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Colonial rule: 1891-1975

From 1894 the region known as Portuguese East Africa has a clearly defined shape on European maps. Its western and southern boundaries are imposed upon Portugal in 1891 in a treaty with the more powerful colonial neighbour, Britain. The northern frontier, with German East Africa, is amicably agreed in 1894.

The reality on the ground is by no means so neat and conclusive. In this long and varied coastal territory many local chieftains and sheikhs rule secure states, over which the Portuguese cannot easily win control. Portuguese activity is limited to trading and collecting tribute in several coastal enclaves, of which Lourenço Marques and Mozambique are the most important.

Portugal undertakes a succession of military campaigns to try and extend colonial rule inland. But its chief method of exploiting the potential of the region is to award large tracts of land to commercial companies chartered for the purpose - along the lines of Rhodes's companies in the neighbouring Rhodesias.

The largest of these is the Mozambique Company, formed in 1891. Using the African population as contract labour (in practice differing little from forced labour), the company develops mines and sugar and copra plantations. It also builds a railway system to link with the territory of Rhodes's British South Africa Company to the west and with the British Central African Protectorate to the northwest.

By the end of World War I, in which Portugal fights on the allied side, colonial control is established over the whole of Portuguese East Africa. The territory is split, however, into two parts. One is a colony under Lisbon's administration. The other is under company rule, with the Mozambique Company controlling the central Manica and Sofala districts along the Zambezi. When the company's charter ends, in 1942, these regions are merged with the colony.

Meanwhile there have been major upheavals in the government of Portugal. In 1933 Salazar imposes a right-wing dictatorship, calling itself the New State.

Salazar, a committed imperialist, encourages the immigration of thousands of Portuguese settlers into Mozambique in the years after World War II. With economic benefits and the best jobs reserved for the white settlers, and with punitive restrictions imposed on the indigenous Mozambicans, the situation is ripe for a guerrilla campaign demanding liberty.

This emerges in 1962 with the formation of a Marxist group set up by Mozambican exiles in Tanganyika. Headed by Eduardo Mondlane, it takes the name Frelimo - standing for Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front).

Frelimo begins its campaign in northern Mozambique in 1964, launching ten years of a bitter struggle. The Portuguese dictatorship responds with a major military effort, sending out large numbers of troops from Portugal. But guerrilla movements are hard to suppress (in spite of the assassination of Mondlane in 1969). By 1974 Frelimo controls the whole of the northern part of the colony and is moving south.

The regime in Lisbon is meanwhile responding in similar fashion to insurrrection in Angola and Portuguese Guinea. This policy is a major factor in provoking the military coup in 1974 which abruptly ends Salazar's New State. It also brings immediate change in Portuguese Africa.

The new government in Lisbon is disinclined to prop up Portugal's collapsing and by now very expensive empire. All the Portuguese colonies in Africa are rapidly granted their independence.

Portuguese Guinea is the first, in September 1974. Portuguese East Africa follows in June 1975, taking the new name Mozambique. The republic of Cape Verde is established in July. And Angola, in the middle of civil war, becomes independent in November 1975.

Independence: from1975

The colonial withdrawal from Mozambique is exclusively a matter of negotiation between Portugal and Frelimo, the only organized resistance movement. In September 1974 a provisional government is put in place, made up of representatives from both sides. When the eventual constitution is published, in June 1975, it states baldly that the president of Frelimo will also be president of the new nation, to be known as Mozambique.

By this time the Frelimo president is Samora Machel, who has taken over the leadership after the assassination of Mondlane in 1969. The nature of a one-party Marxist state is made unmistakably clear when details of the people's assembly are known. It will have 216 members nominated by Frelimo.

The character of the incoming regime prompts the rapid departure of nearly all the Portuguese settlers, but Frelimo policies are not much more welcome among rural Africans. The forced labour and racial discrimination of colonialism is now replaced by the herding of peasants into communal villages on collective state farms.

Collectivism proves economically disastrous, and Frelimo's troubles are compounded by the unremitting hostility of the neighbouring white regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia. Rhodesian intelligence services help to set up in 1976 an anti-Frelimo guerrilla movement, Renamo - standing for Resistência Nacional Moçcambicana (Mozambican National Resistance).

A brutally violent campaign by Renamo in rural districts, combined with raids across the border by Rhodesian and South African forces (because of Mozambique providing a safe haven for Patriotic Front and ANC exiles), means that by the mid-1980s Frelimo has lost control of much of the country.

In 1984 Frelimo comes to an agreement with South Africa. Under the terms of the Nkomati Accord, Frelimo will no longer provide a refuge for the ANC and South Africa will end its military support for Renamo. In the following year Frelimo also recognizes the failure of its agricultural policy. Collective farms are dismantled in a return to family-based plots of land.

The activities of Renamo are very little reduced by the withdrawal of South African support. The violent civil war continues, causing more than a million refugees to flee the country - until in the late 1980s the Frelimo leadership decides that peace depends on ending Mozambique's rigid system of one-party rule.

In 1992 Frelimo and Renamo sign a peace treaty, with an agreed plan for elections which Renamo will contest as a political party. The elections are held in 1994. Frelimo wins, but the margin over Renamo is narrow - particularly in terms of parliamentary seats.

The incumbent Frelimo president is Joaquim Chissano (he has succeeded Machel in 1986). He wins 53% of the votes in the presidential election, as opposed to 34% for Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of Renamo. In parliament Frelimo has 129 seats to Renamo's 112.

During the subsequent years there is much complaint from Renamo that it is given less part in the political process than its support warrants, but Dhlakama is adamant that there will be no return to military action. Meanwhile the international community is now much more willing to offer help to the newly democratic nation.

In 1995 Mozambique becomes a member of the British Commonwealth. This is the first example of any nation being admitted which has not formerly been a British colony. The exception is made because of the extremely close links with the other Commonwealth countries by which Mozambique is surrounded - South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania.

In 1999 Mozambique's fragile economy suffers from devastating floods, trapping people in trees for days on end. However when the waters recede the loss of life is less than expected, and Mozambique's relative political stability survives the crisis.