Southeastern Africa

Capital City:

total: 799,380 sq km
land: 786,380 sq km
water: 13,000 sq km

Land boundaries:
Total: 4,783 km

border countries (6):
Malawi 1,498 km,
South Africa 496 km,
Eswatini 108 km,
Tanzania 840 km,
Zambia 439 km,
Zimbabwe 1,402 km
Coastline: 2470 km
Total: 7235 km




tropical to subtropical

mostly coastal lowlands, uplands in center, high plateaus in northwest, mountains in the west

mean elevation: 345 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Monte Binga 2,436 m

Natural resources:
coal, titanium, natural gas, hydropower, tantalum, graphite

Land use:
agricultural land: 56.3%
arable land 6.4%; permanent crops 0.3%; permanent pasture 49.6%
forest: 43.7%
other: 0% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land:
1,180 sq km (2012)

Population – distribution:
three large populations clusters are found along the southern coast between Maputo and Inhambane, in the central area between Beira and Chimoio along the Zambezi River, and in and around the northern cities of Nampula, Cidade de Nacala, and Pemba; the northwest and southwest are the least populated areas

Natural hazards:
severe droughts;
devastating cyclones and floods in central and southern provinces


People and Society

Mozambique, officially known as the Republic of Mozambique, is a country in the Southeast of Africa bordering the Indian Ocean. It has a population of around 26 million people, with 99% of Mozambicans descended from such indigenous tribes as the Makua, Tonga, Chokwe, Manyika, and Sau. The capital city of Mozambique is Maputo, which is also the largest city in the country. In Mozambique, the official language is Portuguese, but English is spoken in major cities such as Maputo and Beira.

Mozambique is a sparsely populated country with high fertility and mortality rates and a rapidly growing youthful population – 45% of the population is younger than 15. Mozambique’s high poverty rate is sustained by natural disasters, disease, high population growth, low agricultural productivity, and the unequal distribution of wealth. The country’s birth rate is among the world’s highest, averaging around more than 5 children per woman (and higher in rural areas) for at least the last three decades. The sustained high level of fertility reflects gender inequality, low contraceptive use, early marriages and childbearing, and a lack of education, particularly among women.

Mozambique is predominantly a country of emigration, but internal, rural-urban migration has begun to grow. Mozambicans, primarily from the country’s southern region, have been migrating to South Africa for work for more than a century. Additionally, approximately 1.7 million Mozambicans fled to Malawi, South Africa, and other neighboring countries between 1979 and 1992 to escape from civil war. Labor migrants have usually been men from rural areas whose crops have failed or who are unemployed and have headed to South Africa to work as miners; multiple generations of the same family often become miners. Since the abolition of apartheid in South Africa in 1991, other job opportunities have opened to Mozambicans, including in the informal and manufacturing sectors, but mining remains their main source of employment.



Ethnic groups:
African 99.66% (Makhuwa, Tsonga, Lomwe, Sena, and others), Europeans 0.06%, Euro-Africans 0.2%, Indians 0.08%

Emakhuwa 25.3%, Portuguese (official) 10.7%, Xichangana 10.3%, Cisena 7.5%, Elomwe 7%, Echuwabo 5.1%, other Mozambican languages 30.1%, other 0.3%, unspecified 3.7% (2007 est.)

Roman Catholic 28.4%, Muslim 17.9%, Zionist Christian 15.5%, Protestant 12.2% (includes Pentecostal 10.9% and Anglican 1.3%), other 6.7%, none 18.7%, unspecified 0.7% (2007 est.)

Ethnicity, Language, and Religion

Bantu-speaking peoples were the first immigrants into what is now Mozambique, arriving there from regions to the far north and the west. Later, the Swahili and Arabs came to settle along the coastal towns where they built commercial ports before the Europeans’ arrival. Nearly the total population (99.66%) is made up of indigenous tribal groups, including the Shangaan, Chokwe, Manyika, Sena, and Makua. Overall, there are 10 major ethnic clusters. The largest, residing north of the Zambezi, is the Makua-Lomwé group, representing about 37% of the total population. The Yao (Ajawa) live in Niassa Province. The Makonde live mainly along the Rovuma River. Other northern groups are the Nguni (who also live in the far south) and the Maravi. South of the Zambezi, the main group is the Tsonga (about 23%), who has figured prominently as Mozambican mine laborers in South Africa. The Chopi are coastal people of Inhambane Province. The Shona or Karanga (about 9%) dwell in the central region. Also living in Mozambique are EuroAfricans, accounting for about 0.2% of the population; Europeans, make up 0.06%; and Indians, constitute 0.08%.

Portuguese remains the official language. It is spoken as a first language by only about 8.8% of the population and as a second language by about 27%. The vast majority of Mozambicans speak languages from the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language group. Within the Bantu group, Makua, Lomwe, Tsonga, Sena, Shona, and Chuabo are the most widespread languages, but the country has great linguistic and cultural variety because it shares languages with surrounding countries: Swahili with many East African countries, Yao with Malawi and Tanzania, Makonde with Tanzania, the Ngoni and Chewa dialects of Nyanja with Malawi and Tanzania, Shona with Zimbabwe, and Shangaan (a dialect of Tsonga) with South Africa and Swaziland.

The 2007 census found that Christians made up 56.1% of Mozambique’s population and Muslims comprised 17.9% of the population. 7.3% of the people held other beliefs, mainly animism, and 18.7% had no religious beliefs. A more recent government survey conducted by the Demographic and Health Surveys Program in 2015 indicated that Catholicism had increased to 30.5% of the population, Muslims constituted 19.3%, and various Protestant groups a total of 44%.



School-age Mozambicans (ages 5 through 24 years) make up more than 50 percent of the country’s total population. Although primary education is compulsory and free, the national educational system is not yet capable of absorbing all who should be attending primary education (grades one through seven). The government is making concerted efforts to rehabilitate and expand the educational infrastructures and to train staff with a view to responding to the needs and challenges in education. Families below the poverty line can obtain a certificate waiving the fee. Enforcement of compulsory education laws is inconsistent, because of the lack of resources and the scarcity of schools in the upper grades.

All Mozambicans are required by law to attend school through the primary level; however, a lot of children in Mozambique do not go to primary school because they have to work for their families’ subsistence farms for a living. In 2007, one million children still did not go to school, most of them from poor rural families, and almost half of all teachers in Mozambique were still unqualified. Girls’ enrollment increased from 3 million in 2002 to 4.1 million in 2006 while the completion rate increased from 31,000 to 90,000, which testified a very poor completion rate.

After grade 7, pupils must take standardized national exams to enter secondary school, which runs from eighth to 10th grade. Space in Mozambican universities is extremely limited; thus most pupils who complete pre-university school do not immediately proceed on to university studies. Many go to work as teachers or are unemployed. There are also institutes which give more vocational training, specializing in agricultural, technical or pedagogical studies, which students may attend after grade 10 in lieu of a pre-university school.

Higher education encompasses the 19 to 24 years age group and is designed to take 6 years, or 12 semesters, of study. Those who have completed the adult education cycle also have access to higher education. Depending on the combination of courses taken in school, those receiving an education at Eduardo Mondlane University can be divided into three groups that take a certain combination of courses: Group A’s general subjects including Portuguese, English, French, history, and geography; university courses to which access is available include linguistics, Portuguese, law, history, French, diplomacy, English, geography, psychology, pedagogy, and economics.



Though one of Africa’s poorest nations, Mozambique’s annual growth rate averaged 7% over the past decade. In 2015, real GDP slowed to 6.2% due to a fall in commodity prices as well as floods in the north of the country and droughts in the south. GDP fell to 3.8% in 2016, due to the disclosure of USD2 billion in government-guaranteed debts. Economic growth is projected to be below 5% in 2017 but gradually rise to 8% over the next decade. GDP growth has traditionally been driven by the agriculture, construction, and financial sectors while growth in the next decade is expected to be driven by the oil and gas industry due to the discovery of vast natural gas deposits.

During the second half of 2016, the medical depreciated sharply causing the Central Bank to gradually raise the standard lending facility by 1350 base points, from 9.25% to 22.75%. The devaluation of the medical caused higher than expected inflation and forced the Mozambican Central Bank to impose harsh foreign currency control measures. Borrowers in local currency face interest rates of up to 30%, which hinders entrepreneurship and business development. To cover the government account deficit, the Mozambican Government requested a USD283 million loan from the IMF. But this loan was put on hold due to the government’s lack of transparency in its public debt portfolio.

In 2015, Mozambique substantially improved its ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report, rising from 142 in 2014, to 127 out of the total 189 countries. This rise in ranking was due to improvements in insolvency legislation and streamlining procedures for registering property, paying taxes, and obtaining construction permits. However, registration of businesses, labor laws, and access to land and infrastructure continue to restrict economic opportunities. A myriad of bureaucratic and infrastructure challenges, such as getting access to electricity and water, are often cited as barriers to doing business. Because of issues related to the non-disclosed government loans, Mozambique dropped five places in 2016 in the “Doing Business” report.

Mozambique grew at an average annual rate of 6%-8% in the decade leading up to 2015, one of Africa’s strongest performances, but the sizable external debt burden, donor withdrawal, elevated inflation, and currency depreciation contributed to slower growth in 2016-17. Two major International consortium’s, led by American companies ExxonMobil and Anadarko, are seeking approval to develop massive natural gas deposits off the coast of Cabo Delgado province, in what has the potential to become the largest infrastructure project in Africa.  The government predicts sales of liquefied natural gas from these projects could generate several billion dollars in revenues annually sometime after 2022.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$37.01 billion (2017 est.)
$35.69 billion (2016 est.)
$34.37 billion (2015 est.)note: data are in 2017 dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$12.56 billion (2017 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
$12.35 billion (2017 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
3.7% (2017 est.)
3.8% (2016 est.)
6.6% (2015 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,300 (2017 est.)
$1,200 (2016 est.)
$1,200 (2015 est.)

Gross national saving:
18.7% of GDP (2017 est.)
5.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
5% of GDP (2015 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 22.3%
industry: 23%
services: 54.7% (2017 est.)

Agriculture – products:
cotton, cashew nuts, sugarcane, tea, cassava (manioc, tapioca), corn, coconuts, sisal, citrus and tropical fruits, potatoes, sunflowers; beef, poultry

aluminum, petroleum products, chemicals (fertilizer, soap, paints), textiles, cement, glass, asbestos, tobacco, food, beverages

Population below poverty line:
46.1% (2015 est.)

revenues: $2.758 billion
expenditures: $3.607 billion (2017 est.)



Agriculture continues to be the mainstay of Mozambique’s economy, contributing more than a quarter of its GDP and employing 80 percent of its labor force. The overwhelming majority of producers are subsistence farmers. Chronic food insecurity is exacerbated by climate shocks and natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and cyclones. Mozambique’s agricultural sector is characterized mainly by subsistence farming, with commercial lands focusing mainly on sugar, tobacco, cotton and cashew nuts. Agricultural exports reached $700 million in 2014, while agricultural imports were around one billion dollars. Mozambique’s trade with the United States is relatively small with a total trade balance of about $40 million. Cashew nuts are the major product exported by Mozambique to the United States.

Mozambique has total land area covers 79 million hectares (ha) [as big as Texas and Mississippi combined] with a potential agricultural area of 49 million ha or 62% of the total land area. The arable land area covers currently only 5.8 million ha or 7% of the total land area. Over 80% of the total cultivated area is used for the production of staple food crops for self-consumption. Each household cultivates an average of 1.2 ha with no formal land title deeds. Farming involves the whole family but with women as the head of agricultural production. The use of tractors, plows, fertilizers, and pesticides is limited. Hence, productivity per ha is low, but the potential for agricultural growth is significant.

Food crop production is the most important agriculture sub-sector accounting for around 80 percent of the cultivated area (2009). Maize and cassava are the major staples; other food crops include sorghum, millet, rice, beans, groundnut, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of vegetables. Maize is grown in all regions of the country by about 79 percent of rural households and occupies about 35 percent of the total planted area. Cassava is grown mainly in the north and south-east, where it is the main staple.

Groundnut is cultivated on sandy soils in most locations and makes an important contribution to household diet and income. The main cash crops are tobacco, cotton, sesame, sugar, and tea. Tree crops, especially coconut and cashew, grown by small farmers, are an important source of foreign exchange earnings, and contribute to household food security.

Through Feed the Future, USAID helps thousands of vulnerable households improve their food security by adopting more productive agriculture technologies, improving nutrition and health, and connecting farmers to markets. The country is the second-largest, formal exporter of food in the southern Africa region and could progress toward a trade surplus if regulation and agricultural practices improve. Its strategic location and trade corridors make the country a key player in regional and global food security. To achieve the most impact, we focus agriculture and nutrition efforts in Zambezia and Nampula provinces based on need, the potential for impact, and opportunities to leverage other public and private investments.

Electricity access:
population without electricity: 15,700,000
electrification – total population: 39%
electrification – urban areas: 66%
electrification – rural areas: 27% (2013)
Electricity – production:
19.58 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
13.86 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
12.88 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
10.55 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
514,200 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
14% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)

Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 82,421
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
total: 15,025,598
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 57 (July 2016 est.)

Internet country code:
Internet users:
total: 4,543,284
percent of population: 17.5% (July 2016 est.)


The manufacturing sector in Mozambique is fairly incipient. It currently contributes about 9% to GDP and 0.8% to employment. It has shown stronger growth in the last few years: the average growth rate of 5.1% between 2013 and 2015 with a high of 8.5% in 2015, higher than the GDP growth rate of 6.6%. The sector is mainly comprised of micro companies, with few small- and medium-sized firms and are mainly involved with low technology intensity. Large firms are mostly dominated by foreign companies and are generally more capital intensive.

Significant subsectors are metals, chemicals, construction, industrial products and services, forestry, paper and packaging sectors, textiles, paint, soap, food and drink products, furniture and wood products, leather and shoes. Manufacturing faces a number of challenges such as competition with South African imports, unreliable electricity, and a costly and bureaucratic business environment. As much of the production in the sector involves imports, i.e. most manufacturing companies process imported goods (e.g. by processing imported steel coil to make roof sheets) or require imported complementary goods such as packaging, products processed domestically are often more expensive than imports.

Although the manufacturing sector is still underdeveloped, Mozambique has several advantages that give the sector a favorable outlook. Mozambique has good transport linkages to South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and the DRC; competitively priced supply of labor; and a wealth of natural resources that present opportunities for processing.

In addition, there is little domestic competition in most manufacturing subsectors, and close proximity to higher income African countries like South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Swaziland. The future development of the gas and other extractives industries also offers many opportunities for the manufacturing sector, offering a guaranteed source of demand for large quantity orders of goods and services.


Banking and Finance

The banking system is largely dominated by foreign-owned financial institutions. There are 18 commercial banks out of a total 40 financial institutions. The largest banks are Millennium BIM (Portuguese and Mozambican shareholders), BCI (Portuguese and Mozambican shareholders), and Standard Bank (South African shareholders). These three banks hold over 70% of all financial assets including deposits and loans. They also cover all major cities and areas of economic growth. Local commercial banks provide most services expected from commercial banks, including some investment banking services. The largest banks have representation offices in Europe, the U.S., and China.

Since 2015, the banking sector in Mozambique has seen several actions from the Central Bank (Bank of Mozambique), tightening the monetary position due to low foreign exchange reserves, inflationary pressures, currency devaluation, and weak banking institutions. Presently, the local banking sector is stable, after the Central Bank took administrative control over Moza Banco, Mozambique’s fourth largest commercial bank, dissolving its board and replacing it with a provisional board. The Central Bank also revoked the license of Nosso Banco due to severe liquidity and management problems, the first and only bank to be liquidated in Mozambique. The Central Bank increased interested rates and the amount that commercial banks must hold in reserves with the Central Bank. As of April 2017, the Central Bank implemented a new monetary policy intervention rate.

There are 17 commercial banks operating in this market. In 1992, the GRM approved Law 1/92 that made preservation of the local currency the main objective of the Central Bank. The Central Bank also manages monetary policy and supervises local financial institutions. Mozambique allows foreign banks to establish operations in the country.

The Government of Mozambique is exploring establishing a sovereign wealth fund for liquefied natural gas revenues expected in the next decade. Currently, there is an off-budget account for capital gains revenues. Article 5 of the 2017 Budget Law authorizes the government to save or spend windfall revenues on investment projects, debt repayment, and emergency programs. However, there are limited details on how off-budget spending should be planned and approved.


Although Mozambique has major tourism assets and proximity to South Africa, one of the world’s top tourist destinations, Mozambique has the lowest tourist numbers of all its neighbors except Malawi. Gorongosa National Park, halfway between Zimbabwe and Beira was a large tourist attraction. The government hopes that the country’s game and nature reserves will become a major tourist attraction. Despite game numbers being decimated during the wars, there is positive growth in many of the nation’s parks, especially the Maputo Special Reserve, and Gorongosa Parks.

Major Attractions

Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park: A massive swath of land that comprises national parks in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe and allows visitors to cross the borders freely within the park, Limpopo is home to nearly 150 kinds of mammals, including elephants, giraffes, and buffalo.

Gorongosa National Park: This once legendary park in northern Mozambique was nearly destroyed during the country’s civil war. Now newly refurbished, it’s returning to its former preeminence and is worth a visit to check out impalas, warthogs, unusual birds, and more.

Local Fare: In Maputo, feast on some of the ultra-fresh seafood caught off Mozambique’s 2,500-kilometer-long coastline; the grilled prawns and octopus are especially good.

Montes Chimanimani: Along the Zimbabwe border, this mountain range, thick with pine and mahogany trees and scores of medicinal plants, is ideal for rugged, off-the-beaten-path hiking and camping.

Ilha de Moçambique: This tiny island off Mozambique’s northern coast was once an important Arab trading port; today its historic, colonial-era buildings and diverse population, with strong Islamic and African ties, makes it a fascinating place to explore.

Archipelago das Quirimbas: These 32 islands off the town of Pemba, which can be reached by motorboat, offer white-sand beaches, snorkeling among coral reefs, and sightings of humpback whales.

Ponta de Ouro: Just miles from the South African border in southern Mozambique, this quaint town boasts some of the country’s loveliest beaches and opportunities to scuba dive among dolphins.

Lago Niassa: A giant, incredibly clear lake that borders Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania, Niassa (also known as Lake Malawi) are thought to contain the greater number of fish than any other lake in the world.

Angoche: A quiet, historic town in the northern part of the country that still bears the influence of precolonial Swahili and Arab traders, Angoche is worth a quick trip for a look back in time.

Manica: Once an important gold trading area, this picturesque town in central Mozambique is now known for its thousand-year-old Chinamapere rock paintings, which are considered sacred by local residents.

  • Pre-history

    South East Africa including Mozambique is inhabited by ancestors to the San- and Khoikhoi people. Most people in the region live as hunters and gatherers. In around 300 BC, hunter-gatherers called the San acquired domestic stock in what is now modern-day Botswana. Their population grew and spread throughout the Western half of South Africa. They were the first pastoralists in southern Africa, and called themselves Khoikhoi (or Khoe), which means ‘men of men’ or ‘the real people’. This name was chosen to show pride in their past and culture. The Khoikhoi brought a new way of life to South Africa and to the San, who were hunter-gatherers as opposed to herders. This led to misunderstandings and subsequent conflict between the two groups.

    The Khoikhoi used a word while dancing that sounded like ‘Hottentots’ and therefore settlers referred to the Khoikhoi by this name, however, today this term is considered derogatory. The settlers used the term ‘Bushmen’ for the San, a term also considered derogatory today. Many of those whom the colonists called ‘Bushmen’ were, in fact, Khoikhoi or former Khoikhoi. For this reason, scholars sometimes find it convenient to refer to hunters and herders together as ‘Khoisan’.

    The Khoikhoi kept herds of animals such as goat, cattle, and sheep and had to move around to find enough grazing land for their animals. They moved according to the seasons and only stayed in one place for a few weeks. This meant that they had to be able to carry all their belongings themselves or load them onto the backs of their animals. The Korana or Kora was a nomadic Khoikhoi group that probably derived their name from a chief called Kora (or Gora), who was originally a leader of the Gorachouqua (`-qua’ meaning ‘people of’). This leader detached himself from this group with his followers and became the first great chief of the Korana. Others say that the name Korana could mean ‘the real thing’.

  • Maravi Empire

    Beginning as early as the thirteenth century, the first signs of a large-scale migration of related clans entered the region of Lake Malawi. Traditional accounts indicate that these people originated in the Congo Basin to the west of Lake Mweru, in an area that subsequently formed part of the Luba Kingdom. The movement continued during the succeeding two or three centuries, but it appears certain that by the sixteenth century the main body of these people, known collectively as the Maravi, were settled in the Shire River valley and over a wide area lying generally west and southwest of Lake Malawi, including parts of present-day Zambia and Mozambique.

    “Maravi” is, therefore, a general name of the peoples of Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and the eastern part of Zimbabwe. The Chewa language, which is also referred to as Nyanja, Chinyanja or Chichewa, and is spoken in southern and central Malawi, in Zambia and to some extent in Mozambique, is the main language that emerged from this empire. The Maravi Empire(Confederacy) was founded by the Bantu people immigrating into the valley of the Shire River (flowing out of Lake Nyassa) around 1480 AD. It prospered into the late 18th century, extending to reach what is now belonging to Zambia and Mozambique.

    The members of the Confederacy were related ethnolinguistic groups who had migrated from the north into what is now central and southern Malaŵi. The Confederacy was ruled by a karonga (king), whose authority was passed down through the leaders of each clan. The main body of the Confederacy was settled in an area southwest of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malaŵi); two groups moved south into the Shire River valley during the 15th or 16th century, and other groups moved into territories now in Zambia and Mozambique. The Confederacy reached its peak during the 17th century, administering a large area that stretched north of the Zambezi River to the Dwangwa River, west to the Luangwa River, and east to the Mozambique coast.

  • Yao kingdoms

    The Large Yao kingdoms came into being as Yao chiefs took control of the Niassa province of Mozambique in the 19th century. During that time the Yao began to move from their traditional home to today’s Malawi and Tanzania, which resulted in the Yao populations they now have. The most important result of the chiefdoms was the turning of the whole nation to Islam around the turn of the 20th century and after World War I. Because of their trade with the Arabs and Swahili, the Yao chiefs (sultans) needed scribes who could read and write.

    The Islamic teachers who were employed and lived in the Yao villages made a significant impact on the Yao people because they could offer them literacy, a holy book, religious clothes, and square, instead of round, houses. Furthermore, the Yao sultans strongly resisted Portuguese, British, and German colonial rule, which was viewed as a major cultural and economic threat to them. The Yao chief Mataka rejected Christianity, as Islam offered them a social system which would assimilate their traditional culture. Because of the political and ritual domination of the chiefs, their conversion to Islam caused their subjects to do likewise. The Folk Islam which the Yao people have embraced is syncretized with their traditional animistic belief system.

    The Yao originally lived in northern Mozambique (formerly Portuguese East Africa). A close look at the history of the Yao people of Mozambique as a whole shows that their ethnic-geographic center was located in a small village called Chiconono, in the northwestern Mozambican province of Niassa. The majority of Yao were mainly subsistence farmers, but some were also active as ivory and slave traders. They faced social and political decline with the arrival in today’s Niassa Province of the Portuguese, who established the Niassa Company and settled in the region founding cities and towns, destroying the indigenous independent farm and trade economy and changing it to a plantation economy controlled by themselves.

  • The Arrival of Portuguese

    The expanding Portuguese Empire had established trading posts, forts and ports in East Africa since the 15th century, in direct competition with the diverse influential Muslim political forces: Somali, Swahili, Ottomans, Mughals, and Yemeni Sufi orders to a limited extent, and increasingly Ibadi influences from independent Southeastern Arabia. The spice route and Christian evangelization were the main driving forces behind Portuguese expansion in the region. However, later in the 19th century, the Portuguese were also involved in a large slave trade that transported African slaves from Mozambique to Brazil. The Portuguese Empire was by then one of the greatest political and economic powers in the world.

    Portuguese-run agricultural plantations started to expand, offering paid labor to the tribal population. The Yao increasingly became poor plantation workers under Portuguese rule. However, they preserved their traditional culture and subsistence agriculture. As Muslims, the Yao could not stand domination by the Portuguese, who offered Christian education and taught the Portuguese language to the Muslim ethnic group. Currently, there are a minimum estimated 450,000 Yao people living in Mozambique. They largely occupy the eastern and northern part of Niassa province and form about 40% of the population of Lichinga, the capital of this province.

    Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, its power was limited and exercised through individual settlers and officials who were granted extensive autonomy. The Portuguese were able to wrest much of the coastal trade from Arab Muslims between 1500 and 1700, but, with the Arab Muslim seizure of Portugal’s key foothold at Fort Jesus on Mombasa Island (now in Kenya) in 1698, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. By the early 20th century the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of Mozambique to large private companies, such as Mozambique Company, the Zambezia Company and the Niassa Company, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established railroad lines to their neighboring colonies (South Africa and Rhodesia).

  • Colonial Portugal

    Portugal’s colonial claim to the region was recognized by the other European powers during the 1880s, during the Scramble for Africa, and the final boundaries of Portuguese Africa were agreed by negotiation in Europe in 1891. At the time Portugal was in effective control of little more than the coastal strip of both Angola and Mozambique, but important inroads into the interior had been made since the first half of the 19th century. In Angola, construction of a railway from Luanda to Malanje, in the fertile highlands, was started in 1885.

    Work began in 1902 on a commercially significant line from Benguela all the way inland to the Katanga region, aiming to provide access to the sea for the richest mining district of the Belgian Congo. The line reached the Congo border in 1928. In 1914, both Angola and Mozambique had Portuguese army garrisons of around 2,000 men, African troops led by European officers. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Portugal sent reinforcements to both colonies, because the fighting in the neighboring German African colonies was expected to spill over the borders into its territories.

    After Germany declared war on Portugal in March 1916 the Portuguese government sent more reinforcements to Mozambique (the South Africans had captured German South West Africa in 1915). These troops supported British, South African and Belgian military operations against German colonial forces in German East Africa. In December 1917, German colonial forces led by Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck invaded Mozambique from German East Africa. Portuguese, British and Belgian forces spent all of 1918 chasing Lettow-Vorbeck and his men across Mozambique, German East Africa, and Northern Rhodesia. Portugal sent a total of 40,000 reinforcements to Angola and Mozambique during World War I. After World War II and the first decolonization events, this system gradually declined. However, paid forced labor, including labor contracts with the forced relocation of people, continued in many regions of Portuguese Africa until it was finally abolished in 1961.

  • Mozambican War of Independence

    The Portuguese Overseas Province of Mozambique was the last territory to start the war of liberation. Its nationalist movement was led by the Marxist-Leninist Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO), which carried out the first attack against Portuguese targets on September 25, 1964, in Chai, Cabo Delgado Province. The fighting later spread to Niassa, Tete in central Mozambique. A report from Battalion No. 558 of the Portuguese army makes references to violent actions, also in Cabo Delgado, on August 21, 1964.

    On November 16 of the same year, the Portuguese troops suffered their first losses fighting in the north of the territory, in the region of Xilama. By this time, the size of the guerrilla movement had substantially increased; this, along with the low numbers of Portuguese troops and colonists, allowed a steady increase in FRELIMO’s strength. It quickly started moving south in the direction of Meponda and Mandimba, linking to Tete with the aid of Malawi.

    Until 1967 the FRELIMO showed less interest in Tete region, putting its efforts on the two northernmost districts of Mozambique where the use of landmines became very common. In the region of Niassa, FRELIMO’s intention was to create a free corridor to Zambezia Province. Until April 1970, the military activity of FRELIMO increased steadily, mainly due to the strategic work of Samora Machel in the region of Cabo Delgado.

    Rhodesia was involved in the war in Mozambique, supporting the Portuguese troops in operations and conducting operations independently. By 1973, the territory was mostly under Portuguese control. FRELIMO took control of the territory after 10 years of sporadic warfare, as well as Portugal’s own return to democracy after the fall of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime the Carnation Revolution of April 1974, and the failed coup of 25 November 1975.

  • Independent Mozambique

    The new government under president Samora Machel established a one-party state based on Marxist principles. It received diplomatic and some military support from Cuba and the Soviet Union and proceeded to crack down on the opposition. Starting shortly after the independence, the country was plagued from 1977 to 1992 by a long and violent civil war between the opposition forces of anti-Communist Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) rebel militias and the FRELIMO regime. This conflict characterized the first decades of Mozambican independence, combined with sabotage from the neighboring states of Rhodesia and South Africa, ineffective policies, failed central planning, and the resulting economic collapse.

    Mozambique held elections in 1994, which were accepted by most political parties as free and fair although still contested by many nationals and observers alike. FRELIMO won, under Joaquim Chissano, while RENAMO, led by Afonso Dhlakama, ran as the official opposition. In December 1999, Mozambique held elections for the second time since the civil war, which were again won by FRELIMO. RENAMO accused FRELIMO of fraud, and threatened to return to civil war, but backed down after taking the matter to the Supreme Court and losing.

    Since 2013, a low-intensity insurgency by RENAMO has been occurring, mainly in the country’s central and northern regions. On 5 September 2014, former president Guebuza and the leader of RENAMO Dhlakama signed the Accord on Cessation of Hostilities, which brought the military hostilities to a halt and allowed both parties to concentrate on the general elections to be held in October 2014. However, after the general elections, a new political crisis emerged and the country appears to be once again on the brink of violent conflict.