Portuguese Colonial Rule
Even before the first European settlers arrived in Mozambique, Arabs were engaged in the gold, ivory, and slave trades. This resulted in the Islamic influences along the African coast. Up to 1898 the Ilha de Moçambique (named after the Arab Sheikh Moussa Ben Mbiki) was the capital. The island also lent the country its name.
The Portuguese Take Over Trading Posts
In 1498 Vasca da Gama, the Portuguese seafarer, reached the Island of Mozambique after Pedro da Covilhão had been the first Portuguese explorer to land in Sofala, traveling from Arabia to East Africa by sea in the service of the Portuguese King. In 1506, searching for gold along the Zambezi, the Portuguese worked their way inland. For centuries they contented themselves with the slaves and showed little concern for the inhabitants. Forced labor, exploitative work contracts, and ruthless abuses led too dismal living conditions throughout the colonies.
Path Toward Independence
Foreign Powers Vying for Control
Through the Angola Treaty of 1898 that was never ratified, Germany and Great Britain tried to gain influence over Mozambique. During the First World War, South Africa declared its intention to conquer Mozambique. However, from 1917 to 1918, German troops occupied the north.
Frente da Libertação de Moçambique
The „Mozambique Liberation Front“, FRELIMO, formed in 1962 in opposition to the colonists and started to engage in armed resistance in 1964. Their struggle was not successful however until Portugal’s dictatorial regime was brought down with the Carnation Revolution in 1975. Thus Mozambique attained independence on June 25th, 1975, after almost 500 years of colonial rule. June 25th is still celebrated as the national holiday.
The People’s Republic of Mozambique
The FRELIMO leader Samora Moisés Machel became the first president. He was never officially elected though. In time, Marxist streams within FRELIMO gained the upper hand (after the negative experiences with capitalist foreign powers). Ties to the Soviet Union and the GDR were formed. As in other socialist countries, industry became state-owned, agricultural cooperatives were set up, and religious freedom was restricted. In addition, European professionals left the country and the economy suffered a severe setback. After Machel died in a plane crash in 1986, Joaquim Alberto Chissanó became the second president.
16 Years of Civil War
Resisténcia Nacional Moçambicana
Because of the country’ ailing economy and other points of contention, demands were increasingly made for a complete restructuring of the Mozambican state, a democratic multi-party system, and free elections. To this end the Resistance Movement (RENAMO) was established in the 70s led by Afonso Dhlakama. It consisted primarily of politically inexperienced guerrilla fighters hiding out in the jungle. RENAMO’s strategy was to destroy everything that the government tried to establish. They believed that the discontented populace backed their efforts: they assumed that the people secretly wanted them in government. The conflicts however only brought more suffering. People were fighting for mere survival. Food and clothing were no longer available in sufficient quantities, and Mozambique became the poorest country in the world.
The „Italian Solution“
As the government continued to refer to the rebels as „armed bandits“, a solution to the conflict seemed unattainable for a long time. Eventually the Italian Catholic Community Sant‘Egidio was able to enter talks with both parties. After Kenya withdrew as an intermediary and other countries (such as Zimbabwe) were rejected due to their own political biases, the negotiations’ observers were named official intermediaries at the Catholic Monastery Sant‘Egidio. In addition to Matteo Zuppi and Andrea Riccardi of the Community, these were Mario Raffaelli, an Italian Member of Parliament, and Jaime Gonçalves, Bishop of Beira.
Difficult Road Towards Peace
They did not try to force a hasty agreement between the parties but worked toward building a stable domestic peace. In this process RENAMO had to reinvent itself as a full-fledged political party and lay down its image as a rebel movement whose only political weapon was armed combat. However, they refused to lay down their weapons before all points of conflict had been resolved and sufficient guarantees had been given for the future.
The government on the other hand wanted a quick peace agreement and sought to address critical areas itself without relinquishing control too soon. After 27 months of negotiations and with support from various countries, the peace treaty was finally signed in Rome on October 4th, 1992. In 1994, with UN troops standing guard, free elections were held for the first time. The incumbent president is Armando Guebuza (FRELIMO).
In its recent history, Mozambique has taken a turn for the better.
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