Waves of Bantu-speaking people moved from the west and north via the Zambezi River basin and then progressively into the plateau and coastal regions between the first and fifth century AD. They founded agricultural villages or civilizations centered on cow herding. They carried the technology for smelting and smithing iron with them.
From the late first century AD, extensive Indian Ocean trade networks stretched as far south as the ancient port town of Chibuene in Mozambique. Commercial towns along the Mozambican Swahili Coast such as Sofala, Angoche, and others were major hubs for the Arab, Persian, and subsequently Portuguese commerce in slaves, gold, ivory, and other goods. Manyikeni, for example, has evidence of 11–14th century connections with the interior Great Zimbabwe kingdoms.
Portuguese Mozambique (1498–1975)
The Island of Mozambique is a tiny coral island off the Nacala coast of northern Mozambique that was discovered by Europeans in the late 15th century.
Portuguese trade stations and forts replaced the Arabic economic and military predominance about 1500, becoming frequent ports of call on the new European sea route to the east.
Vasco da Gama’s journey around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 heralded the Portuguese entrance into the region’s commerce, politics, and society. The Portuguese took control 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 had penetrated the interior regions, where they established garrisons and trading posts at Sena and Tete on the River Zambezi and attempted to gain exclusive control over the gold trade.
Through the establishment of prazos (land grants) linked to Portuguese settlement and administration, the Portuguese sought to legitimize and strengthen their trade and settlement positions. While prazos were initially designed to be controlled by the Portuguese, via intermarriage, they evolved into African Portuguese or African Indian centers guarded by huge African slave armies known as Chikunda. Slavery existed in Mozambique historically. African tribal leaders, Arab Muslim merchants, and Portuguese and other European traders all purchased and sold human people. Tribal leaders who attacked warring tribes and sold their captives to the prazeiros provided many Mozambican slaves.
Although Portuguese influence grew over time, its authority was limited and was wielded by individual settlers and officials who were given considerable liberty. Between 1500 and 1700, the Portuguese were able to take control of most of the coastal commerce from Arab Muslims, but with the Arab Muslim capture of Portugal’s important stronghold at Fort Jesus on Mombasa Island (now in Kenya) in 1698, the pendulum started to swing in the other way. As a consequence, investment slowed as Lisbon focused on more profitable commerce with India and the Far East, as well as colonization of Brazil.
The Mazrui and Omani Arabs recovered most of the Indian Ocean commerce during these conflicts, forcing the Portuguese to withdraw south. Many prazos had died out by the mid-nineteenth century, but a few remained. Other European powers, notably the British (British South Africa Company) and the French (Madagascar), were more engaged in the commerce and politics of the area around the Portuguese East African possessions throughout the nineteenth century.
By the early twentieth century, the Portuguese had ceded control of much of Mozambique to large private companies, such as the Mozambique Company, the Zambezia Company, and the Niassa Company, which were mostly controlled and financed by the British, and which established railroad lines to their neighboring colonies (South Africa and Rhodesia). Despite the fact that slavery had been officially abolished in Mozambique, towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Chartered corporations implemented a forced labor strategy, supplying cheap—often forced—African labor to the neighboring British colonies and South Africa’s mines and plantations. The most lucrative chartered business, the Zambezia Company, bought acquired a number of lesser prazeiro properties and built military outposts to defend its land. The chartered businesses constructed roads and ports to get their products to market, including a railroad that connected modern-day Zimbabwe with the Mozambican port of Beira.
Due to their poor performance and the move toward greater Portuguese control of the Portuguese Empire’s economy under Oliveira Salazar’s corporatist Estado Novo government, the businesses’ concessions were not renewed when they expired. This occurred in 1942 with the Mozambique Company, which continued to function as a company in the agricultural and commercial sectors, and it had previously happened in 1929 with the end of the Niassa Company’s concession. The Portuguese overseas colonies in Africa were renamed Overseas Provinces of Portugal in 1951.
Mozambican War of Independence (1964–1974)
As communist and anti-colonial ideas expanded across Africa, numerous clandestine political organizations in favor of Mozambican independence emerged. These organizations argued that since the governing authorities mainly developed policies and development plans for the advantage of Mozambique’s Portuguese majority, insufficient attention was given to tribal integration and the development of Mozambique’s native communities.
According to official guerrilla claims, the majority of the indigenous population was impacted, who faced both state-sponsored discrimination and tremendous societal pressure. Many believed they had been given insufficient opportunities or resources to enhance their abilities and economic and social status to a level equal to that of Europeans. Mozambique’s Portuguese whites were statistically richer and more competent than the black indigenous majority. In reaction to the guerrilla movement, the Portuguese government began incremental reforms in the 1960s and early 1970s, with new socioeconomic advances and equitable policies for everyone.
In September 1964, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) launched a guerrilla war against Portuguese authority. This war, together with the two others that had already begun in the other Portuguese colonies of Angola and Portuguese Guinea, became known as the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974). Military control of the populous centers was maintained by the Portuguese regular army, while guerrilla groups attempted to weaken their authority in rural and tribal regions in the north and west. In reaction to FRELIMO, the Portuguese government started to focus more on establishing favorable circumstances for social development and economic progress.
After ten years of intermittent fighting, FRELIMO seized control of the region, as did Portugal’s own restoration to democracy through a leftist military coup in Lisbon that replaced Portugal’s Estado Novo government with a military junta (the Carnation Revolution of April 1974). Within a year, the majority of the 250,000 Portuguese in Mozambique had fled—some ejected by the administration of the almost independent country, others fleeing in terror—and Mozambique gained independence from Portugal on June 25, 1975. On the proposal of the FRELIMO party’s relatively unknown Armando Guebuza, a legislation was enacted requiring the Portuguese to leave the nation in 24 hours with just 20 kilos (44 pounds) of baggage. Because they were unable to recover any of their possessions, the majority of them were forced to return to Portugal destitute.
Mozambican Civil War (1977–1992)
President Samora Machel’s new administration created a one-party state based on Marxist ideals. It received diplomatic and some military assistance from Cuba and the Soviet Union before cracking down on dissent. From 1977 until 1992, the nation was ravaged by a protracted and brutal civil war between the opposition forces of anti-Communist Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) guerrilla groups and the FRELIMO government. This struggle, coupled with sabotage from neighboring nations Rhodesia and South Africa, characterized the early decades of Mozambican independence, as did inept policies, poor central planning, and the resultant economic collapse. This era was also characterized by a mass flight of Portuguese nationals and Mozambicans of Portuguese ancestry, a failed infrastructure, a lack of investment in productive assets, government nationalization of privately held businesses, and severe hunger.
The FRELIMO-formed central government was unable to exert effective authority outside of metropolitan regions, many of which were shut off from the capital, throughout the majority of the civil war. RENAMO-controlled regions included up to 50% of rural areas in some provinces, and it has been claimed that health services of any sort were cut off for years in such areas. When the government cut down on health-care expenditures, the issue exacerbated. The war was characterized by widespread breaches of human rights on both sides of the conflict, with RENAMO adding to the turmoil via the use of terror and indiscriminate targeting of people. While attempting to expand its authority across the nation, the central government murdered tens of thousands of people and deported many more to “re-education camps,” where many perished.
During the conflict, RENAMO offered a peace treaty based on the secession of RENAMO-controlled northern and western regions as the independent Republic of Rombesia, but FRELIMO rejected, insisting on the country’s undivided sovereignty. During the civil war, an estimated one million Mozambicans died, 1.7 million sought shelter in neighboring countries, and several million more were internally displaced. The FRELIMO administration also provided refuge and assistance to South African (African National Congress) and Zimbabwean (Zimbabwe African National Union) rebel groups, while the governments of Rhodesia and, subsequently, South Africa (which was still apartheid at the time) supported RENAMO in the civil war.
Samora Machel was returning from an international conference in Zambia in the presidential Tupolev Tu-134 jet when it crashed in the Lebombo Mountains near Mbuzini on October 19, 1986. There were ten survivors, but President Machel and thirty-three others perished, including Mozambique government ministers and executives. The Soviet mission to the United Nations submitted a minority report, claiming that the South Africans had undercut their knowledge and experience. Representatives of the Soviet Union pushed the idea that the aircraft had been deliberately diverted by a fake navigational beacon signal, utilizing equipment supplied by South African government military intelligence agents.
Machel’s successor, Joaquim Chissano, instituted major reforms in the nation, including a shift from Marxism to capitalism and the commencement of peace negotiations with RENAMO. The 1990 constitution established a multi-party political system, a market-based economy, and free elections. The Rome General Peace Accords, initially negotiated by the Christian Council of Mozambique (Council of Protestant Churches) and subsequently taken over by the Community of Sant’Egidio, brought the civil war to an end in October 1992. Peace has returned to Mozambique, thanks to the United Nations Organization’s ONUMOZ peacekeeping mission.
By 1993, more than 1.5 million Mozambican refugees had returned from neighboring Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa as a consequence of conflict and drought, as part of Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest repatriation.
Democratic era (1993–)
Mozambique conducted elections in 1994, which were deemed free and fair by the majority of political parties but were nevertheless disputed by many citizens and observers alike. FRELIMO, headed by Joaquim Chissano, won the election, while RENAMO, led by Afonso Dhlakama, campaigned as the official opposition.
Mozambique joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1995, making it the only member country that had never been a part of the British Empire.
By mid-1995, more than 1.7 million refugees who had sought shelter in neighboring countries had returned to Mozambique, constituting the biggest repatriation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Four million more internally displaced people have returned to their homes.
Mozambique conducted elections for the second time after the civil war in December 1999, and FRELIMO triumphed again. RENAMO accused FRELIMO of fraud and threatened to restart the civil war, but backed down after losing before the Supreme Court.
A storm produced severe flooding in the nation in early 2000, killing hundreds and destroying the already fragile infrastructure. There was widespread speculation that FRELIMO’s strong leaders had misappropriated foreign assistance monies. Carlos Cardoso, a journalist researching these claims, was assassinated, although his death was not adequately explained.
In announcing his intention not to run for a third term in 2001, Chissano criticized leaders who had stayed in power longer than he had, which was widely interpreted as a reference to Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, who was considering a third term at the time, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who was then in his fourth term. On December 1–2, 2004, presidential and National Assembly elections were held. FRELIMO candidate Armando Guebuza got 64 percent of the public vote, while RENAMO candidate Afonso Dhlakama received 32 percent. FRELIMO won 160 seats in Parliament, with RENAMO and other minor parties forming a partnership to gain the remaining 90 seats. Guebuza was inaugurated as Mozambique’s President on February 2, 2005, and served two five-year terms. On January 15, 2015, his successor, Filipe Nyusi, took office as Mozambique’s fourth President.
Since 2013, RENAMO has waged an insurgency, mostly in the country’s center and northern areas. Former President Guebuza and RENAMO leader Dhlakama signed the Accord on Cessation of Hostilities on September 5, 2014, putting an end to military hostilities and allowing both parties to focus on the October 2014 general elections. However, after the general elections, a fresh political crisis developed, and the nation seems to be on the verge of deadly war once again. RENAMO rejects the legitimacy of the election results and seeks control of six provinces – Nampula, Niassa, Tete, Zambezia, Sofala, and Manica – where they claim to have gained a majority. Around 12,000 refugees have already arrived in neighboring Malawi. According to the UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, government troops have set fire to communities and committed summary killings and sexual assaults.