The case of Quitupo

Located in the district of Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, the village of Quitupo is one of the district’s 63 villages1. In 2010, with the discovery of marketable quantities of natural gas in the Rovuma Basin, Quitupo joined the list of communities affected by the liquefied natural gas (LNG) production plant project, to be developed by TotalEnergies (formerly Total) in Palma. In the initial phase of the project, public consultation meetings in Quitupo were some of the most intense ever to be seen in the history of megaprojects in Mozambique. Indeed, the community of Quitupo hasn’t made life easy for gas investors. At the time, back in 2013, the process was led by Anadarko. The company came across a population that was, to some extent, informed about its rights, which resulted in local residents often walking out on meetings when the company failed to provide them with answers that satisfied their concerns. The community challenged the company – and the government – on the authenticity of the minutes of the public consultation meetings that paved the way for Anadarko’s acquisition of its land use title (DUAT) totaling 7,000 hectares (about 17,300 acres). The community of Quitupo even had to request emergency technical support and legal advice from civil society organizations such as Centro Terra Viva (CTV) and the Iniciativa para Terras Comunitárias (ITC), both of which already supported the community to build its capacity on legal issues. The village chiefs did not verify the signatures on the alleged minutes of the community consultation meetings2, instead claiming to have signed an attendance sheet of a meeting they were summoned to with the sole purpose of informing them there were investors who were interested in working in the district, offering employment and developing communities. Around 7,000 hectares (some 17,300 acres) were alocated to the project without the communities’ knowledge and consent. Clearly, the process was riddled with glaring irregularities and illegalities which the government has gone to great lengths to prevent from coming to light – irregularities that should put the government to shame. In a clear attempt to discredit and belittle the excellent work that was done on behalf of the communities, it was claimed that those civil society organizations involved in the process were against development, among other unflattering adjectives3. In a desperate attempt to prove that the process complied with legal requirements, the then Ministry for the Coordination of Environmental Action (MICOA), through the National Directorate for Environmental Impact Assessment (DNAIA) – the entity responsible for issuing environmental licenses –, even took part in a meeting which was most likely organized following a suggestion from the environmental consultants responsible for carrying out the environmental impact assessment study. Civil society organizations and other interested parties were invited to take part in the meeting, which was held at one of Maputo’s luxurious hotels. In a clear attempt to corroborate the transparency of the project, CSOs were summoned so that all the issues they raised could be addressed. Even so, it was not possible to clarify how the land use title was assigned before the environmental license process was completed. Through this meeting, it became clear that the process did not comply with legally defined steps. At one point in the meeting, it was impossible to distinguish who belonged to the government and who belonged to the company, given the need for both parties to justify and substantiate violations of laws approved and recognized by the government itself. During the consultations in Quitupo, the maps presented by Total were completely rejected by the communities. People said that the maps didn’t matter to them because they didn’t know how to read them, they would rather be shown the project’s boundaries on the ground4. The population did not feel intimidated by Anadarko’s technical teams boots and dark glasses, nor by the speeches of the then district administrator and not even by the elaborate speeches of the provincial directors for environment and mineral resources. The latter ones had to participate in the meetings to try to appease the feelings of the communities. None of these actions managed to convince the Quitupo community that they had to transfer their burial grounds and give up their fishing and farming areas in order to prioritize the exploration of natural gas. This process showed the strength of a community that was united and aware of its rights, and demanded to negotiate on its own terms. Regrettably, our communities are never given the opportunity to say NO; from an early age they are taught that what the government wants, the government gets – and if the government is our father, then we owe it respect even if that means overriding the respect that we are also owed. On the other hand, the communities are expected to pay eternal tribute to the ones who freed us from colonialism, which is why no decision should be challenged, only accepted. However, the reason why this whole situation was sorted out was when it was cleverly decided to create the famous ”resettlement committees” – groups that would represent the interests of the communities in the meetings with the project, and thereby avoid the “hassles” that were present in the initial meetings. These committees were initially made up of influential people who were respected by the communities and who played the role of mediators in the process of signing the agreements between community members and the company. The truth is that the idea of setting up these committees included the subtle courtesy of paying the members of said committees a monthly fee, the humble amount (for people living on the poverty line) of 7 thousand meticais, paid for by Anadarko. Many of the concerns expressed by the communities in the initial meetings quickly ceased to be of concern, without ever having been properly addressed. After receiving some of the fees paid for by the company, the committees started to no longer truly represent the interests of the communities. One of the first steps that were taken was to expel the members of the committees who insisted on raising questions considered to be from the past, especially questions relating to the submission of minutes from the community consultation meetings regarding the acquisition of the land use title, new fishing areas and transfer of graveyards. In addition to the exclusion of members who refused to be manipulated, complaints began to emerge about the committees’ inability to deal with the numerous complaints made by those who felt economically or physically impacted. Especially in cases where there were internal squabbles typical of small villages, people would not even bother going to the committees because they felt that, if one has personal issues with a committee member, your matter would not even reach the company, where the appropriate channels could be used to submit complaints and restitute rights as was often necessary. Stunned by the number of complaints that our focal point received, Justiça Ambiental actually tried, in August 2019, to contact the committee to better understand what was going on. We were surprised by the fact that, in order to see a civil society organization, the committee requested a government credential and that we be accompanied by a government official. At that moment, we realized that these committees no longer served the interests of the people who appointed them to represent them, which – unfortunately for the people of Mozambique – is nothing new. In a fuzzy way, and in Mozambican style, the comments regarding the legality of the minutes of the community consultation meetings that cleared the way for the attribution of land to the American multinational were muffled. The project kicked off and all the measures foreseen in the resettlement process were initiated so that the transfer of families could proceed according to plan. Then, in 2016, the Mozambican Bar Association (OAM) requested that the Administrative Court5 nullify the document, which was issued after project activities began. However, once again the government and the institutions that represent it came to the project’s defense6. Without apparently analyzing the essence of the application, the Administrative Court simply argued that the communities were satisfied with the resettlement process and the financial compensations; however, no reference was made to the illegality of the land use title. Anadarko’s original project, which is now owned by Total, provided for the resettlement of around 733 families from Quitupo. The community resettlement process started in July 2019 with the residents of Milamba village being the first to be resettled. The village’s 33 families were the first to receive the houses built by Anadarko. The resettlement process in Quitupo began in March 2020, but only 161 families from the community were resettled, with the majority remaining in the village awaiting their turn. While the resettlement process was under way, a fence began to be erected around the supposed limits of the production plant, leaving the Quitupo community trapped and without permission to develop farming and fishing activities within the fenced area. Currently, the community is forced to leave the fenced area to look for alternatives to their survival in areas where they are allowed to farm or fish in Senga, Maganja, Monjane, Macala and Palma Sede.

When questioned about the need to support the communities that remain in Quitupo without any means of subsistence and without support from the company while they wait for their resettlement, Total’s team replied there wasn’t much that could be done. They said that they don’t provide support and do not allow the land inside the fence to be used to avoid future conflicts with the communities as they fear that activities may resume at any time; if that happens, families which have crops in the fields will demand compensation for the loss, whereas Quitupo has already gone through the compensation process and people already received compensation up for their losses. They even expressed willingness to receive proposals to solve the problem that they recognize the community is facing due to the construction of this fence. Construction of this fence raised great concern on the part of the communities, and their greatest fear gradually materialized: the total loss of their land. However, after the attack in Palma on March 24, 2021, Total – which heads the Mozambique LNG consortium – suspended its activities by issuing a declaration of force majeure, thus also suspending the ongoing resettlement process. This interruption left at least 572 families from the community of Quitupo fenced in and trapped within their own village. In addition to losing their land, these families have not yet received the lands they were promised as compensation. In fact, it is clear that farming land compensations are the great Achilles heel of megaprojects in Mozambique and the giant Total doesn’t have much room to guarantee land to the resettled communities. Those few who managed to secure land compensations in Senga and Macala are engaged in conflict with the host communities who complain about irregularities in the compensation process. Families who remain in Quitupo are living in total uncertainty, without even knowing if they will receive a house given that some of the houses are still under construction; they also feel restricted about making improvements to the houses they currently live in since a moratorium was declared in 2017. Following the attacks that took place in Palma on March 24, 2021, Total declared force majeure7, which covers the occurrence of unforeseen events. However, considering the area has been under attack for the past five years and one of the attacks in 2019 took place about 7km from Total’s camp, it seems a bit simplistic to regard the attack on the village of Palma as unpredictable. The reality is that, once force majeure was declared, activities in Palma, including the resettlement process, were suspended. While Total decides whether or not it is safe to return to Afungi, families from Quitupo and other families already resettled in Vila de Quitunda who find themselves in a similar situation – with no land, no compensation (especially due to complaints) and no support – have no option but to look for other ways to survive and to guarantee adequate food for their families, not to mention the situation of constant insecurity they live in. More than two years after they lost their land, and more than a year since they started living in a fenced area, the families of the community of Quitupo have not yet seen and do not see the alleged benefits of gas exploration projects in Cabo Delgado. Their suspicions and resistance proved right. Despite their union and courage, they are still trapped by a development model that disregards the rights and wishes of the people, and leaves the door wide open for large multinational companies.

References:

Mário, T.V e Bila, I.M (2015), Indústria Extractiva e Comunidade: Questões sobre comunicação, Consultas Públicas, e impactos económicos, sociais e ambientais sobre comunidades rurais em Tete e Cabo Delgado – sekelekani.org.mz

Salomão, A. (2021), Governação Participativa de Terras em Moçambique: Breve Revisão do Quadro Legal e Desafios de Implementação, Revista Ambiente & Sociedade, São Paulo. Vol. 24.

Oliveira, L.T (2018), “Na República de Moçambique temos a lei” Política de terras, sentidos da terra e conflito no litoral norte de Moçambique, Universidade de Brasília, Centro de Estudos Avançados Multidisciplinares.

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