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Mozambique Coal Mine Brings Jobs, Concerns

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Mozambique Coal Mine Brings Jobs, Concerns


Mozambique Coal Mine Brings Jobs, Concerns

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As developing countries grow, their need for raw materials grows too. That's the case with Brazil, which has much in common with the nation of Mozambique. Both have a mix of African and Portuguese influences. Both are rich in natural resources and both fought long and hard to throw off European colonialism.

But, today, a Brazilian coal mine in Mozambique is raising important questions about what the energy demands of growing economies mean for struggling African countries eager for foreign jobs and investment.

Annie Murphy reports.

ANNIE MURPHY: This coal mine in northwestern Mozambique is owned by the Brazilian company Vale. It's a gaping, dark gray pit in the middle of a green, windswept savannah. Still under construction, it currently employees about 7,500 people.

Twenty-three-year-old Jose Manuel Guilengue is a machine operator.

MANUEL GUILENGUE: (Speaking foreign language)

MURPHY: Guilengue says that he and a friend traveled 1,000 miles from the capital to get here, where they were both hired. That was a year ago. He now makes around $400 a month, which is more than four times the average salary in Mozambique.

According to the general manager overseeing construction, Osvaldo Adachi, this mine will produce about 11 million tons of coal each year, for at least three decades.

OSVALDO ADACHI: It's one of the biggest coal basins in the world. The target for this market is Brazil, China, Japan, Europe and India.

MURPHY: He says the mine won't just provide coal to economies with global clout, it will also help Mozambique, too, by providing jobs. The government is in favor of the project. They say it will mean tax revenue and jobs for people in remote, sparsely developed Tete province - jobs that are hard to come by all over Mozambique, where unemployment is near 20 percent.

But some, like environmentalist Anabela Lemos, see only problems with the mine.

ANABELA LEMOS: I think coal mining, it's well known, the impact of coal mining. That's why in some countries they don't want any more coal mining due to the impacts on the environment. Plus to generate energy, it's more pollution today. We don't call that development.

MURPHY: Mozambique currently relies on foreign aid for much of its budget and struggles to maintain food and gas subsidies. After a spike in prices last year, food riots killed over a dozen people. Yet, while mining companies like the Brazilian company Vale do provide some jobs, they pay as little as three percent in taxes to the Mozambican state.

LEMOS: This is a new colonial era. This time it's not government, it's corporations.

MURPHY: According to Lemos, the clearest sign of a so-called new colonial era is the effect of coal mining on locals. To make way for the mine, Vale moved about 5,000 people off their land and into what they call settlements.

Vale's Osvaldo Adachi.

ADACHI: I think everything is new to them, but according to our social department, all the people, they are very happy about that because they have all the infrastructure.

MURPHY: The settlement is on the outskirts of the city of Moatize. It has rows of neat stucco and metal houses painted cheerful colors like yellow and green amid a stretch of hot scrub. It looks more comfortable than the rough thatch, wood and mud-brick buildings in most communities. But even with the houses and the new infrastructure, many people who live here, like Doratea Mateus who's cleaning fish heads for soup, say they just wanted to stay on their land.

DORATEA MATEUS: (Through translator) Vale told us we had to leave, but I didn't want to. That was our land. Like it here? No, I don't. Here there's nowhere to grow food. And sure, there's water and energy, but you have to pay for it. Back on our land, we had water, and we didn't have to pay.

MURPHY: Mateus rinses the fish under a spigot in the yard. Her uncle, Satar Pensar, is struggling to pay for water and to feed this family of eight - something he never imagined when he had a big plot of land and ample, free water. And he doesn't see an alternative.

SATAR PENSAR: (Speaking foreign language)

MURPHY: Where am I going to complain, says Pensar. I don't have anywhere I can go to make a complaint. If I go up there and say something, they're going to tell me, no, go back and stay where you are.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Murphy in Maputo, Mozambique.

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