A NEO-colonial exploitation is under way in Mozambique, dominated not by Europe or the US, but rather by countries including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics).
South Africa is extracting 415MW of electricity from Mozambique through the Portuguese-developed Cahora Bassa Dam, which has altered permanently the flow of the Zambezi River, resulting in frequent and severe flooding in recent years. In floods earlier this year a woman gave birth on a clinic rooftop — following a similar incident in 2000, when Rosita Pedro was born in a tree amid unprecedented flooding.
Eskom, South Africa’s failing national energy utility, is implicated in the further damming of the Zambezi, as it is likely to commit to buying power from the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam downstream of Cahora Bassa. Most of the cheap energy generated by the latter is fed to resources group BHP Billiton at a very low price — but jobs are few and profits are repatriated to the company’s headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.
After years of extracting onshore gas near Vilanculos, the apartheid-created South African oil company Sasol is planning to exploit some of Africa’s largest offshore gas fields, situated off Mozambique, to serve South Africa’s export-led growth strategy.
Brazil is also present in Mozambique. Sharing a common language as a result of colonial subjugation by the Portuguese, doing business in Mozambique is easy. The result is that Brazilian company Vale, the world’s second-largest metals and mining company and one of the largest producers of raw materials, has a foothold in Tete province between Zimbabwe and Malawi. It is so sensitive about its operations there that a Mozambican activist challenging Vale was denied entrance to Brazil last year to participate in the United Nations’ Rio+20 gathering on sustainable development. Only after a global outcry led by Friends of the Earth International was he allowed to return to Brazil for the summit.
India also has an interest in Mozambique. The India-based Jindal Group, which comprises mining and smelting, set its eyes on coal in Moatize, Tete province, and has advanced plans for a coal-fired power station in Mozambique, again to create supply for the demanding, elite-driven economy of South Africa.
Russia, too, plays an interesting role. While not much is known about Russian state and corporate involvement, Russia’s Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation has non-ferrous metal operations in Mozambique. The Russian government has just invested R1.3bn in Mozambique to facilitate skills development to exploit hydrocarbons and other natural resources, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
This paints a picture of a country where tens of billions of rand in investment by Brics countries and companies in extracting minerals is resulting in the extraction of wealth. Mozambique will join the resource-cursed societies of the region, with a polluted environment and people dependent on foreign decisions rather than their own political power. This is a well-orchestrated strategy to shift the elite development agenda away from Europe, the US and Japan to the Brics.
This positioning means the Brics drive for economic superiority is pursued in the name of poverty alleviation. No matter how one terms the process — imperialist, sub-imperialist, post-colonial — the reality is that these countries are challenging world’s power relations. But the model chosen is no different from that which has resulted in mass poverty and elite wealth globally.
It is the model of extraction and capital-intensive development based on burning and exploiting carbon, and of elite accumulation through structural adjustment, also termed the Washington Consensus. The agenda for setting up a Brics development bank is a case in point: it is not open to public scrutiny. These countries are coming together with their corporate powers to decide who gets what, and where, in the hinterlands of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caucasus.
It is projected that by 2050, Brics countries will be in the top 10 economies of the world, apart from South Africa. So why is South Africa in the Brics? Simply put, it is seen as a gateway for companies into Africa, whether in the energy or financial industries. This is because of South Africa’s vast footprint on the continent.
Remember former president Thabo Mbeki’s peace missions? They were not only about peace, but also about getting South African companies established in areas of unrest so that when peace arrived, they would be there to exploit resources. Why would South Africans allow the country to be used only as a gateway to resources extraction in Africa by Bric countries, as it is now by the West? I do not have the answer.
The Brics countries have the highest gap between the wealthy and the poor, and it is growing. Calling the bluff of poverty alleviation is critical. How to unpack the opaque agenda of the Brics governments is a challenge; they talk about poverty alleviation, but the reality is something else.
What the Brics are doing is nothing more than what the North has been doing to the South, but as the region resists such practices from the North, it must also be bold enough to resist its fellow countries in the South.
The challenge for society is to understand the Brics, given how much is at stake. Critical civil society must scrutinise the claims, the processes and the outcomes of the Brics summit and its aftermath and build a strong criticism that demands equality instead of new forms of exploitation.
• Peek is director at the nongovernmental organisation groundWork.