Renewed land debate and the 'cargo cult' in Mozambique

Hanlon, Joseph (2004). Renewed land debate and the 'cargo cult' in Mozambique. Journal of Southern African Studies, 30(3) pp. 603–626.



Land is again the subject of debate in Mozambique. The 1997 land law was passed following widespread consultation in one of the most democratic processes in Mozambique in the 1990s, and the law won praise for protecting peasant rights while creating space for outside investment. This balance is now being questioned. The law gives communities the right to delimit and register their land; once registered, potential investors need to negotiate with communities rather than merely consult them. About 100 communities have had land delimitation approved, but so far there have been no negotiations with investors. The international community and senior government officials argue that development in Mozambique will only come from private investors, mainly large foreign investors. They want greater emphasis on improving conditions for would-be investors, including speeding up the consultation procss, and less stress on peasant land delimitation. Pressure to change the constitution to allow land privatisation has been rejected, but debate continues on permitting lant 'titles' (effectively, leases) to be sold and mortgaged. This article argues that the land debate is actually a proxy for a debate about rural development. A minority see the need to actively promote some form of peasant-based development. However most of the Mozambican elite and the international community have become adherents of a 'cargo cult' which believes that development is something that flies in from outside - from the World Bank and foreign investors.

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