At a time when the power and influence that TotalEnergies has in our country is becoming increasingly evident and frightening – to the point of interfering in decisions that we should be making in a sovereign manner, linked to the security and defense of the state – little did the news surprise us that the consortium of EDF, TotalEnergies, Sumitomo Corporation and Kansai had been selected as a strategic partner for the Mphanda Nkuwa mega dam project.

Although expected, this news should concern and outrage us. After all, this consortium that the Mphanda Nkuwa Hydropower Project Implementation Office (GMNK) presents to us as robust and experienced, is composed of a number of transnational companies whose conduct in terms of respecting Human Rights and preserving the environment is highly reprehensible, and this should serve as a red alert.

Who’s who in the Franco-Japanese consortium

France’s largest energy company, EDF, whose majority shareholder is the French state, in addition to owning a number of nuclear power projects, was in charge of a project to build wind farms in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. EDF and its local partners have violated the Mexican law, which requires that any decision regarding land use in that region occupied by indigenous peoples must be taken by a community assembly. Quite the contrary: large contracts have been signed and concluded between the Eólica de Oaxaca company (a subsidiary of EDF) with individuals from the community, who have acted as if they were private landlords. Energy supply contracts and a memorandum of understanding with the Oaxaca state government for the construction of the Gunaa Sicarú wind farm were entered into without any prior proper consultation with members of the local community of Unión Hidalgo. When the community began to challenge the legality of the wind farm project using domestic legal procedures, arguing on the basis of their right to free, prior and informed consent, they began to suffer increasing attacks and were subjected to violence and threats due to their opposition to EDF’s project. After 5 long years of struggle in defense of their rights to land, territory and natural resources by the Zapotec community of Unión Hidalgo, together with the Mexican organization ProDESC, the Federal Electricity Commission of Mexico definitively canceled the contracts with EDF.

About Total, now renamed TotalEnergies, unfortunately the cases in which this French transnational is involved in human rights violations and environmental destruction abound.

The numerous legal cases that currently exist against the company explain this scenario. The cases range from allowing its gas plant to be used as a prison in Yemen, where serious human rights violations are taking place and there are accusations of torture; impacting over 100,000 people with its EACOP project in Uganda, with testimonies of numerous cases of intimidation and repression associated with the project, loss of livelihoods, and failure to meet its obligations to compensate Ugandan families who lost their land. The impacts of TotalEnergies in Cabo Delgado are already better known in our country, and Justiça Ambiental and other researchers and organizations have been publishing numerous reports on the subject, whether about its criminal contribution to the climate crisis, the human rights violations of local communities, the destruction of ecosystems and the environment, and its links to the violent insurgency. When these flagrant violations are denounced, TotalEnergies evades its responsibilities, either stating that the problems related to the resettlement process are the responsibility of the previous company Anadarko, or using international experts to pass on the responsibility for the conflict in Cabo Delgado entirely to the government of Mozambique.

The Japanese companies – Sumitomo Corporation and Kansai – also have a very tarnished image, especially in environmental and labor issues. Sumitomo Corporation, in particular, is accused of “repeated human rights violations” and of violating its own internal policies at its Miami office. The labor union accuses the company of threats, retaliation and other forms of intimidation to several of its members regarding their union organizing efforts.

What do all these companies have in common? Their destructive and inconsequential behavior towards the planet, the climate and the people directly affected by their activities, and their commitment to profit at any cost.

The meandering path we already know

The proposed Mphanda Nkuwa Dam on the Zambezi River is perhaps the most controversial mega-dam project on the African continent, and certainly the one that has faced local, national, and international resistance for the longest time. For more than 22 years, civil society organizations, experts, scientists, and academics have been warning the government about the risks of this project and its likely impacts, and numerous studies have denounced the impacts already caused even before the first stone had been laid. With some make-up in recent years, the project continues to remain silent about fundamental questions that have already been asked by Justiça Ambiental and various other stakeholders, such as:

Why have local populations been excluded from the decision-making process regarding this project, and they are only beginning to be visited 4 years after the GMNK was created?

Where and under what conditions are local populations to be resettled, given the serious levels of land conflict already existing in Marara District?

Why are the Terms of Reference of the studies being developed not shared, and why does GMNK evade due public scrutiny, while claiming to follow international best practices and procedures?

What other lower impact energy alternatives have been considered, and why is there no public debate about them?

Why have local community members, traditional leaders, and civil society organizations raising concerns about this project been intimidated, repressed, and even called terrorists?

What do we expect then from a project already with clear indications of being environmentally destructive, socially unjust, and exacerbating social tensions, when it is placed in the hands of transnational companies of greater economic power than our state, and who insistently evade responsibility whenever their activities contribute to the violation of human rights and the destruction of the environment?

And because we cannot afford more failed megaprojects in our country, Justiça Ambiental remains committed to stopping this project until these and other questions are properly answered, to contributing to studies and analyses that will shed light on the dark side of this project, and to working with local communities and national and international partners to safeguard peoples’ right to self-determination and sustainable and inclusive development. Until the benefits of this megaproject to the people and to Mozambique are properly and adequately proven, we reiterate: NO to Mphanda Nkuwa.

This article was originally published in the local newspaper Savana on June 09, 2023.