Justice in the just transition in Mozambique
‘Africa is on the frontline of the climate crisis, but it's not the front pages of the world’s newspapers’, said Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakata. While many developed countries are stepping up their investments in renewables for an urgently needed energy transition, climate activists are concerned the solutions currently on the table trample the human rights of communities in the Global South to meet the energy needs of the Global North.
The global demand for metals needed to build low-carbon technologies to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees is resulting in a ‘mineral boom’. Among these technologies, industry experts estimate a five-fold increased demand for lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030.
One of the African countries that may be affected by this mineral boom is Mozambique, which harbours some of the world’s biggest reserves in graphite, a key component of EV batteries. Substantial deposits of this mineral are situated in the conflict-ridden Cabo Delgado province, in the north of the country. While anticipating profits and employment opportunities, Mozambicans also fear the influx of new mining investments could lead to further human rights abuse in the area. Stakes are high; Elon Musk’s Tesla, the world’s leading producer of EVs, has signed a contract with Syrah Resources, a vertically integrated graphite producer, to secure 80% of the graphite from its processing plant in Louisana, which, in turn, sources the ore from the Balama mine that Syrah also controls in Cabo Delgado.
To avoid the repetition of harmful business models feared by climate activists, it is essential that investors deeply understand the local context and history. Emilinah Namaganda, an Ugandan academic, argues that the new wave of extractivism has to be seen against the backdrop of centuries of slave trade, dismal labour practices in cotton plantations during the colonial era, and more recently land grabbing and forced relocation. According to her analysis, the impact of different stages of exploitative practices, including forced displacement and resettlement, led to the destruction of the socio-economic system of Cabo Delgado. The lowest level of education in the country, unemployment and regional asymmetries make vulnerable young people decide to ally themselves with radical Islamic groups associated with the armed insurgency that erupted in 2017 and is still tearing the region apart.
Extractivism is, therefore, not only connected to abuses of peoples’ land rights, irresponsible labor practices and environmental degradation, but in the context of Cabo Delgado, it also bears risks of exacerbating root causes of local conflicts.
New mineral projects, including graphite mines, bear a significant risk of undermining an energy transition that is just, fair and prioritises the creation of long-term benefits for affected local communities.
Studies indicate that graphite from Cabo Delgado comes with unkept promises of creating local prosperity. The Balama project, for instance, has led to only limited job opportunities for locals, while destroying the land-based livelihoods of peasant villagers. Videos of strikes transmitted on national TV in September 2022 show the mobilisation of the local workforce claiming their right to equal employment conditions as foreign laborers at the mining site.
Extractivism in such a conflict-prone region could backfire on investors’ planned activities. Last June, insurgent groups targeted another graphite project in Ancuabe killing 2 workers. The violent attack led Syrah Resources to suspend ore transportation activities for several days. The indefinite suspension of plans to build natural gas facilities along the coastline of Cabo Delgado by Total (now TotalEnergies) in April 2021, is another example. A disregard of the root causes of inequalities by companies clearly risks jeopardising investors’ prospects to supply more climate-friendly energy solutions to the global market in a timely way.
Foreign investments in the transitional mineral industry must prioritise knowledge of the local context and conflict dynamics over profit-driven project planning, and proactively cooperate with local authorities in order to revert socio-economic injustice created by the traditional, exploitative extractive model. Companies must undertake a human rights-based approach to project design and development and ensure the respect of international human rights and environmental standards along the entire supply chain. In the example of Cabo Delgado, this means at the least, guaranteeing entitlements to land and livelihood, that all community groups have access to relevant information and to a fair share of benefits brought by extractive projects throughout their lifecycle. This implies structural investments in the development of local skills to create decent and long-term employment while ensuring alternative livelihood opportunities, and proactive cooperation with authorities to invest locally in education, health services, and the infrastructure needed to reverse historical patterns which have driven the disruption of the socio-economic fabric of the population.
Elísio Jossias (Tindzila), Luis Scungio (SOMO) and Ilona Hartlief (SOMO) are undertaking joint research on graphite mining in Mozambique in the context of a just transition.