Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Will Somebody please wake up!!

This business of Isaac’s murder is weighing heaving on my heart.

Isaac was our induna (chief), a position passed down through his family.

On 15 July 2012 he was gunned down in his house, which is down our dune, along the sand road, up the next dune.  His dogs had all been poisoned that morning, and he remarked to a family member that when he was finished burying the dogs, he would be killed.
So he knew what was coming.

The rumour on the wind is that the cold-blooded killing, which was apparently carried out by a hitman from South Africa, was motivated by jealousy.

I wonder how much social fragmentation has been caused by the development occurring in the area.   And if there is anything we can do to help.  Is it too late?

The land in Mozambique belongs to the government – it was nationalised after the war.
To develop here, you need to submit a plan to the government, and also obtain community approval.

Despite the land belonging to the government, the community tradition still has it divided amongst families.  For example, where the lodge that I worked at was built, that land belonged to Lucia – this really sweet lady who must be in her seventies.  So it is the Lodge’s “obligation” to look after Lucia and her family – if they need medicine or help with education fees, they come to the Lodge.  It’s a patriarchal system, but it’s the only system at the moment whereby Lucia can get help.  It is not set in stone, and any developer can just say no once they’ve got what they want – the land.

Isaac, being induna, had the unique power of being able to sign off or refuse to provide community approval for applications made by developers.  i.e. I could submit an application to build a lodge, and Isaac could veto or approve it on behalf of the community.  The community has a development committee and they are all supposed to approve or veto the projects, but in reality it was difficult to get past Isaac.

So this placed him in a position of power which was resented by certain would-be developers, and some community members alike.
He held shares in quite a few of the projects here, and his dhow got a lot more business than the other dhows, ferrying building material from Maputo.  He was also a sharp businessman who made using his dhow a lot more simple and this also contributed to him getting more business for it.

For my part I liked Isaac a lot.  I enjoyed his dry sense of humour and given that I don’t speak a word of Portuguese (beside “12 beers please” and “thankyou” – yes I know this is shocking after 9 years here, but French, German came so easily.  Portuguese, Italian, Spanish – somehow I just don’t get them); the fact that he spoke perfect English, helped me a lot.   I miss being able to go to him and explain my problem to him.  Nobody has replaced him yet, but it won’t be the same.

“Development ought to be what human communities do to themselves.”

(Adams, W.M.  Green Development:  Environment and Sustainability in the Third World,
London: Routledge, 1990:199)

But the people here have not had much choice on how it has been done to them.  Yes, they can approve or veto a project, but a large enough investor can simply go the government and kind of push it through.  And if the community anyway approve the project, they have no say on how it is implemented.
They lack the foresight of possible implications, the vocabulary to express their concerns, and the knowledge to offer any viable alternative.  Years of war and deprivation have made them eager for any kind of development.

Thus there rests with the developer a moral responsibility to the community.  To not take advantage of this eagerness.  To put back in, instead of just taking out.  Some build schools and clinics, depending on the size of the project.

Of course, the government and their policy makers have it in their power to protect the people.  I make no comment here – I am not familiar with Mozambique laws or the context against which they are played out.  I am simply sitting at my desk looking out over the forest and the ocean, and thinking about Isaac.  This is not intended to be a hot-shot academic article, merely my own observations on a rather breezy August morning.

Living here for 9 years – I can see the impact of development as clearly as the first sun ray striking the forest under my window.   Families are sometimes divided such as Isaac's was, and jealous of each other.  One brother wants to approve a project as he will gain, the other wants somebody else to have the family land.

The children are bemused by the mostly white people roaring around on their expensive toys – jetskis, quad bikes.  Kids in ragged clothing play next to a luxury 4x4 standing outside the village shop – a vehicle which could keep half the community in food and clothing for a couple of years.

The contrast pulls at my heart strings.  And I turn a blind eye to the stones sometimes thrown by the children at the tourists driving past in their airconditioned bubbles.   I get damn angry when the drunk fishing men roar around on their quad bikes through the local’s crops and chickens.  But luckily these incidents which showcase the worst ethnocentric traits of European culture are few, and quad bikes and noisy toys are not encouraged here, unlike further south.

The effect on the landscape is also profound.  There is one remaining valley to the north of my house left for the animals, and now it has been approved for a project.  Where will the rare honey badger go?  The only one I ever saw was dead, having been caught in a snare.  The baby duikers and the striped mongoose, the nests of the fish eagle – all of these are in jeopardy.
They are being sacrificed to development – but who is the true beneficiary of this development?  The local community – I fear not.  It’s the foreign developers who don’t even live here.
The local community and the animals and environment pay the price.

So ultimately a large portion of responsibility rests with the tourists.  If there is no demand, the trees will not get chopped down to build accommodation.
And herein lies a question of my life – if the trees are not chopped down to make room for chalets or tents, will they not be chopped down for firewood?   The communities are growing fast.  People that went away to South Africa to the war are returning to their ancestral lands.  There is a strange gap in the generations here – I think it’s the men that went to the war and did not return.  A lot of the men don’t know their real age as the mothers used to lie to the soldiers that came to call them up.

I started an MBA in tourism development in 2010.  I fell foul of stats and quit.  I HATE numbers!  But I don’t need numbers in fancy patterns to see this big gaping hole where the forest used to be and which some lazy fool of a developer has simply burnt to the ground.

If nature-based tourism is one of the fastest growing industry (another stat) greed needs to be replaced with consideration for the balance of life otherwise the development which is supposed to save the environment is going to destroy it.

Life is all about balance.  Balance between the fish taken out of the nets each day, and the growth of the community they are to feed.  Balance between return on investment and the number of tourists that the area can SUSTAINABLY support.   Unfortunately this is simply not part of so many people’s emotional intelligence.  Greed, greed, greed.

Trees burning, forests dying, animals crying…

but nobody is listening!