The history of Mozambique

Mozambique’s population has its roots in original hunter-gatherer San people, and later migrations of Nguni people southwards. Ever since the 10th century the country was influenced greatly by the presence of Arab traders, as the strong Muslim communities all along the northern coast of the country testifies even today. There is also evidence of trade with China and India. Ultimately, though, the West got its claws into the country when Vasco da Gama rounded the southern tip of Africa in 1498. For most of its history, the capital of the country, inasmuch as that was a functional term, was Mozambique Island and the north was the centre of the country’s trade with Europe.

Mozambique was in fact named after the Arab sheik on Mozambique Island called “Musa Bin Biki” when Vasco de Gama first landed there in 1498. For the first few centuries of their presence there, Portugal struggled to penetrate the interior and trade and power still lay mostly in the hands of local chiefs. It was only when Mozambique became a Portuguese colony in 1884 that they were able to set up a system whereby sharecroppers cultivated cash crops for British and French leaseholders and were effectively kept in a state of serfdom. Portugal still had little direct influence in the interior of the country.

After World War II, many European nations were granting independence to their colonies. Portugal however established Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Angola as Portuguese overseas provinces of the mother country, and emigration to the colonies soared. Mozambique’s Portuguese population at the time of independence was about 250,000. Neither Portuguese citizens nor Indigenous Mozambicans had political rights, although Portuguese citizens were in a privileged class of their own. Mozambicans were given precious few opportunities for education and thereby the means to become full-fledged, independent citizens with a voice of their own.

The desire for Mozambican independence gained pace, and in 1962 an assortment of anti-colonial political groups, under the leadership of Dr Eduardo Mondlane (educated in America) formed the “Frente de Libertacao de Mozambique” (FRELIMO) on 25 June 1962. Frelimo, based in Tanzania, began an armed campaign against Portuguese colonial rule in September 1964, and was soon in control of large parts of Northern Mozambique.

On 25 April 1974 the authoritarian regime of Estado Novo (established in Portugal in 1933 and dedicated to upholding the pluricontinental empire) had been overthrown in Lisbon, a move that was supported by many Portuguese workers and peasants. The Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas) in Portugal pledged a return to civil liberties and an end to the fighting in all colonies (or the overseas provinces). The rapid chain of events within Portugal caught Frelimo, which had anticipated a protracted guerrilla campaign, by surprise. It responded quickly to the new situation and on 7 September 1974 won an agreement from the Armed Forces Movement to transfer power to Frelimo within a year. When this was made known to the public, several thousand of Portuguese people fled the newly-independent country and, as a result of the exodus, the economy and social organization of Mozambique collapsed. On June 25, 1975 Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, with Samora Machel as the Head of State.

In 1976 a new resistance movement was formed called the Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO). This force was formed to counter the Frelimo government and to disrupt the logistical flow of weapons to guerilla fighters based in Mozambique’s border areas who were fighting against neighboring Rhodesia. After Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, South Africa then became Renamo’s chief sponsor. South Africa, just like Rhodesia before was determined to prevent guerrillas, this time from the African National Congress ANC), from basing themselves in Mozambique. Many Portuguese nationals and Mozambicans of Portuguese heritage left again in mass exodus.
In 1990, with the end of the cold war, and apartheid crumbling in South Africa, support for Renamo was drying up in South Africa and the United States, the first direct talks between the Frelimo government and Renamo were held. Frelimo’s draft constitution in July 1989 paved the way for a multiparty system and in November 1990 a new constitution was adopted. Mozambique was now a multiparty state, with periodic elections, and guaranteed democratic rights. On 4 October 1992, the Rome General Peace Accords, negotiated by the Community of Sant’Egidio with the support of the United Nations, were signed in Rome between President Chissano and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, which formally took effect on the October 15, 1992. A UN peacekeeping force (ONUMOZ) of 7,500 arrived in Mozambique and oversaw a two year transition to democracy. 2,400 international observers also entered the country to supervise the elections held on October 27-28, 1994. The last ONUMOZ contingents departed in early 1995.