My last field visit in Mozambique was to a small community a few miles southwest of Macia in the Gaza Province. ORAM had helped them obtain a DUAT –official recognition of land rights– and was working with them to improve agricultural processes. We were sat in a circle; ORAM staff, the community leader and myself in plastic chairs and six women with children sat on reed mats. The community members only spoke Changana, a southern African Bantu language, which was translated to Portuguese by a member of ORAM’s Gaza delegation staff and then my colleague from the Maputo office helped me with the Portuguese I did not understand.
All the women would talk and answer questions but a woman of 82 led the discussion. The community had been named after her grandfather and as his oldest living descendant, she was the community leader. Towards the end of the conversation when the subject of land conflict was broached she went inside her home and after a few moments returned with about forty pages of jumbled documents.
Through the translators it was explained that a couple South Africans had come with what appeared to be cell phones –but were more likely GPSs– and walked all over a tract of community land near the river. At some point they approached the community to share their intention to ‘lease’ some land from them. Although resistant at first they were persuaded when the South Africans returned with a government official who explained the contract and insisted it was a good deal.
I began to thumb through the stack. The documents were written entirely in English. There was a project overview which; outlined their intention to grow sugarcane, and included soil and water quality reports as well as the projects budget. There also was a lease and profit sharing contract. The lease was for 50 years and stipulated that the investors had unregulated access and use of the river and were not responsible for any environmental damage that might result from their activities –including soil and downriver water pollution–. On top of that it clearly stated that the contract was being administered under South African courts who would also arbitrate over any future disputes. The profit sharing agreement was slightly more complicated but they appeared to be getting hosed on that end too.
Here lies the problem as I see it… There will always be people willing to take advantage of others, trying to get the most for the least. The most vulnerable, in this case illiterate camponês, are in a position where they must rely on civil society to advocate for them. When the demand for civil society exceeds the capacity of civil society we have a problem; individual people, communities, genders, minority groups, income levels, etc all begin to slip through the cracks. Despite the fact that they were working with ORAM, a very technically capable organization that achieves results, the community was still caught unaware and signed away a piece of their livelihoods, a piece of their heritage.
Demand side solutions are necessary, but their results can be somewhat disperse and unfocused. Building the capacity of civil society empowers local communities to advocate for themselves and achieves tangible focused results.