultation related to the project has yet been carried out, nor has any consultation taken place with the local communities that will be directly and indirectly affected by it. This is in clear violation of several guidelines and principles followed by Mozambique regarding the protection and promotion of the right of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
With this petition, the more than 2,600 undersigned Mozambican men and women demand that an open, inclusive and comprehensive dialogue is promoted and that the Mozambican government fully clarify the outlines, objectives and rationale behind this “priority” project, including:
• Where does the investment come from and what is the trade-off?
• Why is this project a priority for the country, considering our levels of poverty and inequality; that thousands of children have no place in school, and that there aren’t adequate health services for everyone?
• What is the reason for insisting on this project, which has already been abandoned so many times? What other interests exist behind a project of this dimension?
• Have other energy alternatives been considered? If yes, which ones?
• Who will be responsible for compensating the communities that have had their future mortgaged for the past 20 years, unable to invest in their community and in necessary infrastructure due to fear of losing their investments, since in 2000 they were advised by the government not to build any new infrastructure?
• What is the real purpose of the dam and what supposed gains do they believe the country would reap in the short and long term, including how do they intend to generate financial returns?
We also demand the elaboration of scientifically valid and impartial studies that respond to all the questions that have been raised since the approval of the environmental impact study in 2011, such as:
• Uncertainty about the flow regime under which the dam will operate (base-load or mid-merit);
• Lack of definition on the area chosen for resettlement of the communities directly affected by the dam;
• Poor sediment analysis elaborated with insufficient data, which does not allow for a valid scientific analysis;
• Weak seismic analysis, without concrete data and with results and conclusions that contradict other studies by renowned specialists;
• Weak analysis of the potential impacts of climate change and changes in upstream water demand, which will affect the project’s economic viability;
• The fact that the guidelines of the Worldwide Commission on Dams were not considered or followed, particularly with regard to social and environmental rights and justice, among others;
• Viable energy alternatives for the country, comparing and analyzing the respective benefits and impacts;
• How the project will ensure that the gains generated by the dam will not be appropriated by a small economic and political national elite, and by large multinational companies.
We furthermore demand that an open, inclusive and comprehensive dialogue be promoted around clean, fair and accessible energy solutions for all Mozambican men and women, so that we can embark on a sustainable development that ensures the protection of the important ecosystems that guarantee life on the planet.
Justiça Ambiental also calls for this matter to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, considering the growing and concerning scenario of intimidation and threats that we have observed in the context of our work in the District of Marara, including accusations of terrorism, demand for “authorisation to work on site”, and indication that local communities should not receive legal training on their rights or information on the impacts of dams. Several members of the communities that will have to be resettled to make room for this mega-project have also reported threats, intimidation and ‘warnings’ not to speak out against the project.
In addition to the signatures collected in the District of Marara, in Maputo City and throughout the country, more than 70 national, regional and international non-governmental organisations also signed the petition in online format, in solidarity.
It’s time to say STOP to a development model that enriches our elites and large multinational corporations, at the expense of most of the population and of nature. Let’s together demand clean, decentralised energy projects that benefit the Mozambican people!
Read the full text of the petition on the Justica Ambiental webpage:
Being labelled 'terrorists' is the latest strategy to intimidate, threaten, and arbitrarily detain people who hold anti-government positions. This is happening in various parts of the country, in Mozambique, and in particular in the district of Marara, Tete province, where the government intends to build the Mphanda Nkuwa hydroelectric dam, a highly controversial project that has never responded to the numerous environmental, social, economic and climate change questions that have been raised by civil society organizations and experts from Mozambique and other countries.
Recently, from the 22nd to the 25th of November, the Mozambican organization Justiça Ambiental (JA!) organized its 6th Maputo Workshop on Corporate Impunity and Human Rights, which brought together representatives of various civil society organizations, government representatives, academics, lawyers, activists and people affected by megaprojects from across the country. Several participants came from the district of Marara in Tete province, including the community leader from Chirodzi-Nsanangue, one of the communities at risk of being resettled if the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam is built.
While in Maputo, the leader received several calls from community members warning him that the local authorities were very unhappy with his trip to Maputo and were mobilizing the community to elect a new leader.
A few days after returning home, the leader received a notification to report to the District Command of Marara in order to be interrogated. Arriving at the Command, the leader was retained for 10 hours, he was denied the right to be accompanied by the lawyer who was accompanying him, he was accused of being a terrorist and was questioned about his trip to Maputo by the District Commander of Marara, an agent of the National Criminal Investigation Services (SERNIC) and a representative of the Ministry of Defense. Finally, he was asked to list the names of all the members of his community who had traveled to Maputo to participate in the Workshop. The leader was released around 6:30pm without any further clarification.
JA! members who were on the site following the events were also accused of terrorism, and informed that they should not be providing information to local communities regarding the impacts of dams, or problems caused by other megaprojects in the country. All of this seems to be a strategy to intimidate members of communities that will be affected by the Mphanda Nkuwa dam project and prevent them from defending their rights.
A few days later, all the 10 other people from Chirodzi and Chococoma who had participated in the Workshop were also notified to report to the District Command of Marara on the 8th, including JA!’s focal person in the community, in order to be interrogated too.
A big movement of solidarity with the community members being threatened emerged, from several parts of the country and even other countries. By the time the 10 community members arrived at the District Command on the 8th, the news about this were circulating widely on social media and radio stations. They were brought inside to be questionned about the Workshop, but at this point, no further threats were made apart from the intimidating presence of armed police officers. JA!’s focal point was interrogated separately, and then asked to leave the room, and the rest of our team was not allowed inside. They were all released a few hours later.
It should be noted that these situations are not isolated cases, and are part of a series of other threats and restrictions that have been made to members of JA team! working in the District of Marara. On several occasions, the District Commander of Marara and the Heads of the Administrative Post and Locality of Marara requested JA!’s credentials and authorization from the police to work on the area, something that is not required by law. In addition, several other members of the Chirodzi-Nsanangue community who have raised criticisms or questions about the dam have reported increasing intimidation and threats since August 2022, when the government, its partners and interested companies began to visit the area in this new stage of the Mphanda Nkuwa dam project.
We demand clarification from the different State actors involved in these intimidations, including the Mphanda Nkuwa Hydroelectric Project Implementation Office: is this is how the local people are forced to accept 'development' projects?
We demand a positioning from government advisors, financiers and potential investors of the Mphanda Nkuwa project, such as the African Development Bank (ADB), the International Hydroelectric Association (IHA), the Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD), the Kingdom of Norway, the Government of Switzerland, the European Union (EU): are you willing to have your name on a project that is already contributing to the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of local communities?
For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
After its ‘ghost’ phase between 2018 and 2021, when the Mphanda Nkuwa Hydroelectric Project Implementation Office (GMNK) had already been created but no one could find it (not even MIREME, the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy), over the past year GMNK has been effusively communicating several advances made on the project. Most of these news concerns new partners, potential investors, and calls for studies that are necessary for the different stages of the project. The Jornal Notícias on the 14th of September 2022, however, brought an unprecedented report on a topic that until then had been treated as taboo by our government: the opinion of local communities regarding the project.
Entitled ‘Communities say yes to Mphanda Nkuwa’, the article reports that the population of Chirodzi-Nsanangue, one of the villages that will be resettled to make way for the project, welcomes the construction of this dam. A great deal of information contained in this article, and in a similar television programme broadcasted by TVM (Mozambique’s public TV channel) on the 7th of the same month, raises some questions that deserve to be debated and problematized.
A doctor’s visit
The above-mentioned article and report were produced as a result of the first meeting of the GMNK (accompanied by its consultants) with the Chirodzi community since the revitalization of the project in 2018.
Coincidence or not, this GMNK visit to Chirodzi came just a few weeks after the launch of the study ‘Mphanda Nkuwa Dam: a climate change millstone around Mozambique’s neck’, which took place on 21 July; an event during which the GMNK Director was questioned by some community members as to why no meetings had been held with local communities since the project’s revitalization. On this same occasion community members also asked Director Carlos Yum about what benefits this project would bring to local communities, about maintaining their subsistence activities (fishing, livestock and agriculture) and about the land that would be made available for their resettlement. Some of the responses given by the GMNK Director were considered ‘disrespectful’ by the people who attended the event, as he stated that local populations should not only focus on individual benefits, but believe in the ‘macroeconomic’ benefits that the project will bring to the country. Most of the questions raised by the local communities were answered evasively, ambiguously or unclearly by the Director, missing an opportunity to finally clarify some of the issues that have been troubling these people.
This mention of the macroeconomic benefits of the project and the disregard for the concerns of local populations is in line with a concept that has been presented by several scholars and specialists, in which they call ‘sacrifice zones’ those regions that are buffeted by high environmental impacts and social problems due to the existence of polluting industries or other megaprojects, projects that are usually justified by an alleged ‘greater good’ that supposedly will benefit the country as a whole. Some sociologists have observed that the existence of sacrifice zones is made possible by a culture of vulnerability of the human and environmental rights of marginalized or disadvantaged populations, through which it is evident that some people have rights and privileges, and others suffer the impacts.
Returning to the meeting on the 7th, it is important to mention that it took place during Victory Day, a public holiday, and a day of celebration in the community, which in itself is quite unusual. JA! was present at the meeting that lasted no more than 15 minutes, and consisted of only one person speaking, the representative from GMNK. Of the various communities that will be affected by the project, only the community of Chirodzi-Nsanangue (main neighbourhood) was present, and other communities were not invited (nor their leaders), such as Bairros 1 to 6 of Chirodzi, Chococoma, and Luzinga, among others. No time was given for questions, comments or concerns that the community might have, nor were their concerns documented: no one had the right to speak apart from the GMNK. As we observed on the ground, and according to reports we received from various community members, this first GMNK visit to Chirodzi seemed to have only two purposes: to inform the community that the project is moving forward at full speed; and to produce reports to let the rest of the country know that the communities support the project.
The siege on civil society
Both the Notícias article and the TVM report, media outlets known for being aligned with our government’s interests and agenda, also stated that there are some NGOs that have been instrumentalizing communities so that they do not accept Mphanda Nkuwa’s dam project.
However, Justiça Ambiental has been working with communities in the region for 22 years, with regular visits and activities during the ‘dormant’ phases of the project, and we have never known or come across such organizations. It is really deplorable that some civil society organizations tend to treat local communities as if they were their property, speaking on their behalf and controlling their opinions, but we were not aware that this could be happening in Chirodzi.
However, this persecution of organizations that criticize so-called development projects is already well known. They are referred to as anti-patriotic, anti-development, or even terrorist organizations. Now, the government is preparing to tighten its grip on civil society even further, seeking to pass a highly controversial law that gives the government excessive powers, including to extinguish non-profit organizations for failing to report on their activities. It is easy to imagine what kind of organizations would be the first to suffer such reprisals.
The fact is that certain truths about these megaprojects – their impacts on the environment, the appalling conditions in which local communities are usually resettled, or how promises of employment never materialize – when said out loud do not please the government. What if people discover that the words spoken during community consultations only serve to convince them to accept the project? Worse, what if they decide to organize themselves so that the project progresses only according to their requirements, respecting their wishes, and ensuring that they truly benefit from it?
Communities accuse manipulation of information
Having been present in the region since 2000, and having cultivated a relationship of friendship and solidarity with these communities that was maintained even when the project seemed to have been shelved, JA! has received numerous requests for support, legal training and advice from people who fear the loss of their land with the arrival of the dam. JA!’s activities in this and other communities threatened or affected by megaprojects has been based on sharing information and exchanging experiences on the environmental and social impacts of this type of project, on empowerment and legal capacity building actions so that communities are able to defend their rights and negotiate the terms on which they agree (or not) to give up their land, and in activities that seek to raise the voice and raise awareness of the concerns of local communities through interviews, videos and articles.
When the Jornal Notícias of 14 of September reached Chirodzi and the surrounding area, it caused a lot of indignation within the community. The JA! team began to receive phone calls, SMS and videos from various community members expressing their displeasure with the information portrayed there, and accusing Notícias of manipulating the information, spreading lies and not having asked community members what they think of the project. Several families from two of the neighbourhoods’ threatened by the dam wrote petitions where they ask for some honest, independent and impartial media agency to go to Chirodzi and neighbouring communities in order to listen to the real opinions of the communities. This avalanche of outrage seems to confirm what JA! observed in the field: that there was no interest on the part of the GMNK to hear and make known the real opinion of the local communities regarding this project.
Rights, justice and paths to peace
We will not mention here the numerous risks and potential impacts that we have been pointing out over the last 22 years, and which have been neglected at all stages of the project. It’s not even up to JA! to clarify whether the community is for or against the project. It is up to us, as a civil society organization, to present our position, justify it and bring it up for debate in the public space, with the government, with the actors involved, with the local communities, pressing for responses and policies that deal with the problems we face as a society.
The question that arises at the moment is another: why does the government insist on not listening to the local communities which will be affected by the Mphanda Nkuwa project? Why does it insist on belittling their concerns, and masking them with a large media apparatus, to make it appear that the project is moving forward with local support? If local communities put their needs and demands forward for the advancement of the project, will these be respected and fulfilled? And if communities say they are opposed to the project as it stands, and claim their right to say no, will the government be willing to listen to them?
We believe that dialogue, and the broad participation of civil society in these types of issues, can help us start to embark on a development model that meets the needs and desires of the majority of the population, consequently reducing the social tensions and wars that we have in our country which are also caused by the exclusion of the majority of the population from decision-making processes.
The path we have been following, as a country, neither serves nor benefits the people. The attack on civil society organizations and any critical voice reflects our government’s lack of commitment to democracy and broad public participation. It is urgent that we chart new paths that lead us to peace and to a model of a country that we can be proud of – something radically different from what we are experiencing today.
*This article was originally published in Jornal Savana in Portuguese on 30th September, 2022
Oilwatch Africa (OWA) held the 2022 Conference and Annual General Meeting at Accra, Ghana between 8th -12th August. The theme of the continental gathering was Stop Gassing the continent: Pipelines of Discontent. The Conference had presentations and representation from CSOs, activists, scholars, journalists, fisherfolks and Eco-defenders from fossil fuels-affected communities across the continent and provided another opportunity to deepen OWA’s mission as a network of peoples and organisations building solidarity to end expansion of oil and gas activities given its negative impacts on people and the environment in Africa.
Key observations made by delegates included:
That the current rush for Africa’s oil, gas and mineral resources amounts to a perpetuation of extractive modes of colonial exploitation, which condemned the continent to predatory slave trade, followed by the massive raping of agricultural and forest resources, before the current iteration with its focus on minerals and fossil fuels.
That the argument that Africa deserves to utilise its natural resources for energy sufficiency and development belies the fact that extraction of natural resources has historically been export-driven for the benefit of the consumption needs of the global north and scarcely targets the needs of the continent and the rhetoric by African leaders that fossil fuels could be utilised by the continent as a “less harmful” transition fuel is a delusion as gas contributes massively to climate change through its methane content.
That the continuous financing and development of massive pipeline projects such as the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, the West African Gas Pipeline Project WAGP, and the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline, among others constitute an aggression on the land rights of communities and portend massive livelihood disruptions, conflicts, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation across the continent.
That the current trend in which multinational oil and gas companies sell off their stakes in onshore oil and gas assets and move out of African countries or further offshore amounts to an abdication of responsibility for historical damage caused by their activities in these countries.
That the Paris Agreement and its 1.5 degrees Celsius target as driven by the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) is a huge betrayal for Africa as the continent warms at about 50% above the global average, meaning that going by the NDCs, Africa is condemned to literally burn at the best of scenarios.
That Africa is rich in renewable energies and given the growing competitiveness of clean energy technologies and has the potential to advance its energy transition along a zero-carbon pathway. For instance, Africa has the world’s highest solar potential but currently accounts for just one.
That industrialised countries have demonstrated insincerity by routinely spending close to $2 trillion annually on military hardware and warfare while foot-dragging on climate commitments, especially adaptation finance.
That emerging global and regional policy norms around a so-called blue economy revolution, constitute a massive threat to African coastal communities’ maritime and aquatic resources, and the continent’s environment, and will further incentivize illegal and overfishing in her waters.
That there has been a rise in the victimisation of Eco-defenders across the continent by oil companies and their state collaborators, and this repressive climate has been worsened in recent times by the proliferation of so-called oil and gas regulatory reforms (such as Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act 2021) that shrink civic space by constraining the voice and agency of extraction-affected communities in decision making related to their natural resources and environment.
Oilwatch Africa denounced efforts to lock Africa in the exploitative fossil fuels pathway to meet the energy needs of polluting nations and to feed the greed of the fossil fuels industry. To ensure a just transition and secure climate justice for our peoples, the conference made the following demands:
There must be a halt to all new coal, oil, or gas exploration and extraction activities in Africa in line with the imperatives of the energy transition. We specifically demand the stoppage of oil exploration and expansion plans in the Virunga basin of the DRC, the Keta region of Ghana, the Okavango Delta of Botswana, the Orange River Basin in Namibia, and a halt on all plans for the West African Gas Pipeline Project, the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline Project, and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project, among others.
That African governments must leverage the hosting of COP27 this year to demand far-reaching measures on climate adaptation and finance, including emissions cut at the source.
African governments should demand from polluting industrialised countries an annual climate debt of $2 trillion being the amount they currently spend on military hardware and warfare annually. This will pay for loss and damage and serve as partial reparations for historical harms.
That oil and gas multinationals currently planning to divest and escape responsibility for their historical damage to African communities (such as Shell and Exxon Mobil in Nigeria’s Niger Delta) should restore the environment and compensate communities for ecocide committed in their territories before their exit.
African states must develop Africa-centred and just energy transition plans where such do not exist and where they do, to mainstream such plans into broader national development plans in ways that take cognizance of Africa’s huge renewable potential.
African countries and the African Union must tread with caution to the so-called blue economy, and especially denounce unconditionally all attempts to normalise Deep Seabed Mining (DSM) within the continent.
International Financial Institutions, including the African Development Bank and export credit agencies to cut all financing to fossil fuel projects in Africa
African governments and international organisations to respect the right to life of human rights and Eco-defenders in the continent who are increasingly repressed.
Adopted on the 11th of August 2022, by Oilwatch Africa members and organisations from:
Democratic Republic of Congo
We the People
Peace Point Development Foundation
Oil Change International
Host Communities Network, Nigeria
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
Kebetkache Women Development Centre
Foundation for Development in the Sahel (FDS)
Health of Mother Earth Foundation
Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)
Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE)
Justiça Ambiental (JA)
Friends of Lake Turkana
Femmes Solidaire (FESO)
Centre for Research and Action on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CRADESC)
From June to September this year, unprecedented torrential rain in Pakistan caused flooding at an unimaginable scale, leaving a third of the country underwater, with United Nations (UN) secretary general, António Guterres, describing it as a “monsoon on steroids”.
Images and videos of entire multi-floor buildings collapsing, highways and bridges being washed away and people being drowned in what became urban waterfalls came out through screens and media outlets. But by this time, the floods, mainly in the regions of Sindh and Balochistan, had been enduring for weeks, hidden from the world. The silence of the mainstream media and international governments was deafening, and once the news finally made it beyond the wall of the media boundaries it was too late. Even then, it was hard to believe how such a catastrophe was happening, how people’s entire lives were being washed away, while the world merely watched, paying attention to other issues, in what seemed to be more important parts of the world, that were more pertinent to them.
The situation in Pakistan is heartbreaking – the UN says that nearly 650 000 women in affected areas are in desperate need of maternity services. Across the country, 1460 health centres have been fully or partially destroyed, and thousands are living in roadside tents without toilets.
The link between the climate crisis and the floods are clear – Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman pointed out to Agence France-Presse: “This is very far from a normal monsoon [season]—it is climate dystopia at our doorstep. We are at the moment at the ground zero of the frontline of extreme weather events, in an unrelenting cascade of heatwaves, forest fires, flash floods, multiple glacial lake outbursts, flood events, and now the monster monsoon of the decade is wreaking nonstop havoc throughout the country.” In Sindh province, the amount of rainfall was 4.5 times more than the average for the last 30 years.
What is even more infuriating, is that the country is not even marginally responsible for the climate crisis, yet it has been one of the worst affected, in a human-made disaster that is only one symptom of the climate emergency the world is facing, an emergency that has been created by, and benefited, wealthy states and companies in the global North, but has devastated mostly peoples of the global South. The country director of the International Rescue Committee, Shabnam Baloch has said “Despite producing less than 1% of the world’s carbon footprint, the country is suffering the consequences of the world’s inaction and stays in the top 10 countries facing the consequences.”
As long as governments and corporations continue to perpetuate the ugliest elements of the capitalist system, by allowing and encouraging fossil fuel extraction, it is very likely this will not be the last floods in Pakistan, just like Cyclones Idai and Kenneth will not be the last in Mozambique, or the recent floods will not be the last in Durban. But these culprits refuse to be held responsible, so we need to make sure they too are nearly deafened by the screeching siren they themselves have set off.
This is a critical time at the European Union (EU) when it comes to human suffering and climate impacts caused by transnational corporations, with particular emphasis on fossil fuel corporations, who continue to take deliberate actions to burn the planet. An important new law has been put forward,’called the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive’, which is still being discussed.
However, this law leaves much to be desired, and in its current form, can provide companies, investor states and financial institutions with an easy tick-box exercise, and loopholes, that will enable them to continue creating devastation of the earth, climate and peoples with impunity. The case of the gas industry in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, is a concrete example of how this can happen and is already happening.
Many organisations in Europe including Friends of the Earth Europe have been fighting the passing of this law in its current form and partnered with JA!’s activists at the EU Commission in Brussels in May, to speak to Ministers in the European Parliament (MEP).
The majority of players in the Cabo Delgado gas industry are international, and many are from countries within the EU, such as Total from France, Eni from Italy, Galp from Portugal and French, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish and Danish banks, to name a few.
Many of these oil, coal and gas companies register subsidiaries in the country where they operate, such as Mozambique, and because the current draft EU law says that only ‘big’ companies can be held accountable, this will enable these subsidiaries to get away with their abuses and violations at a domestic level, especially in countries with weakened systems of justice.
Another major issue is that the topic of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) needs to be clear and strong. For one, it is only mentioned in an annex, and uses the term ‘consultation’ rather than consent, meaning that communities will only have to be informed of the project. It fails to ensure a clear right to say ‘no’, when local communities do not accept a specific project in their territories for fearing its foreseeable impacts. Secondly, it does not take into account the difficulties that come with actually obtaining this consent, the fact that even consent can be bought, coerced or threatened into. This related to what is meant by ‘a legitimate consultation’. For example, in Cabo Delgado, Total’s consultation process with affected communities has been a sham. When Total representatives visited and visit communities for these consultation meetings, they are accompanied by a military entourage. This, along with the presence of leaders who have a beneficial relationship with the company, means that community members are too afraid to speak out and dissent, even if they disagree, and ultimately many signed compensation agreements in public and in a language they did not understand. Yet Total was able to tick the boxes required for a legitimate process.
In general, there is not enough emphasis on preventing harm, and far more on remedy. It does not deal with what should be the foundation of the discussion, which is that there should be no harm or violations committed in the first place, and that appropriate punitive and coercive sanctions must be put in place when they are committed.
Burden of proof is too high.
In many laws, including in this draft EU law, the burden is on the claimant to prove the crime, which in this case means that corporations are innocent until proven guilty, and the assumption is that communities are not telling the truth. Communities are expected to show that their human rights were violated, amongst all difficulties linked to the asymmetry of power and complicity with national governments, while companies will only need to show that they followed the required processes needed for a project to be developed in that area. In order for community complaints to be considered ‘credible’, they are expected to provide information that is not easy for them to come by, such as written documentation and emails, video and photographic evidence, and named testimonies and witnesses, to show that the companies did not act in compliance with the law and international norms and standards. Amidst global overlapping crisis strongly linked to the power and impunity of these transnational corporations, the burden of proof should be on the companies to prove they are not responsible for the harm, or that they cannot control companies in their global value chains.
The legislation does not recognise that people cannot provide this information – they often do not have access to technology, knowledge of the language used, information in writing and in many cases their lives would be at risk for speaking out.
In the case of Cabo Delgado many mainstream media articles coming out toe the government line and there have been instances where journalists who tell the truth have been arrested and tortured, or even disappeared. Media, civil society and government officials who enter the gas area are accompanied by a military and government entourage, which makes it unlikely that communities will talk about their experiences honestly. These obstacles are not taken into account.
And on climate change
The draft EU law is not clear about companies’ compliance with the Paris Agreement and keeping below the 1.5 oC degree emissions target. Instead, it speaks of ‘compatibility’ which leaves much room for industry to claim that the agreement is ‘open to interpretation’ as they have done before several times.
As long as essential issues in the draft EU law are not addressed, including binding law on compliance with climate agreements, the reversal of the burden of proof and the establishment of clear provisions to deal with neocolonial power dynamics and systemically exploitative nature of big transnational companies , it will be yet another stamp with which the industry will show off its deceiving processes to ‘meet requirements’.
When governments are questioned on their unwillingness to sanction companies and financiers, they often claim that ‘holding dialogue’ with these companies is more effective in the long run. They have said, in several instances, that sanctioning companies should be the last resort, and will lead to them having no input into companies’ actions whatsoever. This system of continued dialogue is clearly not working -companies are continuing to act with impunity – and instead, institutions like the EU need to take ‘take responsibility for the harms of its companies, with great impacts in the global South, and take a step further to actually sanctioning them.
The insufficiency and limitations of a regional legislation
At a broader level, and even though EU corporate regulation laws are undoubtedly needed, this Due Diligence directive will not solve the global problem of corporate impunity. A regional directive – especially one linked with such a weak concept as ‘due diligence’ – must complement the process towards a UN legally binding instrument to regulate transnational companies in international human rights law (the ‘UN binding treaty on TNCs’), ongoing since 2014. Surprisingly enough, the reluctance of the EU and most of its member States to adequately engage in the UN binding treaty negotiations has been reaffirmed session after session and, unsurprisingly, heavily criticized by civil society from across the world.
Without a global level playing field, companies will continue choosing the best places to violate human rights and cause economic, social, environmental and climate impacts. Or choosing the best jurisdiction to register their parent companies. Both the EU and UN laws must include direct legal obligations to companies, affirm the primacy of human rights over trade and investment agreements, and establish judicial enforcement mechanisms. The negotiations of these or any laws aimed at regulating corporate activities should logically be protected from corporate capture and influence. The EU must include several key elements in its new directive in order for it to be meaningful – and this effort must be accompanied by the EU finally taking up its responsibility to start engaging actively and constructively in the negotiations for an ambitious and effective UN binding treaty.
Ending corporate impunity must necessarily mean that we close the legal loopholes and gaps which allow transnational corporations to evade responsibility – at national, regional and international levels.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre, the day that striking South African mineworkers were violently attacked by the police, who killed 37 unarmed people. The police, government, company and even current President Cyril Ramaphosa, who were all directly involved, have not been held accountable for their crimes, and have gotten away, literally, with murder.
On the 16 August 2012, rockdrillers at Lonmin platinum mine were on strike, after a week of protests, demanding a basic, decent, liveable salary of R12 500 (MT 43 600 at the time) a month, on which the company refused to negotiate. The men were gathered on a hill, when the police opened live fire, unprovoked, and many men met horrific deaths – some of them were shot at close range, and some were even crushed by police vehicles.
Today, a full decade later, rockdrillers at the company are only earning R13 000 (MT 49 600). Lonmin never issued a formal apology for this massacre, not even to the families of those slain or the injured and has not provided all families with income compensation. In 2018, the company was bought by Sibanye-Stillwater. Lonmin has been a snake, slithering out of the country to avoid culpability.
No members of the police force. nor the government have been pinished or even legally charged for these blatant murders. President Ramphosa was a non-executive director of Lonmin at the time, and put pressure on the police to treat the strike as a criminal matter. Yet he has been exonerated of any responsibility for this massacre.
The families of the murdered mineworkers are continuing to go to court to obtain justice for their loved ones, for those guilty of these crimes to face some kind of punishment, and they will continue fight.
South Africans still live in an economic apartheid. The poor, including workers in the extractive and fossil fuel industries – the bodies on whom companies make as much as hundreds of billions every year – are still treated as less than human, as mere transactional tools to keep the capitalist system working for the wealthy, for local and international political and economic elite to benefit from their mere existence. This goes beyond South Africa – these exact same words can be used when talking about the extractive industries in Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia, Lesotho, DRC, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Morocco, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Native American lands, to name very, very few.
Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin once said: Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy stems from the poverty of the poor. We at JA! Stand in solidarity with the families of the murdered Lonmin mineworkers and those injured, with those fighting for basic humanity around the world, with those fighting for their lands, livelihoods, and the earth.
We urgently need the United Nations (UN) to implement a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, an accountability tool that actually has teeth and that communities devastated by corporations and civil society have been demanding for years.
Guiding principles are not enough – corporations have shown that they have no interest in human rights, the climate and the environment, except when they need to tick a box- and guidelines are certainly not going to force them to act with humanity.
It is time for institutions of power – states, especially those in the North, the UN and European Union- to create, and enforce laws that will make companies like Lonmin pay for their crimes, and protect lives, like those of the Marikana miners, struggling for their basic right to be treated as human beings. We must continue to fight to ensure that this capitalist, imperialist and neo-colonialist system of exploitation ends right now!
The Mphanda Nkuwa hydropower dam project, mooted more than two decades ago, has re-emerged as a solution for increasing power exports to South Africa to enable Mozambique to increase its capacity for earning foreign currency. The project is now being promoted at a cost of USD 4.5 billion comprising USD 2.4 billion for the dam and power plant, plus USD 2.1 billion for transmission lines. This essay discusses the merits of the Mphanda Nkuwa hydropower project and its socio-economic and development benefits in the face of climate change impacts, at a time when the world is facing energy challenges that require rethinking the most sustainable types and sources of energy for the future.
The Mphanda Nkuwa Dam would be the third largest dam to be constructed on the main stem of the Zambezi River and one of many other dams in the basin when the Zambezi tributaries are considered. Its location in the lower Zambezi River basin, in Mozambique, gives it unique features and makes it vulnerable and also crucial in determining the health of the downstream ecosystems. As currently designed, the hydropower plant has a 1500 MW generation capacity, with 60% (900 MW) of this capacity committed for export to South Africa and the balance of 600 MW (40%) reserved for domestic consumption in Mozambique. Currently, over 60% of Mozambicans, most of whom live in widely dispersed settlements in remote rural areas, do not have access to modern electricity and are out of reach of the existing national electricity grid. Far much more than 600MW would be required to enable Mozambique reach 50% access to electricity by 2030.
The project is planned for commissioning in 2030, with about 2 years of this needed for planning and design, while construction is expected to take 6 years. The touted benefits of Mphanda Nkuwa are doubtful in the face of climate change and the fact that the dam will be detrimental to downstream ecosystems, as well as human health and safety while leading to the loss of livelihoods for downstream communities. As is the case in most similar large infrastructure projects, the Mphanda Nkuwa dam and hydropower project is drawing favor from international financial institutions such as the Africa Development Bank who view it purely from a macro-economic viewpoint as an avenue for spurring economic growth in the country through increased foreign currency earnings. The proponents of the project, however, overlook the several risks that are associated with the project and, thus, do not discuss how these risks will be addressed.
Of major concern among the risks is the issue of climate change. Following some detailed analysis, the IPCC found that, out of the 11 main river basins in Africa, the Zambezi Basin is the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. The Zambezi basin is predicted to experience severe extreme weather events in the form of prolonged drought periods, and extreme flooding events in the future, the worst of all other basins on the continent. Furthermore, the Lower Zambezi is directly affected by developments upstream, with the negative impacts of upstream developments being compounded at Mphanda Nkuwa and downstream. In the past decade, Mozambique has been the worst climate change affected country among all the SADC countries with numerous extreme weather events of cyclones and flooding being experienced. The operations of the upstream dams at Kariba, Kafue and Cahora Bassa, with their large combined storage capacity, will be key to the performance of Mphanda Nkuwa.
Being located downstream of the large dams, the major risk for Mphanda Nkuwa will be during drought periods when the upstream dams may not release water as the upstream countries may prioritize their own needs. The high risk of droughts in the Zambezi basin, wrought by climate change, will have a direct negative impact on the financial and economic viability of the project, as the projected revenue generation and foreign currency earnings will be severely curtailed by prolonged droughts. The withholding of water in upstream dams during droughts will also endanger the ecological flows of the river below Mphanda Nkuwa, with further detrimental effects to prawn fishing in the delta region.
Similarly, in the event of large floods, upstream dams will release water downstream, thereby creating risks of dam failure at Mphanda Nkuwa as well as worsening human safety downstream in the Zambezi valley. The risks to dam safety as a result of flooding may necessitate more expensive design features and higher construction costs. The high risk of loss of human lives and threat to human livelihoods in Mozambique due to floods has been fully demonstrated by numerous catastrophic flood events in the lower Zambezi valley in the past two decades. It therefore follows that Mphanda Nkuwa is highly susceptible to climate change impacts with respect to both droughts and floods.
Mphanda Nkuwa hydropower is touted as clean energy. However, emerging studies worldwide are indicating that dams emit considerable amounts of methane, with methane as a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. At a time when the world is facing huge global warming and climate change risks, the decision to proceed with Mphanda Nkuwa is unfortunate and flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
Mphanda Nkuwa is premised on power being sold to the Southern African countries, with South Africa’s power utility company Eskom being the principal customer for the electricity. It is important to note that over the past 15 years Eskom has been experiencing serious long-standing governance and structural challenges resulting in a chronic debt problem amounting to over ZAR 500 billion, which is equivalent to USD30 billion at the time of writing. Thus, the South African power utility is facing serious financial viability challenges which render it a risky customer on which to base a huge investment of USD 4.5 billion. As a result of its worsening financial position, Eskom has been progressively increasing domestic electricity tariffs in the past decade, with the result that some of its major customers, especially the wealthy ones, have been moving off the grid, thereby creating risks to its revenue collection and also worsening the power utility’s financial viability. Clearly, this issue is a red flag that the proponents of the Mphanda Nkuwa dam project need to seriously interrogate in their market analyses. The delicacy of the viability of Mphanda Nkuwa becomes even more stark when viewed against a background of the current power purchase agreement of Cahora Bassa power to South Africa, whose electricity pricing is highly unfavourable for Mozambique.
Other concerns regarding Mphanda Nkuwa include the claimed increase in energy access for Mozambicans. While on paper the claim is made that 40% of the Mphanda Nkuwa power will be availed to Mozambicans, in reality the impact on access to power for Mozambicans will be insignificant. The dispersed, extensive rural settlement pattern of most of the Mozambicans who currently do not enjoy access to clean energy, and the absence of an extensive grid network renders the claim that Mphanda Nkuwa will increase access to electricity a fallacy. Mozambique lacks an extensive transmission and distribution network and, even with the proposed transmission line, the majority in the rural areas will still remain unconnected to modern electricity. Grid electricity will not be enough to increase access and spur development in the country. At any rate, the cost of the electricity, without subsidy, is unlikely to be affordable for the majority of the citizens.
The Mphanda Nkuwa dam development pays very little attention to the basin ecosystem health and social wellbeing of downstream communities. The operations of the Mphanda Nkuwa dam will significantly alter the flow regime of the downstream area, creating daily fluctuations that will affect aquatic biota as well as the livelihoods of over 200.000 inhabitants who live in the delta and who, to a large extent, rely on the natural resources of the basin. The livelihoods of the communities that reside in the area that will be inundated should not be discounted. Based on what has already transpired and been experienced in other mega infrastructure projects in Tete province and across the country, these people will likely be subjected to forced displacement, curtailed livelihoods, inadequate compensation, State violence and repression and other human rights violations. The people in the basin will be the main losers from this development.
In conclusion, the investment is unlikely to significantly increase industrialization and spur economic growth in Mozambique. Very limited direct permanent employment can be expected to emanate from this hydropower development. No gains will be made in terms of climate change GHG emissions, and sadly more emissions will result from the hydropower dam. The revenue from the electricity sales may not cover the costs of production with potential of failure to service the debt for the dam. Several studies have been done for South Africa and Mozambique that demonstrate that clean energy can be harnessed through wind and solar to reach the widely dispersed rural population at a much faster pace, creating jobs and comparatively having fewer negative social and environment impacts. Against this backdrop, Mozambique has a huge potential to turn to renewable energies, and change its energy trajectory for energy development, distribution and generation. If implemented, the Mphanda Nkuwa will be a millstone around the neck of Mozambique for many generations to come.
This week, Total announced that in 2021 it made 15 billion Euros, the biggest profits any company has ever made in French history. They are unashamedly boasting about this money, money that will go to wealthy European shareholders, money that they have made at the expense of the climate and people and the environment in the global South.
Total is one of the biggest players in Mozambique’s gas industry, leading the Mozambique liquid Natural Gas (LNG) project and is constructing the onshore Afungi LNG Park, which houses the aerodrome, treatment plants, port, offices and other support facilities for all the projects. To make way for the 70 square kilometre park, the company displaced over 550 families, thousands of people, from surrounding communities.
Even though extraction hasn’t even happened yet, fishing communities who had been living mere metres from the ocean for generations were displaced to a ‘relocation village’ more than 10 km inland, with no way of getting to the sea. Farmers who had now lost their land, were given small, inadequate pieces of land far from the relocation houses they had been given.
Their ‘consultation’ process with these communities has been a joke. In meetings between communities and companies, community leaders – many of whom have developed financially beneficial relationships with the industry – are present, and people avoided speaking out for fear of losing their compensation, or of physical threats. This is exacerbated by communities’ lack of basic knowledge law, thereby unable to demand their rights.
JA! works closely with communities on the ground in the gas region, and have seen how the only jobs created for locals were menial, unskilled and temporary. Communities’ complaints to Total about irregular compensation payments were waved away. And now that Total’s project was paused in April 2021, they have stopped compensation payments completely.
The project will also have irreversible impacts on the climate and destroy coral reefs and endangered species of the UNESCO Biosphere, the Quirimbas Archipelago.
But Total’s crimes go beyond Mozambique, to many other Southern countries. One of their planned projects, the East Africa crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has been the subject of major campaigns by civil society and even a lawsuit in France by Friends of the Earth France. According to the StopEACOP Campaign:
“Stretching for nearly 1,445 kilometers, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would have disastrous consequences for local communities, for wildlife and for the entire planet – we have to stop it. The project threatens to displace thousands of families and farmers from their land. It poses significant risks to water resources and wetlands in both Uganda and Tanzania – including the Lake Victoria basin, which over 40 million people rely upon for drinking water and food production. The pipeline would rip through numerous sensitive biodiversity hotspots, and risk significantly degrading several nature reserves crucial to the preservation of threatened elephant, lion and chimpanzee species.”
In Myanmar, Total was providing the oppressive military junta with the majority of its revenue, from its Yadana gas project. The military junta is known for ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, and mass human rights violations including rape, sexual abuse, torture and disappearances of protestors. Recently Total claimed it would stop its operations in Myanmar, but again, it will be getting away with the destruction it has left in is wake.
Total has also been active in the Taoudeni basin of Mali in the Sahel since 1998. Since 2013, over 3000 French troops have been in Mali, and 4 other Sahel countries, with France using the same rhetoric as they and Rwanda have done in Mozambique: to rid the area of ‘jihadists’.
In Yemen, the Balhaf LNG site of which Total owns 39% was exposed for housing the base for the Shabwani Elite, an UAE-backed tribal militia since 2016. Officially a counter-terrorism group, they have unofficially become known as a group created to protect fossil fuel interests. The site also has also been exposed to house UAE notorious ‘secret prisons’ holding Yemeni detainees.
in the week of the announcement, many organisations from around the world held a social media storm, where tweeted about Total’s actions and ‘hijacked’ their twitter, facebook and linkedIn accounts.
It is inhumane that Total and its shareholders use their profits to have oysters and champagne in Paris’ restaurants, while this money comes by violating the rights of human beings, their bodies, the environment and the climate.
In Mozambique, Total must stop the gas exploitation entirely, but it cannot slink away from the mess it has already made. It must take responsibility and provide reparations for all the lives destroyed, all the lands grabbed, and the livelihoods lost.
Total must stop its destruction all over the global south, and the world, but that by itself does not erase years of abuse and dispossession overnight! Total and the fossil fuel industry gas industry must be held accountable for the impacts and human rights violations faced by affected communities and be obliged to fully compensate the communities and remediate the damage caused!
Anabela Lemos says Mozambique should not move forward with gas projects
This interview was originally published in Jornal Savana in Portuguese on 10th December, 2021.
At the beginning of November, a great controversy erupted, mainly on social networks, as a result of statements made by Anabela Lemos, an environmental activist, who argued that Mozambique should not proceed with the natural gas exploration project. But what arguments support this position, at a time when most social sectors in Mozambique, including civil society, see gas as a great opportunity to develop the country and fight poverty?
In an interview conducted by Boaventura Monjane*, Anabela Lemos, founder of “Justiça Ambiental” and one of the loudest voices in the environmental movement, responds to the question, arguing that insisting on this type of extractivist mega-projects will always contribute to serious violations of human rights, will cause irreversible damage to the environment, and will deepen the climate crisis. She also claims that Mozambique’s position at COP26 was largely inadequate.
At the beginning of November, in an interview to a television channel, Anabela Lemos stated and defended that Mozambique should not proceed with the natural gas exploration project in Cabo Delgado. Her statements provoked several reactions, mainly on social media. Can you explain this position?
By choosing to explore natural gas, Mozambique is following the same path followed by other African countries such as Nigeria and Libya that have also tried to develop through the exploration of fossil fuels. In all the examples we have on the continent, these projects have led to an increase in corruption, conflict and militarisation, national debt, poverty and a general deterioration in the standard of living of local populations, without having generated sufficient benefits for the country. This is not a position of radical activists. Even the World Bank has acknowledged, in its Extractive Industry Report, that the oil and gas industries in developing countries have not only failed to improve the lives of the poorest people, but have made them even worse off.
Mozambique is one of the countries most affected by climate change, and is looking to boost one of the industries that contributes most to this crisis, in the midst of a global movement calling to end the exploitation of fossil fuels. This is a contradiction and therefore we have to fight for our right to say no to environmentally destructive and socially unjust projects.
What do you mean by the right to say no?
The fight for the right to say no aims to challenge the usual way in which mega-projects are allowed in our countries, where public consultations or negotiations are carried out in the final stages of the project only to agree on small details and compensations. The right to say no aims to bring about a drastic change in the way affected people and civil society are brought into these debates. If the option of saying no is on the table, it is an indication that the people have power, and this opens up space for creating real debates about the best paths for development for the country.
This right started being demanded in several popular struggles of communities directly affected by extractivist projects, whose negative impacts affect these communities. People lose their land, livelihoods, access to rivers and the sea, ability to support themselves and to survive. The environment is destroyed and the people who survive are harassed. When everything is exhausted, corporations leave, leaving a trail of destruction and a huge debt for the State and the people.
For us perhaps the greatest reference to the right to say no is an inspiring struggle of a community in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape province. The community association Amadiba Crisis Committee, together with a team of lawyers and a South African civil society organisation, took its Ministry of Mineral Resources to court. And they got the higher court to recognise that a titanium mining project in that region could not proceed without the consent of the local community.
Does JA! fight against any and all development projects? After all, didn’t the industrialised countries develop with these types of projects?
We say no to any project that we believe will bring more negative than positive impacts for the people and the environment. Unfortunately, we are part of a national and global context in which governments are captured by the interests of large transnational corporations, and therefore the projects that are coming to our country will invariably benefit local and global elites, as they are not intended to solve the needs of the people.
Regarding the argument that industrialised countries developed with these types of projects, this is a misconception. European countries, for example, controlled virtually every component of the global value chain. They got rich from patents, from research, from manufacturing the equipment, from exploring, processing, and transporting resources. They became rich because they controlled and owned all the significant companies and markets at that particular time. And they got rich mainly because they colonised and exploited countries in the Global South. No African country that is already exploiting its fossil resources has developed from the exploitation of these, as it controls absolutely nothing in the value chain or any other critical component of this industry. So, regarding the gas, we’re actually being exploited once again.
Regarding the climate crisis, there has been a lot of debate about the right of less developed countries, such as Mozambique, to exploit their fossil fuel reserves to boost their economic growth. Don’t you think that industrialised countries should have a greater responsibility to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, rather than countries that have contributed little to these emissions?
Certainly. That is why we speak of historical responsibility, because it was the countries of the North that created the climate crisis, and the countries of the South, such as Mozambique, are suffering the greatest impacts. This means that the past and present actions of industrialised countries are creating damage and losses as we saw with cyclones Idai and Kenneth, with direct and indirect economic losses projected at $3 billion.
As a country, we don’t have to lead the way in terms of climate action. But this does not mean that in Mozambique we should explore gas or any other fossil fuel, and contribute to global emissions. We can pretend we’re fighting for a right, but given the climate crisis and the other impacts I’ve already mentioned, we’re basically fighting for the right to jump into an abyss.
But we can be an example of a country that is looking to its future and the future of planet earth, by moving towards a more sustainable economic model, while demanding that the Global North drastically reduce its emissions and pay the South a climate debt. This financing will allow the country to develop and be able to provide clean, just and decentralised energy to the entire population.
In Mozambique, and in many other African countries, energy poverty still affects the majority of the population. Many families still depend on polluting energy sources that are very harmful to health, such as firewood and charcoal. How does JA! propose to resolve these issues in Mozambique?
In a country like ours, the priority is certainly to create a strategy of decentralisation and diversification of energy sources, analyse the country’s energy potential by different areas and geographies, and build a system based on justice and the right of everyone to have access to a safe, healthy and clean energy source. Part of these studies already exist, completed by JA! and other researchers, but they continue to be largely ignored.
In September 2021, Friends of the Earth Africa published a “Just Recovery Renewable Energy Plan for Africa” which shows that it is not only urgent but completely feasible to reduce emissions, transform our energy system and make a just transition in our continent.
The plan, based on the work of renowned academic Dr Sven Teske of the University of Sydney, outlines how the continent can dismantle existing dirty energy systems and achieve 100% renewable energy for all by 2050. This plan would require more than 300 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy by 2030, as agreed by the African Union, and over 2000 GW by 2050. The plan also highlights the potential to create 7 million new jobs in renewable energy on the African continent. It is not just a technical plan, but a vision of how renewable energy systems can serve people and protect biodiversity.
Don’t you think that a lot could be done if each of us, individually, had greater environmental awareness? I’m talking about reducing consumption levels, not throwing garbage on the floor, saving water – with these types of actions wouldn’t we be able to achieve major changes?
It is always good for individuals to practice sustainable habits and protect the environment. But individual actions, as important as they are, must somehow aim at more structural changes in society, because if they are not intended to bring about a general change in how we understand the system and what attitude we take, they have no real impact.
Furthermore, we need to recognize the ecological footprint (a method of calculating the pressure that the human population, and each of us in particular, exerts on natural resources and the planet) of the majority of the Mozambican population; with the exclusion of our own elites, it is absurdly small. The huge ecological impact of industries makes any action at the individual level completely meaningless. Mozal, for example, consumes more water and electricity than all domestic consumption in the city of Maputo. And it is a company that did not even pay dividends to the Mozambican State throughout 2019.
So the big problem here is that industrial consumption and the linear model of extraction (production – use – disposal) are not compatible with ecological balance. We need circular systems that are capable of reusing all the components produced, as raw material in other processes. Of course, reducing consumption levels, especially in rich countries and our domestic elites, is fundamental for this to be viable.
Looking at the impacts of extractivist mega-projects in Mozambique, many claim that their positive impacts are not felt due to high levels of corruption. How do you see this issue of corruption?
The debate about corruption in our country is on the rise and we all see the impacts of corruption on a daily basis. This scenario must be urgently reversed and we need to fight it at all levels. But we also need to recognise that corruption is intrinsically related to the economic viability of extractive projects. If it weren’t for corruption, they wouldn’t advance. Buying off some government officials to sponsor this type of investment project will always be cheaper than bearing all the real costs of fair compensation for land expropriation, decent wages, damage to health, restoration of the degraded environment, and the impacts of climate change, among others things.
By solving the problem of corruption, would it be possible for Mozambique to be able to exploit the gas in a way that would benefit the country and the majority of Mozambicans?
The problem of corruption will not be resolved within the current development model that we have in the country. But beyond that, there are economic trends around fossil fuels that are undeniable, for anyone seeking to examine. Coal is a declining resource, with several countries (including China) already with divestment strategies and phasing out coal projects. Fifteen years ago when we started betting everything on coal, the scenarios were absurdly optimistic. We believe that gas extraction will follow a very similar path to coal. According to calculations by the Global Energy Monitor, there are already close to $100 billion in gas investments at risk of becoming stranded assets. Coal had a slow transition to become an unproductive asset, but with gas this risk will be faster and more abrupt, because it is a less labour-intensive industry.
As if this were not enough, current gas exploration contracts provide enormous benefits to private companies during the first decades, and only later will the country gain from exploration. All of this should be worrying for Mozambique, as we have major infrastructure problems, socio-economic instability and conflicts that are causing delays, putting gas projects even more at risk of becoming unproductive assets and having a minimal contribution to the country’s economy. Other studies such as those carried out by CIP, which do not focus on the risk of unproductive assets, still project weak gas contributions to the country’s economy, due to tax exemptions, tax havens, low gas prices, high operating costs, among others. And this, of course, without even counting the costs of militarisation and security that will fall on the State.
At the national level, some see environmentalists or human rights defenders as having anti-development agendas or accuse them of being manipulated by outside interests. How do you, Anabela Lemos and JA! deal with these criticisms?
The reason for the attacks on JA! because of our views is because our views are very upsetting to the interests of the elites – both national and international. There is no interest in having in-depth debates on these issues because then we will arrive at the undeniable facts that these projects do not bring development. There is a lot of information available and studies to be done that confirm our positions.
We are always available to debate views and alternatives, but we don’t waste too much time on strategies that are based on hearsay and misinformation and are intended to avoid deeper discussions.
What do you think of proposals like the one tried in Ecuador, in which more than 300 million dollars were pledged to stop the exploration of 846 million barrels of oil beneath the Yasuní National Park, one of the richest areas of tropical forest in the world. Do you think this solution would be viable for Mozambique?
Yes. With this kind of funding, and access to patents and technology that are unfortunately mostly owned by the Global North, countries like Mozambique can focus on energy transition.
It is very clear that funding for this exists. Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) state that around $50 to $100 billion USD are lost each year due to tax evasion. Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) show that $89 billion USD are lost in illicit financial flows. Data from the Tax Justice Network shows that $600 billion USD are lost every year due to tax fraud. Friends of the Earth International figures show that the wealth of the 53 richest people around the world could provide 100% renewable energy for Africa by 2030. We clearly know that this money exists, so we need to fight to demand the political will necessary to make the changes we need. This fund could also come from the payment of climate debts by industrialised countries.
The UN climate summit in Glasgow, UK, has just ended. World leaders have pledged to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050. Do you find this goal realistic? What did you think of Mozambique’s position at that summit?
Mozambique’s position at COP26, given that we are one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, was largely inadequate. We should have brought a discourse relaying respective demands around the right to life, the right to develop our country without exploring fossil fuels, and the right to the climate debt. COP26 is a suicide pact for Africa that African negotiator Lumumba Di-Aping warned us about at the 2009 COP. Twelve years have passed and African leaders want to set the continent on fire.
The 2050 goal is completely unrealistic. As we often say at JA!, these negotiations are debating how many people we agree to let die, how many forests we accept to destroy, how many islands will be submerged, so that fossil fuel companies and captured governments can continue to increase emissions and their profits.
Rich countries do not take responsibility for creating the climate crisis. They also fail to meet the financial commitments for countries in the Global South to embark on a just transition. Furthermore, we are shocked that they have reached an agreement on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – carbon markets. This undermines emissions reduction targets because it allows polluters to continue to pollute, giving them an escape route. A study published by the “Glasgow Agreement” during COP26 demonstrated how there are at least 800 new fossil fuel projects under exploration. COP26 was nothing more than an insubstantial conversation to safeguard the interests of those who want to continue to pollute.
A photo of an activist holding a sign that said ‘Stop funding gas in Mozambique’ also raised a lot of controversy and debate on social media. It is known however that a group of activists in the UK have filed legal action to force the government to withdraw from Cabo Delgado gas. Is JA! involved in this campaign?
The British agency United Kingdom Export Finance (UKEF) has pledged more than $1 billion for gas projects in Mozambique. The gas industry in Mozambique has already had irreversible impacts even before any gas has been extracted. People have lost their homes and livelihoods, and the climate impact of the construction phase, which is not even complete, is already significant. It is essential that people know this, because corporations, pension funds, investors and even governments of various countries (with tax money) are financing these projects. This is unacceptable and a big risk for the Mozambican people. And that’s why we support Friends of the Earth groups in the UK, who are working in solidarity with us, and challenging their own government in court to stop funding Mozambique’s gas because of its negative impacts. We need an energy transition. Instead of gas, we want people-centred renewable energy.
This interview was originally published in Jornal Savana in Portuguese on 10th December, 2021.