by Constancio Nguja
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first visit to Mozambique from 11 to 12 January, 2014. According to the Mozambican news agency AIM, the visit aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. During his stay in Mozambique, Abe signed a number of instruments covering the areas of agriculture, education and energy.
Since Mozambique discovered gas and is already exploiting coal, the Japanese government has redefined its interests in that country, by including the energy sector as one of the top priorities of its bilateral relations. A number of Japanese corporations have stakes in the energy sector: Mitsui & Co. in the gas fields, and Nippon Steel in the coal mines, the latter planning to start production in 2016. Japan has announced loans to Mozambique for transport and other infrastructure projects, in excess of 572 million USD. Many of these projects will support the Japanese business interests.
The Mozambican Government’s perception of the visit
In 2009, the Director for Asia and Pacific at the Mozambican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Maria Gustava, said that the cooperation between Mozambique and Japan was positive and was reflected in the Japanese assistance to Mozambique in the areas of health, education, agriculture, trade and investment, education and training of human resources. She also highlighted the progress of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) cooperation.
|The Japanese Embassy in Maputo|
During Abe’s visit to the country, the President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, said that the foundations for a more intense interaction and bilateral cooperation between Mozambique and Japan have been laid since the establishment of diplomatic relations in January 1977. The Embassy of Mozambique was opened in Tokyo in November 1993, followed by the opening of the Japanese Embassy in Maputo in 2000.
In summary, the government of Mozambique welcomed the visit of the Prime Minister of Japan, pointing out the examples of food aid, the Pro-Savanna program, the program of Japanese volunteers, as well as programs and projects for the improvement and expansion of the infrastructure network as the rehabilitation of the Nacala Port and the Road linking Nampula to Cuamba, in the Northern region of the country.
The implications of the first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister to Mozambique and recent Japanese policies towards the country, are being heavily criticised, however, by sectors linked to Mozambican agriculture, as being dangerous and imperial. To many Japan is being seen as implementing a colonial policy in the sector of agriculture in Mozambique. The criticism has much to do with the Pro-Savanna agricultural project, to be implemented in the northern Mozambican provinces of Niassa, Nampula and Zambezia and covering an area of 11 million hectares.
For some civil society organizations (CSOs), the Pro-Savanna project will increase pressure on the land, will enable the expropriation of the land of local farmers, and increase the risk of forced resettlement (as has been witnessed with other mega-projects, namely coal mining in Tete province). It is seen as something that will destroy livelihoods, cultural heritage and water resources. CSOs look at the project as a great threat to human security.
Apart from the fact that the interests of local communities are largely being ignored, there are also those that claim that the Pro-Savanna project is not complying with what is stated in the Environmental Impact Assessment, among other related issues.
The way forward
The text above provides a brief outline of the relations between Japan and Mozambique, as well as the significance of the visit and the Japanese Prime Minister in different sectors in Mozambique. Moreover, the negative views of certain social sectors around the Japanese investments and interests have their antecedents. These have to do with the feelings of exclusion that these sectors harbour regarding the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. In other words, as is the case with Japanese policies in Mozambique, criticism will certainly arise against any foreign investment that does not give sufficient consideration to the rights of local populations as it pursues its interests. Having said that, the protection of the local population is priimarily the task of the Mozambican government, rather than of outside governments or corporations. States and corporations act according to their own interests, and thus at times inevitably ignore moral values and principles.
For the Mozambican government, there is need to design and publish plans for the exploitation of national resources taking into account the inclusion of all social sectors. In an earlier article, I mentioned that the current political tension prevailing in Mozambique has to do with the feeling of exclusion that RENAMO (the main opposition political party) holds regarding the dividends arising from the exploitation of natural resources in Mozambique. Dealing with such feelings of exclusion and exploitation is something that must be made a high priority of the Mozambican government, if it is to maintain stability and consolidate and expand on the gains it has made so far in terms of development.
Constancio Nguja is a political analyst at the Center for Mozambican and International Studies (CEMO)