My PhD fieldwork on Dutch aid in the Mozambican waterscape took me from one crisis-ridden research context, the Netherlands, to another, Mozambique.
This working paper asks how seemingly unrelated crises in both countries have jointly reproduced politico-economic and hydro-social conditions in Mozambique. To this end, literature on the political ecology of crisis and austerity is mobilised and adapted to the needs of this paper through the notion of variegated capitalism.
This relational approach helps to make sense of interdependencies between the two crises (and the responses they triggered) in a singular global, but spatially differentiated, capitalism. The empirical part of the paper starts with Mozambique, where my fieldwork in 2016–17 coincided with a massive debt scandal that plunged the Mozambican political economy into a deep crisis. State responses to this crisis, notably austerity measures, deteriorated already challenging hydro-social conditions in the country.
The paper then takes a leap back in time and space, and examines how the post-2008 financial crisis led the Dutch state to implement austerity programmes as well as other measures and reforms that sought to revive capital accumulation and enhance the economy’s competitiveness.
Among the targets of these reforms was Dutch aid; the crisis provided momentum to (neo)liberal demands for putting aid increasingly to work for, and have it eventually replaced by, trade. In the resultant ‘aid and trade’ agenda, water was designated a priority.
A discussion follows on the contradictory effects of this agenda and other post-crisis reforms on politico-economic and hydro– social processes in Mozambique. The paper concludes that, overall, state responses to both crises have accentuated rather than redressed neoliberal ideas and processes that sparked the crises in question.
These, in turn, have restrained rather than opened up the imagination and pursuit of alternatives to problematic pro-market pathways in the Mozambican waterscape. As such, the paper aims to show how two ‘distant’ crises, i.e. crises that have occurred in different spatio-temporal contexts, are connected and have co-produced conditions under which hydro-social development in Mozambique takes place.