The borders of the territory that make up today’s Mozambique came about as a result of the power struggle between the European great powers in the late 1800s. After independence from the Portuguese colonial government in 1975, the country retained its borders, much of its internal territorial division, Portuguese law and administrative culture, as well as Portuguese as the official language. Although the colonial state of the 20th century and the liberation war laid the foundations for a unified nation-state, strong centrifugal forces exist.
The first inhabitants of Mozambique were probably San people, but today’s population is mainly descendants of immigrant Bantu people. Following waves of immigration and invasions, the population is made up of many ethnic groups and some 20 different languages are spoken. Much of the transport network, as well as the river courses, share rather than unite the land. For hundreds of years, the population has been feeding mainly on subsistence agriculture, retail trade and income from labor emigration to neighboring countries, as well as recent aid. A very modest industrial development, controlled by foreign interests, has to a small extent benefited Mozambicans. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Mozambique. The country is therefore still considered among the world’s poorest and least developed countries.
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As a result of the Bantu immigration, from the third century onwards, an Iron Age culture developed, with better tools, arable farming and permanent settlement in villages. This laid the foundation for social units with chieftains and later political structures with state formation. Around 800–900, the coast was drawn into the Arab-dominated trade of the Indian Ocean; gold, ivory and slaves were the main export products.
Inland, larger and well-organized kingdoms arose in the mineral extraction and distance trade, and with extensive agricultural production and animal husbandry. Most famous is the Munhu Mutapa empire (or Monomotapa) in the southern part of the country, which in the period 1300-1500 dominated much of today’s Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Another significant community built on the same structures as Munhu Mutapa existed until the 18th century: Manekweni in the south was a center for agriculture, livestock farming and gold trading. Along the coast, several towns grew, with Sofala as the most important.
Portugal establishes dominance
Vasco da Gama came to the coast in 1498, and in 1505 Sofala was occupied by the Portuguese as an introduction to their control of the trade. Portugal gradually established control of Mozambique, first through the establishment of trading stations and fortifications on the coast and along the Zambezi River inland, primarily to gain control of the gold and ivory trade. It was not until the 20th century that Mozambique became a settler colony with a significant number of Europeans.
Portugal was unable to finance and staff the colonization. Instead, the land was “leased out”, where the state gave private interests the right to occupy and exploit large tracts of land, especially in the north. These so-called prazos, ruled by prazeiros, evolved into settlements defended by their own armies, which were eventually handed over to private companies. A significant part of the prazo’s economic activities involved slave trading, and the prazeirois opposed the Portuguese colonial authorities when the slave trade was restricted in the first half of the 19th century. Arab and French interests were also engaged in the export of slaves from Mozambique, and trade continued in secret until the 20th century.
Along large parts of the East African coast, the Portuguese managed to take control of trade from the Arabs in the 16th and 1600s, but with the Arabs’ conquest of the Portuguese Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1698, today’s Kenya, the commute swung back. In the 17th and 17th centuries, new migration took place, Zulu/Nguni people settled in the southern part of today’s Mozambique, and unrest in present-day South Africa in the early 1800s also spread to southern Mozambique.
Taxation and forced labor reinforced an already strong opposition to Portuguese expansion, and it came from a number of uprisings in several parts of the country from the 1600s. The Portuguese exploited contradictions between African state formation and leaders to fight the resistance in the province of Gaza from 1895 to 1897, thereby securing full control over southern Mozambique.
The colonial state
Mozambique became part of the struggle between the European powers to control Africa’s resources. Portugal originally claimed an area across southern Africa, from Mozambique to Angola, but this clashed with Britain’s interests. Germany, which controlled Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania) in the north, accepted the claim and set the boundary there, but in 1891 Portugal had to accept the United Kingdom’s demands and set the boundary in the west, towards Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and in the south towards Natal (South Africa).
In order to fulfill the superpower agreements on the “division of Africa” it was necessary for Portugal to try to secure authority throughout the interior. This met with strong opposition from many peoples groups, and all of Mozambique was not subject to Portugal until closer to 1920. After the humiliation of more powerful colonial powers following the Berlin Conference, Lisbon sought to rapidly develop a nationwide military-administrative apparatus under Portuguese leadership – what the Berlin Conference had defined as the “real occupation” of an area. However, Portugal’s lack of capacity meant that it chose a “privatized” solution based on the prazo system, which from the 1890s was run by three large private companies. The colonial government in Mozambique was hard and violent, not least because of the widespread use of forced labor in both the prazo and public works. From the mid-1800s began what was to become a comprehensive and permanent labor migration from Mozambique to the mines in South Africa, which was in great need of labor. From around 1885, when Portugal had gained greater control of the inland, a system of forced labor was introduced,
Until the decolonization, little was done to improve the health and education conditions of the local population. After António Salazar’s takeover of power in Portugal in 1926, more administrative power was taken over by the Lisbon authorities, and he discontinued the prazo system. Nevertheless, conditions for the population did not improve.
Economically, a doctrine of a “self-sufficient community” within the Portuguese empire was devised, where the colonies were to supply cheap commodities to the Portuguese industry and provide currency income to the “mother country”. The agreements with South Africa and Rhodesia on deliveries of tens of thousands of migrant workers to mines and farms in neighboring countries were motivated by this. Towards the end of the colonial period, nearly half a million Mozambicans probably migrated to seasonal mining and agriculture in South Africa and Rhodesia. In parallel, particularly from the 1940s, a comprehensive immigration was started from Portugal to Mozambique, where Portuguese gained employment in most sectors, thus reducing the opportunities for the African population to take up education and find work. The number of European (mainly Portuguese) inhabitants reached about 200,000 in 1975,
During this period, the Salazar regime further developed its own Portuguese version of apartheid that was implemented in Mozambique, known as Indigeno. From around 1917, the population of Mozambique (as well as Angola and Guinea-Bissau) was divided into three parts: the indigenous (indigenous), the assimilated (assimilados) and white. Portuguese authorities had never recognized the civil rights of black Africans in the colonies. But under the indigenato system, blacks could aspire to the status of “assimilated” citizens if they achieved the linguistic and cultural characteristics desired by the local colonial powers. This would also provide a few opportunities in the labor market, for example in the state administration – although institutionalized racism persisted for the assimilated as well.
A relatively small group of assimilates would be of great importance to the history of Mozambique. They grew out of the Afro-Portuguese (“colored”) families from the prazo areas, especially in Zambezia Province, and black-out urban residents who had received education (often at mission stations). From the early 1900s, a movement emerged that defied the rights of “Africans” in the colonial state, published in literature and newspapers. This became the spearhead of the independence movement. Many of the liberation movement FRELIMOs founders, among others the movement’s first and second presidents, Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel, came from this layer of educated city dwellers, most with assimilated status. The social position this segment had long held in the cities was threatened in the 20th century by the immigration of Europeans who were privileged for racist reasons.
Towards the end of the 1950s, the demand for national independence grew with strength, and in 1962, FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Mozambique - the Front of Mozambique’s Liberation) was formed by an association of several exile organizations in Tanzania. The leader from the start was Eduardo Mondlane, who in 1969 was killed by Portuguese intelligence. By 1964, it was clear that Portugal would not agree to peaceful settlement of the empire, and FRELIMO started an armed liberation struggle.
Throughout the 1960s, several areas were liberated, and a new administration was established under the leadership of FRELIMO, especially in the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa in the north. After a power struggle between different wings, Samora Machel took over as leader of FRELIMO after Mondlane’s death. The liberation struggle was a classic anti-colonial guerrilla war supported by several African states, especially Tanzania and Zambia, as well as by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and groups abroad. FRELIMO received support from both China, the Eastern Bloc and several Western countries, not least the Scandinavians – to build up welfare services for the people in the liberated areas.
Independence: The beginning of the state of FRELIMO
Various liberation movements fought against government forces in the Portuguese colonies of Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. The fight in Mozambique was led by FRELIMO until independence in 1975.
The colonial war was a major cause of the Portuguese revolution (the “carnival revolution”, see Portugal’s history) in April 1974, which in turn led to Portugal’s decolonization in Africa. In September 1974, the new rulers in Portugal signed an agreement with FRELIMO on a transitional government with Joaquim Chissano as prime minister until independence on 25 June 1975, when Samora Machel became president. Chissano took over as president after Machel’s death in 1986. The situation in the young state was very difficult from the start; most of the Portuguese left the country with their professional knowledge, few Mozambicans had received higher education, and much of the country’s business had been destroyed during the war.
Political problems also increased rapidly. FRELIMO never sought legitimacy for its board of free elections. In 1977, FRELIMO transformed into a Marxist-Leninist party, aimed at creating a socialist Mozambique. In the same year elections were held for public assemblies at all levels – but FRELIMO selected the candidates. FRELIMO started organizing mass organizations for youth, women and workers affiliated to the party – following a Soviet pattern in which “all” groups were to be represented and organized in party-controlled movements. After independence, FRELIMO introduced a number of economic and social reforms, especially in health care, housing and education. In the countryside several large farms were nationalized. One lasting effect of FRELIMO’s ideological stance was the recruitment of women to leading positions in both politics and state – an area where Mozambique has been a pioneer in the African context.
However, much of FRELIMO’s policy quickly became unpopular. Internal opposition was not tolerated, and an authoritarian leadership style made criticism difficult. Many critics – as well as relatively unpolitical “unwanted elements” in the cities – were sent to “retraining” in the north, in fact prison camps. In the countryside, many small farmers were forced to move from scattered settlements to government-controlled villages. State takeover of agriculture and industry soon proved to be poor, and by the early 1980s, living standards had dropped dramatically in all population groups.
In 1988, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita reached its lowest level – caused by a combination of failed state-controlled economic policies, mass exodus of tens of thousands of Portuguese with expertise and purchasing power, and not least sabotage and uncertainty created by the escalating war. FRELIMO’s political and economic measures right after independence often had sudden and major impacts on local communities. The ambition went beyond decolonization, because under FRELIMO’s socialist leadership both society and man were to be transformed. In the war that followed, the rebel guerrilla Renamo exploited some groups’ frustration and opposition to FRELIMO’s project – a project they had neither voted for nor adopted.
The Civil War Years (1977–1992)
Mozambique was characterized by the unsettled situation in southern Africa and the neighboring Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and South Africa – and not least the deliberate destabilization of the neighboring countries by the apartheid regime. Immediately after independence, Mozambique allowed the Zimbabwean liberation movement to operate from Mozambican territory. Mozambique also became the refuge for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Zimbabwe.
In 1976 followed Mozambique up resolutions from the UN to boycott the Rhodesian regime, and the border between the two countries was closed, although the applied Mozambique huge economic losses. The white minority regime in Rhodesia responded to the Mozambican support for the Rhodesian liberation struggle with a variety of military actions, and it ruled one undeclared state of war until 1980. In 1976 formed the Rhodesian security one Mozambican group, RENAMO (RNM, later known as RENAMO), as an instrument to undermine the government of Mozambique.
After Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, the South African regime took over Rhodesia’s previous support for Renamo, and made sure the rebel group was strong enough to throw Mozambique into a war that, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, covered all parts of the country.
From the mid-1980s, Renamo became notorious for its brutal methods towards the civilian population, and in much of the international community it was considered a terrorist organization. Renamo received only modest international support beyond the comprehensive assistance provided by South Africa, mostly from strong right-wing forces in Portugal and the United States. After Ronald Reagan became president and supported the fight against communism in southern Africa, Renamo was indirectly supported by the United States. For its part, the FRELIMO regime received support from many of the eastern bloc countries, and not least Cuba. Government forces also carried out abuses against the civilian population.
Alongside the indirect destabilization of the FRELIMO regime through Renamo, South Africa repeatedly attacked targets in Mozambique. In 1984, however, the Mozambican government was so hard pressed to agree on a security agreement with South Africa, the so-called Nkomati agreement, which was aimed at the two countries refraining from helping opposition groups in the other country. In Mozambique’s case, that meant limiting the support of the South African liberation movement ANC. However, South Africa continued to support Renamo. Also Malawi gave indirect support to RENAMO, who got hold of the Malawian territory until 1987.
Mozambique and Zimbabwe signed a defense agreement in 1980, and forces from Tanzania and Zimbabwe (from the late 1980s also included Malawi) were deployed in Mozambique to aid in the defense of the FRELIMO government. The task of the Zimbabwean forces, which was mostly over 10,000 soldiers, was primarily to relieve the Mozambican defense of the communication lines between Zimbabwe and the Mozambican port city of Beira. Similarly, transport security through northern Mozambique was the basis for the role of coastal Malawi during the war.
In October 1986, President Machel and several of his closest associates perished in a plane crash over South African territory. South Africa was suspected of being responsible. In retrospect, conspiracy theories have flourished, but there is still widespread doubt as to what caused the suspicious flight crash. Machel was succeeded by Joaquim Chissano as president.
About 1.7 million Mozambicans fled the country during the civil war in the period 1977-1992. Most took refuge in Malawi and Zimbabwe. In addition, by the end of the war, there were about four million refugees inside Mozambique. The escape escalated from the mid-1980s, when brutal war spread to increasingly large parts of the country. By 1990, about 1/3 of the population had fled their homes, and around one million people were killed.
Peace and democratization
In 1986 elections were held for the National Assembly, but only members of the FRELIMO government could vote. In 1989, FRELIMO dismissed Marxism-Leninism as an ideological foundation. At the same time, a process was initiated towards multi-party system and free elections. In November 1990, a new constitution was passed that ended the country’s one-party system, and several parties were formed from 1991.
A peace process was started in 1989, with talks and negotiations between the government and Renamo, where the Vatican played an important role. A negotiation protocol was signed in Rome in October 1991, in which Renamo recognized the state of Mozambique, its laws and FRELIMO as a legitimate government – against the government for the first time recognizing Renamo as a political party in the Mozambican conflict. In December 1991, a limited ceasefire was signed, but the war raged on until a final peace agreement was signed in Rome in 1992. A plan was drawn up for the demobilization of the two army forces and the formation of a new army – Forças Armadas de Defesa de Mozambique(FADM). A UN force (ONUMOZ) was deployed to monitor the demobilization and the conduct of free elections. Peace was maintained, Renamo was transformed into a political party, and the party participated in the first multi-party elections in Mozambique’s history 27-29. October 1994. The elections were won by FRELIMO with 44.3 percent of the vote, but Renamo also surprised many with a full 37.8 percent.
The beginning of the 1990s brought with it fundamental changes for Mozambique. FRELIMO chose to release the “socialist” model of one-party government and state-directed planning economy, and comprehensive privatization was initiated – largely in favor of FRELIMO’s party cadres. War turned to peace, and opposition and criticism could be voiced in the press, civil society and political parties. At the same time, the political-economic dogmas of the time under the influence of the Eastern Bloc were replaced by new market liberal dogmas along with the entry of Western capital and the aid industry. But one phenomenon remained, namely the political dominance of FRELIMO in state, organizational life and economy.
The political and economic institutions that were created in the early 1990s formed the framework for Mozambique’s further history. But some of the long historical traits still remained at the beginning of the 21st century, structures created by human interaction over the centuries: the political-geographical divide between the south, center and north – emphasized by railways and rivers sharing rather than gathering. Portuguese continued as the only unifying language, poverty was chronic in large parts of the population, and the role of transport corridor between land further into Africa and the Indian Ocean persisted.
Cahora Bassa Dam: A symbol
Many foreigners, but also some Mozambicans, have had big plans – and initiated mega projects – for development in the country. For various reasons, most failed, and little created real development that benefited most Mozambicans.
In 1975, the year Mozambique became independent, stood Cahora Bassa- the dam in Tete Province completed – it was long Africa’s second largest hydroelectric power plant. At the beginning of the 1990s, it served as a kind of symbol of Mozambican history. This grandiose building was planned by Portugal. As one of Europe’s poorest states, Portugal had to hand over funding and construction to other powers, with largely unqualified Mozambican labor. The current was to develop southern Africa, but not Mozambique. Nonetheless, the revenues to finance Portugal, and since Mozambique, did not end. Sabotage during the war between Mozambicans, backed by foreign forces with various ideological and economic motives, caused Cahora Bassa to stop producing electricity. In 1990, the construction workers from Cahora Bassa, like most people in the rest of the country, had
In the next decades, new foreign powers came into being, and Mozambicans had to deal with new players and new big plans.