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Mozambique Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique, located in Southern Africa is bordered by Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, South Africa and Eswatini to the southwest, and the India Ocean to the east. The capital and largest city Maputo is the commercial and cultural center of the country. The nation of 29 million people is mostly comprised of the Bantu people and the official languages of the country are Portuguese which is spoken as a second language of half the people, Makhuwa, Sena, and Swahili.

Early history of Mozambique

The first Mozambicans were small, scattered clans of nomads, possibly distant cousins of the San People, who were likely trekking through the bush as early as 10,000 years ago. They left few traces, and little is known about this era. About 3,000 years ago, Bantu-speaking peoples from the Niger Delta in West Africa began moving through the Congo basin. Over a period of centuries, they journeyed into East and southern Africa, reaching present-day Mozambique sometime around the 1st century AD, where they made their living farming, fishing, and raising livestock.

Bantu Expansion

The Bantu expansion refers to the migrations of the original Bantu speaking group of migrants roughly about 3,500 years ago, from West Africa into Sub-Saharan Africa. In the process the Bantu speaking settlers displaced or absorbed the inhabitants of Central Africa. The primary evidence of expansion lies in the linguistic core of the Bantu languages, which comprises of languages originating from Cameroon and Nigeria, West Africa.

The expansion is believed to have taken place between 3,000 and 2,000 years ago into two main waves, the first proceeding directly east towards East-Africa, and the second and largest went south along the African coast towards Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and as far south as South Africa.

Early Kingdoms

Most of these early Mozambicans set themselves up in small chiefdoms, some of which gradually coalesced into larger states or kingdoms. These included the Karanga (Shona) in central Mozambique and the renowned kingdom of Monomotapa, south and west of present-day Tete. Southern Mozambique, which was settled by the Nguni and various other groups, remained decentralized until the 19th century, when consolidation under the powerful kingdom of Gaza gave it at least nominal political cohesion.

Swahili Trade Period

The eastern coast by the 1st century turned into and economic hub and many of the city-states such of Mombasa, Malindi, and Zanzibar began to establish trading relations with Arabs. This led to the creation of Swahili, a Bantu language with Arabic, Persian, and other Middle Eastern and South Asian loanwords became language of trade among the different people.

As trade increased this led to economic growth of the Swahili states, the introduction of Islam, Arabic influences on the Swahili Bantu language, cultural diffusion, as well as the Swahili city-states becoming members of larger trade networks.

By the 9th century several settlements had been established, including Kilwa island, in present-day Tanzania, which soon became the hub of Arab trade networks throughout southeastern Africa. Another was Sofala, near present-day Beira, which by the 15th century was the main link connecting Kilwa with the old Shona kingdoms and the inland goldfields. Other early coastal ports and settlements included those at Mozambique Island, Angoche, Quelimane and Ibo Island, all ruled by local sultans.

Arrival of the Europeans in Mozambique

In 1498 Vasco da Gama landed at Mozambique Island in route to India. Within a decade of da Gama’s arrival, the Portuguese had established themselves on the island and gained control of numerous other Swahili–Arab trading posts – lured in part by their need for supply points on the sea route to the east and in part by their desire to control the gold trade with the interior.

Over the next 200 years the Portuguese set up trading enclaves and forts along the coast, making Mozambique Island the capital of what they called Portuguese East Africa. By the mid-16th century, ivory had replaced gold as the main trading commodity and by the late 18th century, slaves had been added to the list, with close to one million Africans sold into slavery through Mozambique’s ports.

Colonization of Mozambique

In the 17th century the Portuguese attempted to strengthen their control by setting up prazos (vast agricultural estates) on land granted by the Portuguese crown or by wresting control of it from local chiefs. The next major effort by the Portuguese to consolidate their control came in the late 19th century with the establishment of charter companies, operated by private firms who were supposed to develop the land and natural resources within their boundaries.

These charter companies operated as independent fiefdoms and did little to consolidate Portuguese control. With the onset of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ in the 1880s Portugal would eventually sign the British–Portuguese treaty of 1891 formalizing Portuguese control in the area and forming the Portuguese East Africa colony in modern-day Mozambique.

Independence of Mozambique

In September of 1964, The Front for Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) would begin a guerilla style war against the Portuguese colonizers because of the socio-economic policies favored the Portuguese population over the natives. Although the Portuguese would slowly begin changing economic policies to benefit the locals and the war would continue for the next decade. In April of 1974 FRELIMO would eventually gain control of most of Mozambique, Portugal’s military would leave Mozambique and within a year almost all the Portuguese citizens would leave Mozambique. Mozambique would gain its independence in June of 1974. FRELIMO would form a government and Samora Machel would become President.

The new government would form a one-party state based on Marxist policies which would eventually lead to the civil war of 1977 against the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). The country was divided into two segments where FRELIMO controlled the urban areas and RENAMO controlling the rural areas. The civil war would have regional implications as the governments of both South Africa and Rhodesia who were controlled by white governments would intercede and support the rebel movement of RENAMO. The government of Mozambique in return would support rebel movements in those countries, the African National Congress in South Africa, and the Zimbabwe African National Union of Robert Mugabe in Rhodesia.

The civil war would end in 1992 with the Rome General Peace Accord, after the death of Samora Machel in a 1986 plane crash led to radical reforms. After Samora’s death, Joaquim Chissano would become the President of FRELIMO and he would institute sweeping changes in the country, including free elections, the removal of Marxist economic policies, and the removal of the one-party system. The decade long civil war would see over 1 million lives lost and almost 2 million people displaced.

Economy of Mozambique

Mozambique is a country abundant with natural resources and has thriving agricultural industry that is susceptible various climate threats. Recently the country discovered offshore gas fields that will help the country become a major exporter of liquified natural gas that will help the country’s 16 billion-dollar GDP grow exponentially.


Agriculture represents 25% of GDP and employs 70% of the workforce, it is the worlds 10th largest producer of cassava and 18th largest producer of oil seeds, and produces beans, rice, and a variety of vegetables.


The mining sector represents 24% of GDP and employs 8% of the workforce. Besides natural gas production the country also mines coal, iron ore, gold, bauxite, graphite, marble, tantalite, and aluminum.


The service sector is 41% of GDP and employs 20% of the workforce. The sector is dominated by the tourism industry and financial services such as banking.

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