Mozambique stretches for 1,535 mi (2,470 km) along Africa’s southeast coast. It is nearly twice the size of California. Tanzania is to the north; Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to the west; and South Africa and Swaziland to the south. The country is generally a low-lying plateau broken up by 25 sizable rivers that flow into the Indian Ocean. The largest is the Zambezi, which provides access to central Africa.
The population of Mozambique is around 24 million people, mainly African, but a few Europeans and Indians. Over 50% of the people are Christian (Roman Catholic, Zionist or Protestant) and 17% are Muslim. The official language is Portuguese, but many other languages are spoken such as Swahili, Makhuwa and Sena. Mozambique has vast natural resources in natural gas, coal, titanium and hydroelectric capacity. Their number one trading partner is South Africa, but China and several European countries are also trading partners. The country has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with foreign investors showing interest in Mozambique’s untapped oil and gas reserves. Coal and titanium are a growing source of revenue.
Most of the population works the land, however, and infrastructure nationwide still suffers from colonial neglect, war and under-investment. Poverty is widespread, with more than 50% of Mozambicans living on less than $1 a day.
Between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, waves of Bantu-speaking people migrated from the west and north through the Zambezi River valley and then gradually into the plateau and coastal areas. They established agricultural communities or societies based on herding cattle. They brought with them the technology for iron making, a metal which they used to make weapons for the conquest of their neighbors. Several Swahili trade ports dotted the coast of the country before the arrival of Arabs, who had been trading with Madagascar and the Far East. Coastal trade of Mozambique was at first dominated by Arabs and Persians, who had established settlements as far south as Mozambique Island.
The voyage of Vasco da Gama around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 marked the Portuguese entry into trade, politics, and society of the region. The Portuguese gained control of the Island of Mozambique and the port city of Sofala in the early 16th century, and by the 1530s, small groups of Portuguese traders and prospectors seeking gold penetrated the interior regions, where they set up garrisons and trading posts at Sena and Tete on the River Zambezi and tried to gain exclusive control over the gold trade.
The Portuguese attempted to legitimise and consolidate their trade and settlement positions through the creation of prazos (land grants) tied to Portuguese settlement and administration. While prazos were originally developed to be held by Portuguese, through intermarriage they became African Portuguese or African Indian centres defended by large African slave armies known as Chikunda. Historically within Mozambique there was slavery. Human beings were bought and sold by African tribal chiefs, Arab traders and Portuguese and other European traders as well. Many Mozambican slaves were supplied by tribal chiefs who raided warring tribes and sold their captives to the prazeiros.
For a period of 400 years, Portugal controlled Mozambique. During the 19th century other European powers, particularly the British (British South Africa Company) and the French (Madagascar), became increasingly involved in the trade and politics of the region around the Portuguese East African territories.
By the early 20th century the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of Mozambique to large private companies, like the Mozambique Company, the Zambezia Company and the Niassa Company, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established railroad lines to their neighbouring colonies (South Africa and Rhodesia). Although slavery had been legally abolished in Mozambique, at the end of the 19th century the Chartered companies enacted a forced labor policy and supplied cheap – often forced – African labour to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies and South Africa.
As communist and anti-colonial ideologies spread out across Africa, many clandestine political movements were established in support of Mozambican independence. The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) initiated a guerrilla campaign against Portuguese rule in September 1964. This conflict – along with the two others already initiated in the other Portuguese colonies of Angola and Portuguese Guinea – became part of the so-called Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974). From a military standpoint, the Portuguese regular army maintained control of the population centres while the guerrilla forces sought to undermine their influence in rural and tribal areas in the north and west.
After 10 years of sporadic warfare and Portugal’s return to democracy through a leftist military coup in Lisbon, which replaced Portugal’s Estado Novo regime for a military junta (the Carnation Revolution of April 1974), FRELIMO took control of the territory. Mozambique became independent from Portugal on 25 June 1975.
The new government, under president Samora Machel, established a one-party state based on Marxist principles. The new government received diplomatic and some military support from Cuba and the Soviet Union and proceeded to crack down on opposition.
Starting shortly after the independence, the country was plagued from 1977 to 1992 by a long and violent civil war between the FRELIMO regime and opposition forces of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). Formed in 1975, the RENAMO , an anti-communist group sponsored by the Rhodesian Intelligence Service, and the apartheid government in South Africa, launched a series of attacks on transport routes, schools and health clinics, and the country descended into civil war. In the United States, the CIA and conservatives lobbied for support to RENAMO, which was strongly resisted by the State Department, which would “not recognize or negotiate with RENAMO”.
This conflict, combined with sabotage from the neighbouring white-ruled state of Rhodesia and the apartheid regime of South Africa, ineffective policies, failed central planning, and the resulting economic collapse, characterised the first decades of Mozambican independence. This period was also marked by the exodus of Portuguese nationals and Mozambicans of Portuguese heritage, a collapsed infrastructure, lack of investment in productive assets, and government nationalisation of privately owned industries as well as widespread famine.
During most of the civil war, the FRELIMO-formed central government was unable to exercise effective control outside of urban areas, many of which were cut off from the capital. It is reported that in RENAMO controlled areas, which included up to 50% of the rural areas in several provinces, health services of any kind were isolated from assistance for years. The problem worsened when the government cut back spending on health care.
The war was marked by mass human rights violations from both sides of the conflict with RENAMO contributing to the chaos through the use of terror and indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The central government executed tens of thousands of people while trying to extend its control throughout the country and sent many people to re-education camps where thousands died. An estimated one million Mozambicans perished during the civil war, 1.7 million took refuge in neighbouring states, and several million more were internally displaced. The FRELIMO regime also gave shelter and support to South African (African National Congress) and Zimbabwean (Zimbabwe African National Union) rebel movements while the governments of first Rhodesia and later South Africa (at that time still under the apartheid regime) backed RENAMO in the civil war.
On 19 October 1986, Samora Machel was on his way back from an international meeting in Zambia in the presidential Tupolev Tu-134 aircraft when the plane crashed in the Lebombo Mountains, near Mbuzini. There were ten survivors, but President Machel and thirty-three others died, including ministers and officials of the Mozambique government.
Machel’s successor, Joaquim Chissano, implemented sweeping changes in the country, starting reforms such as changing from Marxism to capitalism, and began peace talks with RENAMO. The new constitution enacted in 1990 provided for a multi-party political system, market-based economy, and free elections. The civil war ended in October 1992.
Mozambique held elections in 1994, which were accepted by most parties as free and fair while still contested by many nationals and observers alike. FRELIMO won, under Joaquim Chissano, while RENAMO, led by Afonso Dhlakama, ran as the official opposition.
By mid-1995, over 1.7 million refugees who had sought asylum in neighboring countries had returned to Mozambique, part of the largest repatriation witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa. An additional four million internally displaced persons had returned to their homes.
In December 1999, Mozambique held elections for a second time since the civil war, which were again won by FRELIMO. RENAMO accused FRELIMO of fraud, and threatened to return to civil war, but backed down after taking the matter to the Supreme Court and losing.
In early 2000 a cyclone caused widespread flooding in the country, killing hundreds and devastating the already precarious infrastructure. Furthermore, in 2002 a severe drought hit many central and southern parts of the country, including previously flood-stricken areas.
Presidential and National Assembly elections took place on December 1–2, 2004. FRELIMO candidate Armando Guebuza won with 64% of the popular vote.
The resettlement of civil war refugees and successful economic reform have led to a high growth rate: the country enjoyed a remarkable recovery, achieving an average annual rate of economic growth of 8% between 1996 and 2006 and between 6%–7% from 2006 to 2011. The devastating floods of early 2000 slowed GDP growth to 2.1% but a full recovery was achieved in 2001 with growth of 14.8%. Rapid expansion in the future hinged on several major foreign investment projects, continued economic reform, and the revival of the agriculture, transportation, and tourism sectors. In 2013 about 80% of the population was employed in agriculture, the majority of whom were engaged in small-scale subsistence farming which still suffered from inadequate infrastructure, commercial networks, and investment. However, in 2012, more than 90% of Mozambique’s arable land was still uncultivated.
In 2013, a BBC article reported that, starting in 2009, Portuguese had been returning to Mozambique because of the growing economy in Mozambique and the poor economic situation in Portugal.
On October 21, 2013, the RENAMO opposition movement announced it was abandoning the 1992 peace treaty with the governing FRELIMO party. The opposition and government troops had been battling for about a year. RENAMO made the announcement after government troops attacked a RENAMO base where Afonso Dhlakama, RENAMO’s leader, was staying. Dhlakama was forced to flee. Fernando Mazanga, a RENAMO spokesperson, said “Peace is over in the country. The responsibility lies with the FRELIMO government because they didn’t want to listen to RENAMO’s grievances.”
The day after RENAMO announced that the treaty was no longer, they attacked a police station in Maringue. There were no casualties or injuries reported. The government did not respond to the police station attack or RENAMO’s announcement. The 1992 Rome General Peace Accords ended Mozambique’s 1975-92 civil war. RENAMO’s announcement to abandon the treaty raised concerns that the conflict between the two parties would be renewed. After protracted negotiations, RENAMO and the government signed a ceasefire in August 2014.
Mozambique held its general elections on Oct. 15, 2014. The ruling party, FRELIMO, kept its majority in parliament. FRELIMO took 144 out of 250 seats while the opposition party, RENAMO, took 89 seats. FRELIMO’s candidate, Filipe Nyusi, was elected president, receiving 57.03% of the vote. Afonso Dhlakama, RENAMO’s candidate, received 36.61% of the vote.
After the election, Dhlakama accused the results of being fraudulent. He threatened to set up a rival RENAMO government, but later backed down. However, RENAMO did protest the election results by boycotting the swearing in of provincial parliaments.