Solidarity for People Displaced by Large-Scale Investment Projects

By Kei Otsuki and Griet Steel | EADI/ISS Blog Series

“VIVER É DIFICIL (Living is difficult)” reads the slogan on a water tank set up next to a typical concrete resettlement house in Mozambique (Photo). A plastic water pipe connects the water tank to a gutter, placed under the corrugated zinc roof, designed to facilitate the harvest of rainwater. In this semi-arid part of Africa, however, rain is increasingly scarce. “God stopped the rain”, says the owner of this house, David, who also wrote the slogan on his water tank.

The difficulties David is facing are, however, not only caused by the lack of rain. He is one of the resettlers who were displaced from the Limpopo National Park in south-eastern Mozambique in 2013. These people had agreed to be displaced and resettled on the promise that they would have a better and modern life in the resettlement village built for them. The Park administration, sponsored by the German Development Bank and the South African Peace Park Foundation, had claimed that it needed to invest in wildlife-based ecotourism without human presence for the greater sustainable and economic development in the region.

Living in the National Park, David has had his own hut and independent huts for his two wives and their children. In the resettlement village outside the Park, his household of more than 10 members crams into one small concrete house with only two rooms. What’s more, the Park administration had promised to donate water pumps to the resettles to irrigate their new collective farm. However, since the pumps were delivered at the village leader’s house 5 years ago, they never got connected.

Considering these drawbacks, you would not expect that, before the resettlement took place, David and his fellow community members had actively participated in public consultations with the resettlement officers from the Park administration and local governmental officials for almost a decade. They had discussed and built consent on housing, irrigation, and water pumps. Yet, after their resettlement was completed and new life started, new situations unfolded and the new living conditions remained difficult.

Internalising Follow-Up Processes

This is not unique to the particular case of David’s resettlement village. Since the 1980s, international organizations and financiers – development banks, in particular – have created sophisticated involuntary resettlement guidelines, and relied on public consultation to build consent in order to establish resettlement projects as an effective, common, and sustainable solution to displacement. But, as David’s case exemplifies, the focus on pre-resettlement consultations has largely neglected the importance of follow-up processes when resettled people start facing difficulties to live their everyday life.

As debates on mining-induced displacement and resettlement show, the core of the problem lies in the externalization of the cost of displacement and resettlement. Displacement and resettlement are treated as side effects with limited budgets allocated for compensation. It is vital instead to envision how resettlement projects could be firmly internalized in the core business of investment projects. Projects should allocate substantial financial and human resources for following-up on the resettlements’ sustainable development.

How can we, as development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement?

At the upcoming EADI-ISS International Conference, we propose a panel in which colleagues working on different cases of displacement and resettlement can share their insights and perspectives about the processes through which resettlement projects evolve, develop and perhaps create chains of displacement effects and grievances over time. These unfolding realities in post-resettlement contexts cannot be fully planned and agreed upon in consultations. For example, in David’s case, the resettlers are in constant negotiations with their host community to negotiate land for cultivation or sharing basic infrastructure such as water boreholes. Yet, we know little about effects of such unfolding interactions for the overall sense of justice and sustainability.

At the same time, there might be cases that positively shape cooperation and solidarity through post-resettlement interactions. In any case, one question remains: How can we, development researchers and practitioners, engage with the long-term effects of resettlement and its potential pathways towards sustainable development?

The understanding of solidarity is vital – in these contested frontiers of displacement and resettlement in both rural and urban areas. We thus call for papers that delve deeper into the lived experiences of resettled populations, such as David’s, to deepen our understanding of what solidarity means in different cases of displacement and resettlement. In addition, we are interested in discussing methodological issues pertaining to our responsibilities of doing research on such contentious issues.

This article is part of a series launched by  EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the ISS Blog.

Kei Otsuki and Griet Steel are researchers at the Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University.