In June 2016, during an ethnographic research trip to Limbué, an administrative post in the Lugela district in Mozambique, I had an interesting conversation with the commercial motorcycle operator assigned to me by the district’s permanent secretary to take me around the area. This operator, a resident of Lugela district, shared his perspective on the area’s transformation since the establishment of Mozambique Holdings Limited. He remarked, “Before this company was established, all that area was just dense mato [bushland]. It was terrifying.” To him, urbanization and modernization had finally arrived at the district’s doorstep, conquering the once-foreboding wilderness with the light of modernity.

Around the same time, Mozambicans were buzzing with excitement, particularly regarding the potential represented by the discovery of oil and gas in the country’s northern region, which received extensive media coverage.1Wiegink, N. Imagining booms and busts: Conflicting temporalities and the extraction-“development” nexus in Mozambique. Extr. Ind. Soc. 5, 245–252 (2018). Many believed that oil and gas would propel the country toward development and reduce its dependence on foreign aid. The newfound interest in extractive industries led to a surge in investments, the creation of new institutions and legislation, and the introduction of university programs specializing in extractive industries. However, amidst this optimism, some political analysts, scholars, and civil society organizations repeatedly warned the government about potential challenges, such as the resource curse, exacerbated by deep-seated social inequalities within the country,2da Silva, R. A ‘maldição’ dos recursos já é uma realidade em Moçambique. DW Africa (2013). and the global volatility of oil and gas prices.3Mimbiri, F. Num contexto de crise das commodities: Desafios de um pa{\’\i}s potencialmente rico em recursos minerais estabelecendo as bases para evitar a “maldição dos recursos” em Moçambique no novo “superciclo” dos preços das matérias-primas. Maputo CIP (2016). Unfortunately, these warnings largely went unheeded. Fast forward to 2023, and those development dreams have transformed into disillusionment. High-ranking members of the Frelimo party faced trial for accumulating hidden debts in the state’s name for personal gain.4 Williams, D. A. & Isaksen, J. Corruption and state-backed debts in Mozambique: What can external actors do? U4 Issue (2016). Terrorist attacks have taken a devastating toll on Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique, forcing people to flee their homes and necessitating military intervention.5Makonye, F. The Cabo Delgado Insurgency in Mozambique: Origin, Ideology, Recruitment Strategies and, Social, Political and Economic Implications for Natural Gas and Oil Exploration. African J. Terror. Insur. Res. 1, 59–73 (2020). A militarized faction of the largest opposition party, Renamo (Resistência Nacional de Moçambique—Mozambique National Resistance), reignited armed conflicts reminiscent of the 1976-1992 civil war, and its leader was killed by the Mozambican army. Cyclones IDAI and Kenneth wreaked havoc and resulted in heavy losses of life in central Mozambique, leaving lasting scars on both the people and infrastructure.6Charrua, A. B., Padmanaban, R., Cabral, P., Bandeira, S. & Romeiras, M. M. Impacts of the tropical cyclone idai in mozambique: A multi-temporal landsat satellite imagery analysis. Remote Sens. 13, 201 (2021). Forestry businesses continue to exploit nature and displace communities, leading to erosion, soil degradation, and social disintegration in central and northern Mozambique.7 Macuane, J. J., Buur, L. & Monjane, C. M. Power, conflict and natural resources: The Mozambican crisis revisited. Afr. Aff. (Lond). 117, 415–438 (2018). Meanwhile, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has widened,8Macuane, J. J., Buur, L. & Monjane, C. M. Power, conflict and natural resources: The Mozambican crisis revisited. Afr. Aff. (Lond). 117, 415–438 (2018). and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed socio-economic inequalities and deepened the country’s reliance on foreign aid.

Everyday Conceptions of Development: Exploring the Impact of Extractive Industries

Despite these stark realities, the idea of achieving development, rural transformation, and sovereignty through extraction still lingers in the imagination of Mozambicans. When conversing with fellow citizens from diverse backgrounds, I often hear them lamenting, “Mozambique is rich in natural resources and boasts an extensive coastline, yet the country remains poor.” This paradox is often attributed to corrupt political leaders.  Some suggest that the way forward is mechanizing agriculture to harness the soil’s potential and reduce dependency. However, these narratives tend to narrow the path of development by focusing only on technology and extraction, effectively stifling alternative approaches to well-being and growth in Mozambique.

Global actors also perpetuate these tropes. For instance, Luca Ventura,9Ventura, L. Poorest Countries in the World 2023 [Updated September]. Global Finance Magazine (2023). writing for Global Finance, points out that Mozambique possesses abundant arable land, water, energy, and mineral resources, yet it continues to rank among the world’s top 10 poorest countries. The Mozambican state reinforces a similar narrative by linking natural resources and neoliberal extractivism to poverty reduction and attaining sovereignty. Former President Armando Guebuza once labeled critics of extractivism and neoliberalism as “prophets of disgrace” and enemies of the nation,10Chichava, S. Por que Moçambique é pobre?’–uma análise do discurso de Armando Guebuza sobre a pobreza. in II Conferência IESE Dinâmicas da Pobreza e Padrões de Acumulação Económica em Moçambique 1–21 (2009). equating opposition to natural resource/mineral extraction with denying development and sovereignty in Mozambique. Unfortunately, this association has even led to the persecution of individuals who voiced dissent, highlighting the erosion of freedom of speech in the country.11Issufo, N. Quem mandou matar Gilles Cistac? DW Africa (2015).

During my ethnographic fieldwork, which involved visits to Namadoe, Nangaze, Nvava, and Limbué in the Lugela district of Zambézia province from June 2016 to April 2018, I encountered a disheartening reality. Residents described their working and living conditions, as well as their relationship with the large-scale rubber plantation corporation, as akin to being “slaves” in postcolonial Mozambique. This exposed the contradictions inherent in the state’s unwavering faith in extractivism as a means to achieve development and sovereignty.

Motivated by the insights of James Ferguson,12Ferguson, J. Expectations of modernity: myths and meanings of urban life on the Zambian Copperbelt. vol. 57 (Univ of California Press, 1999). I introduced the concept of “extractive enchantment” to delineate a prevailing conviction or confidence, often embraced by governments or communities, in the potential of extractive sectors like mining, oil, and gas extraction to usher in development, affluence, and economic advancement. This enchantment emanates from the belief that extracting natural resources will result in the creation of wealth, the generation of employment opportunities, and the enhancement of living standards. This enchantment often results in what Rob Nixon,13Nixon, R. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. (Harvard University Press, 2011). termed “slow violence,” including precarity,14Lesutis, G. The Politics of Precarity: Spaces of Extractivism, Violence and Suffering. (Routledge, 2022). and Achille Mbembe’s concept of micropolitics,15Mbembe, A. & Meintjes, L. Necropolitics. Public Cult. 15, 11–40 (2003). where the lives of artisanal miners, poachers, and others become expendable in the pursuit of corporate interests.

This enchantment binds the state and private actors in their pursuit of profit, making them formidable forces to grapple with. Importantly, this enchantment transcends local boundaries and constitutes transnational networks of extraction, particularly relevant in the context of the Anthropocene,16Crutzen, P. J. The “anthropocene”. in Earth system science in the anthropocene 13–18 (Springer, 2006). when human activities are found to outweigh the forces of nature in changing climates. Enchantment entices individuals and institutions across various locations and levels, all captivated by the promise of rapid economic growth despite contradictory outcomes.

“Casting the Spell”: Terra Nullius and Natural Resources Extraction

In the context of Mozambique’s evolving landscape, it is essential to recognize the Mozambican state’s unique role in facilitating and regulating private investments, particularly in the realm of extractive projects. Due to financial constraints, the state cannot independently initiate and bear the risks associated with such endeavors. This necessitates the state’s ability to effectively lure investors (or, as the state labels them, parceiros—partners), landscapes, and rural residents into what can be described as its carefully orchestrated assemblages of extraction.17Chome, N., Gonçalves, E., Scoones, I. & Sulle, E. ‘Demonstration fields’, anticipation, and contestation: agrarian change and the political economy of development corridors in Eastern Africa. J. East. African Stud. 14, 291–309 (2020).

James Ferguson’s astute observation sheds light on this intricate process. He stated that in weakly governed African states [like Mozambique], sovereignty is not merely contingent upon controlling national borders or monopolizing violence. Instead, it hinges on the state’s prowess in providing the contractual legal authority required to legitimize the extractive activities of transnational corporations.18Ferguson, J. Global Shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. (2006).

A closer examination of the state’s official documents, including the 2015-2035 development agenda and the “Natural Resources Policy and Strategy: Mineral resources towards socio-economic development,” reveals a recurring lexicon. Terms such as “development,” “resources,” “agriculture,” “national,” “production,” “country,” and “market” abound in these documents. This pervasive language suggests that the state strategically frames these assemblages of extraction as instruments for catalyzing rural transformation, profit generation, job creation, and the reduction of postcolonial state dependence on Western donors, often wrapped in the cloak of nationalistic sovereignty.

This unwavering faith in extractivism on the part of the Mozambican state finds its epitome in President Filipe Nyusi’s speech during the Mocuba event on March 27, 2017.19Portal do Governo de Moçambique. Presidente da República dirige Primeiro Fórum Nacional de Comercialização Agrícola. (2017). This event, known as the First National Forum of Agricultural Commercialization, brought together a diverse group of approximately 500 participants, including central government members, governors from all 11 provinces of Mozambique, district administrators, régulos (local chiefs), representatives from the private sector, corporations, and individuals interested in the agricultural commercialization chain. During this forum, President Nyusi underscored three key points. First, he emphasized Mozambique’s abundant, yet largely unexplored, natural resources as the foundation for transforming the nation from a mere consumer to a major agricultural producer, hinting at the need to reduce external dependency. Second, he articulated the importance of private investments in harnessing these resources. Lastly, he conveyed the promise of job creation, infrastructure development, improved service provision, and overall progress in poverty-stricken rural areas that yearned for development. This narrative formed the core of the enchantment.

This same narrative echoed across various sectors of the Mozambican economy, where neoliberal governance and extractivism thrived. It perpetuated the notion of “vacant arable lands,”20Bowen, M. L. The state against the peasantry: Rural struggles in colonial and postcolonial Mozambique. (University of Virginia Press, 2000). 21Wolford, W. The colonial roots of agricultural modernization in Mozambique: the role of research from Portugal to ProSavana. J. Peasant Stud. 48, 254–273 (2021). and an abundance of resources, including an available pool of inexpensive young labor, all designed to attract foreign investment into the country. Implicit in this narrative is the idea that both residents and their lands can be repurposed to accommodate extraction. This perspective aligns with Mozambique’s constitution, which designates land (and all resources) as state property. Furthermore, it asserts that “the state determines the conditions of land use.”22República de Mocambique. Constituicao da Republica de Mocmabique. (2004). Consequently, the relocation of residents to facilitate extraction is framed as the creation of “vacant lands.”

The 19/97 Land Law, enacted on October 1, 1997, acknowledges community lands, or lands occupied by residents for more than ten years. This law and another sectoral legislation mandate that project proponents conduct consultas comunitárias (community consultations) with residents before the state can grant a land-use title. The Land Law specifies that: “O processo de titulação do direito do uso e aproveitamento da terra inclui o parecer das autoridades administrativas locais, precedido de consulta às comunidades, para efeitos de confirmação de que a área está livre e não tem ocupantes,23 meaning, “The process of land use titling includes the perspective from the local administrative authorities, gathered through community consultation, to confirm that the area is available and has no occupants.”

Regrettably, this legal framework grants residents limited power in terms of expressing their parecer (opinion) and confirmação (confirmation) regarding the land vacancy. In practice, Black and impoverished residents, as well as their landscapes, are perceived as exploitable assets in the name of “public interest”23República de Mocambique. Lei de Terras. (1997). which, in this context, translates to development. This legal framework, coupled with the state’s narrative of neoliberal extractivism, sets the stage for understanding how consultas comunitárias lead to enchantment in marginalized and impoverished communities. Sadly, these consultations often result in unfulfilled promises of development, leaving communities further impoverished by deteriorating living conditions, insecurity, and degraded environments.

Conclusion

The recurring tropes of “sovereignty,” “terra nullius,” and “slaves” allude to the processes of enclosure and erasure within “postcolonial” Mozambique. These tropes represent the imposition of new forms of territorial governance and citizenship, or the lack thereof, in the name of extraction. Consequently, it becomes imperative to question the necessity of pursuing these goals through a nationalistic, neoliberal, technocratic, and extractive agenda.

Extractive projects are akin to angelfish, tantalizing their prey with the lure of development, jobs, social infrastructure, and sovereignty. Yet, more often than not, the outcomes are disastrous, if not deadly. Corporations use these visions of development during consultas comunitárias before project commencement, only to deliver meager, precarious, and exploitative employer-employee relationships afterward. The neoliberal and extractive assemblages described above have further eroded the fragile bonds between the state and its citizens, leading many to perceive themselves as “slaves.” This trope underscores the dilemmas and contradictions inherent in post-war Mozambique’s experience with neoliberalism, extractivism, and postcoloniality.

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References
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    Wiegink, N. Imagining booms and busts: Conflicting temporalities and the extraction-“development” nexus in Mozambique. Extr. Ind. Soc. 5, 245–252 (2018).
  • 2
    da Silva, R. A ‘maldição’ dos recursos já é uma realidade em Moçambique. DW Africa (2013).
  • 3
    Mimbiri, F. Num contexto de crise das commodities: Desafios de um pa{\’\i}s potencialmente rico em recursos minerais estabelecendo as bases para evitar a “maldição dos recursos” em Moçambique no novo “superciclo” dos preços das matérias-primas. Maputo CIP (2016).
  • 4
    Williams, D. A. & Isaksen, J. Corruption and state-backed debts in Mozambique: What can external actors do? U4 Issue (2016).
  • 5
    Makonye, F. The Cabo Delgado Insurgency in Mozambique: Origin, Ideology, Recruitment Strategies and, Social, Political and Economic Implications for Natural Gas and Oil Exploration. African J. Terror. Insur. Res. 1, 59–73 (2020).
  • 6
    Charrua, A. B., Padmanaban, R., Cabral, P., Bandeira, S. & Romeiras, M. M. Impacts of the tropical cyclone idai in mozambique: A multi-temporal landsat satellite imagery analysis. Remote Sens. 13, 201 (2021).
  • 7
    Macuane, J. J., Buur, L. & Monjane, C. M. Power, conflict and natural resources: The Mozambican crisis revisited. Afr. Aff. (Lond). 117, 415–438 (2018).
  • 8
    Macuane, J. J., Buur, L. & Monjane, C. M. Power, conflict and natural resources: The Mozambican crisis revisited. Afr. Aff. (Lond). 117, 415–438 (2018).
  • 9
    Ventura, L. Poorest Countries in the World 2023 [Updated September]. Global Finance Magazine (2023).
  • 10
    Chichava, S. Por que Moçambique é pobre?’–uma análise do discurso de Armando Guebuza sobre a pobreza. in II Conferência IESE Dinâmicas da Pobreza e Padrões de Acumulação Económica em Moçambique 1–21 (2009).
  • 11
    Issufo, N. Quem mandou matar Gilles Cistac? DW Africa (2015).
  • 12
    Ferguson, J. Expectations of modernity: myths and meanings of urban life on the Zambian Copperbelt. vol. 57 (Univ of California Press, 1999).
  • 13
    Nixon, R. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. (Harvard University Press, 2011).
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    Lesutis, G. The Politics of Precarity: Spaces of Extractivism, Violence and Suffering. (Routledge, 2022).
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    Mbembe, A. & Meintjes, L. Necropolitics. Public Cult. 15, 11–40 (2003).
  • 16
    Crutzen, P. J. The “anthropocene”. in Earth system science in the anthropocene 13–18 (Springer, 2006).
  • 17
    Chome, N., Gonçalves, E., Scoones, I. & Sulle, E. ‘Demonstration fields’, anticipation, and contestation: agrarian change and the political economy of development corridors in Eastern Africa. J. East. African Stud. 14, 291–309 (2020).
  • 18
    Ferguson, J. Global Shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. (2006).
  • 19
    Portal do Governo de Moçambique. Presidente da República dirige Primeiro Fórum Nacional de Comercialização Agrícola. (2017).
  • 20
    Bowen, M. L. The state against the peasantry: Rural struggles in colonial and postcolonial Mozambique. (University of Virginia Press, 2000).
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    Wolford, W. The colonial roots of agricultural modernization in Mozambique: the role of research from Portugal to ProSavana. J. Peasant Stud. 48, 254–273 (2021).
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    República de Mocambique. Constituicao da Republica de Mocmabique. (2004).
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    República de Mocambique. Lei de Terras. (1997).