Land expropriation – The hidden danger of climate change response in Mozambique

December 2022
Bernardo Almeida and Carolien Jacobs

This is an important and highly recommended article in an era of advancing climate change. It sees land expropriation as a ‘hidden danger of the response to climate change’, with the poor most likely to be affected.  Three conditions for fair expropriation are identified: 1) land rights are effectively recognized by law; 2)  an adequate expropriation process is well detailed in law and there is administrative capacity to implement it; and 3) formal legality and due process are respected and access to justice is adequate. Using Mozambique and the catastrophic impact of Cyclone Idai in 2019 as a case study, the paper shows how weaknesses in all three areas led to serious land rights abuse by official agencies confronting an undeniably urgent humanitarian challenge. Two groups of people were affected: those on the coast with no formal rights over their land and homes and thus subject to ‘enormous state discretion’ with regard to how they were treated and compensated; and those inland and also lacking documented rights, whose land was expropriated to resettle displaced coastal communities. The urgency of the situation appeared to justify setting aside the basic principles of Mozambique’s ‘fairly protective’ land law, but what is striking in the paper is how this response resembles the norm in Mozambican land governance: what happened with Cyclone Idai happens all the time when state agencies manage land acquisition by private investors. You do not need a natural disaster for the rule of law to be set aside in countries where injustice and malpractice occur even in ‘normal’ times; and this tendency is merely exacerbated when disaster strikes. The chilling message is that as ‘climate change’ inexorably causes more mayhem, the ‘hidden danger’ of illegal and poorly managed expropriation is going to become far more frequent.