Mozambique

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Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique (Portuguese: Moçambique or República de Moçambique, pronounced [ʁɛˈpublikɐ di musɐ̃ˈbiki]), is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest. It was explored by Vasco da Gama in 1498 and colonized by Portugal in 1505. By 1510, the Portuguese had virtual control of all of the former Swahili sultanates on the east African coast. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new European trade route around Africa to the Indian Ocean and Asia. The Portuguese named the country after Msumbiji, the Swahili word for the large island that lies just off the mainland in the North of the country (Mozambique Island).

Slavery was practised by the Portuguese during most of their colonial rule in Mozambique. It was abolished in the late 1800s but replaced by a system of forced labour called ''chibalo'' under which most natives were required to work for a certain number of weeks each year under pain of imprisonment. This was in effect temporary slavery. It remained in place until the early 1960s. Under Portuguese rule, natives, who were the vast majority of the population, received little education, could not vote, and required a pass book and official permission to move around the country. Many natives went to work as indentured labour in the nearby gold mines of South Africa. The Mozambican colonial government received taxes and royalties for this which was one of its main sources of income. Tired of these and similar abuses, the native population began a guerrilla war for national liberation in the early 1960s. The Mozambican National Liberation Front ( FRELIMO – Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) emerged as the main guerrilla group. Led by Eduardo Mondlane, FRELIMO became increasingly Marxist as a result of its experience in the guerrilla struggle in general, and especially its experience in organising liberated zones, small areas which it had wrested from Portuguese control. Mondlane was assasinated by the Portuguese secret service while at his base in Tanzania. He was replaced as FRELIMO leader by Samora Machel, a former nurse turned guerrilla fighter. In 1974, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, which was brought on largely by Portugal's fatigue from fighting the liberation movements in all of its three African colonies – Angola and Guinea-Bissau as well as Mozambique – brought into power a liberal group based in the army. One of this group's principal aims was to get out of the costly and demoralizing colonial wars, and it quickly entered into peace negotiations with the rebel groups in the three colonies. As a result, power in Mozambique was handed to FRELIMO in 1975. The newly independent nation became named the People's Republic of Mozambique.

FRELIMO attempted to establish a socialist economy under very disadvantageous circumstances. After independence, most of the Portuguese settlers, who were the only group with education in Western technological and administrative methods, and the only group with significant financial assets, left the country. In many cases they bitterly sabotaged the businesses, factories, and other productive assets which they left behind. This immediately put the economy under threat of collapse. To compound matters, the neighbouring countries of Rhodesia and South Africa were under White-supremacist rule and implacably opposed to the establishment of a native-majority ruled state such as Mozambique on their borders. Rhodesia immediately began forming a conterrevolutionary army, RENAMO (Resistência Nacional de Moçambique), to harass and destabilise the new Mozambican state. An ill-advised, unpopular, forced villagisation scheme which FRELIMO attempted to enact, played into the hands of RENAMO by providing it with a number of disgruntled recruits inside Mozambique. After the overthrow of the White regime in Rhodesia, South Africa stepped forward (covertly) to become RENAMO's principal backer. Samora Machel, who had become president at independence, died in a mysterious plane crash, which has been suspected as having been the result of South African espionage. By about 1980, Mozambique was having to spend 1/2 of its state budget on defence against RENAMO.[1] By the late 1980s the country was in very bad shape economically and facing famine. Under this pressure, FRELIMO agreed to partly de-socialise its economy in return for foreign aid. It opened the country to relatively unregulated foreign investment and accepted an IMF-imposed structural adjustment program. In 1992, with FRELIMO exhausted and RENAMO having lost its South African backing (because of the fall of apartheid there), A UN-arranged peace deal was reached which provided for multi-party elections. RENAMO quickly transformed itself into a political party to contest the elections and has been the main parliamentary opposition party ever since, although it has never won an election nationally. As of 2014 a new party, the MDM (Movimento Democrático de Moçambique) is rivalling RENAMO for opposition status.[2] The neoliberal economic program which FRELIMO reluctantly accepted has not led to economic improvement. As of 2013, Mozambique's infant mortality rate, life expectancy, and Human Development Index are among the worst ranked in the world. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid, leading some to characterise its government as essentially an aid procurement and distribution agency. Corruption is rife. A large displaced rural population survives on the margins of the cities, eking out a living from the informal economy.

The country is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries and the Commonwealth of Nations and an observer of the Francophonie.

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Notes

  1. Pitcher, `Transforming Mozambique', p 124.
  2. Fredson Guilengue, `Mozambique's 2013 elections: The end of liberation movement politics?' Pambazuka 12 February 2014.