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A Brief History of Mozambique - Part 1

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Where in Africa is Mozambique?

Where in Africa is Mozambique?

Image: ©2006 Alistair Boddy-Evans. Used with Permission

Indigenous Peoples of Mozambique:


Mozambique's first inhabitants were San hunter and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples. Between the first and fourth centuries AD, waves of Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from the north through the Zambezi River valley and then gradually into the plateau and coastal areas. The Bantu were farmers and ironworkers.

Arab and Portuguese Traders:


When Portuguese explorers reached Mozambique in 1498, Arab trading settlements had existed along the coast and outlying islands for several centuries. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east. Later traders penetrated the interior regions seeking gold and slaves. Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, limited power was exercised through individual settlers who were granted extensive autonomy. As a result, investment lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and the colonization of Brazil.

Under Portuguese Administration:


By the early 20th century the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of the country to large private companies, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established railroad lines to neighboring countries and supplied cheap – often forced – African labor to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies and South Africa. Because policies were designed to benefit white settlers and the Portuguese homeland, little attention was paid to Mozambique's national integration, its economic infrastructure, or the skills of its population.

Struggle for Independence:


After World War II, while many European nations were granting independence to their colonies, Portugal clung to the concept that Mozambique and other Portuguese possessions were overseas provinces of the mother country, and emigration to the colonies soared. The drive for Mozambican independence developed apace, and in 1962 several anti-colonial political groups formed Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO, also known as the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique), which initiated an armed campaign against Portuguese colonial rule in September 1964.

Independence is Achieved:


Following the April 1974 coup in Lisbon, Portuguese colonialism collapsed. In Mozambique, the military decision to withdraw occurred within the context of a decade of armed anti-colonial struggle, initially led by American-educated Eduardo Mondlane, who was assassinated in 1969. After 10 years of sporadic warfare and major political changes in Portugal, Mozambique became independent on June 25, 1975.

A Draconian One-Party State:


When independence was achieved in 1975, the leaders of FRELIMO's military campaign rapidly established a one-party state allied to the Soviet bloc and outlawed rival political activity. FRELIMO eliminated political pluralism, religious educational institutions, and the role of traditional authorities.

Supporting the Independence Struggle in Neighboring Countries:


The new government gave shelter and support to South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) liberation movements while the governments of first Rhodesia and later apartheid South Africa fostered and financed an armed rebel movement in central Mozambique called Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO, the Mozambican National Resistance).

Mozambican Civil War:


Civil war, sabotage from neighboring states, and economic collapse characterized the first decade of Mozambican independence. Also marking this period were the mass exodus of Portuguese nationals, weak infrastructure, nationalization, and economic mismanagement. During most of the civil war, the government was unable to exercise effective control outside of urban areas, many of which were cut off from the capital. An estimated 1 million Mozambicans perished during the civil war, 1.7 million took refuge in neighboring states, and several million more were internally displaced. In the third FRELIMO party congress in 1983, President Samora Machel conceded the failure of socialism and the need for major political and economic reforms. He died, along with several advisers, in a suspicious 1986 plane crash.

Next: A Brief History of Mozambique - Part 2


(Text from Public Domain material, US Department of State Background Notes.)

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