From the 10th century or earlier, Arabs and Indians traded with populations in the Mozambique area. Portuguese traders took prominence from the 15th century onwards, vying with Arabs and Swahili people along the coast in the commodity and slave trades. In time, Portuguese settlers came, establishing large estates. However, Portuguese control was fiercely resisted and by 1885, when the colonial powers met for the Berlin Conference to formalise colonial boundaries, Portugal only controlled coastal strongholds and a few scattered inland areas. After a series of military campaigns to subdue the African population, Portugal auctioned off land concessions. The Mozambique Company, the Niassa Company and the Zambezi Company, representing largely non-Portuguese (especially British) capital, established plantations in north and central Mozambique, using forced local labour. Many Mozambicans from the south found employment in South Africa’s expanding mining industry.
In 1951 Portugal declared Mozambique to be its overseas province and by 1970 some 200,000 Portuguese settlers – mainly peasant and working class people – had been brought to the country by the Portuguese government.
Nationalist groups began to form in the 1960s; three banned groups merged to form Frelimo (Frente de Libertaçâo de Moçambique), which led a war of attrition to win independence. Frelimo’s first President, Dr Eduardo Mondlane, was assassinated by the Portuguese in 1969. After the 1974 revolution in Portugal, the new government soon started negotiations with the liberation movements in the overseas provinces on self- determination. Mozambique became independent on 25 June 1975. Some 90 per cent of the Portuguese settlers left the country, creating a skills vacuum.
Frelimo, under Samora Machel, the country’s first President, came to power with strong socialist ideals and the aim of rapid development; initially it made considerable improvements in health and education. However, authority was rigidly centralised and some policies were heavy-handed – in particular, the forced creation of communal rural villages.
Civil war broke out in the late 1970s between the government and Renamo (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana). Renamo was first supported by the white regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and later by South Africa. Commanding widespread support from the disaffected, Renamo was especially active in central provinces such as Sofala, Manica and Zambézia, and later on in the south. Through sabotage, Renamo managed to destroy much of the country’s economic and social infrastructure: roads and railways, schools and health centres, houses, shops and factories. Millions of Mozambicans fled as refugees into neighbouring countries, or became deslocados (the internally displaced people). More than one million people were killed. Machel was killed in a mysterious air crash in 1986 and was succeeded as President by Joaquim Chissano, the former Foreign Minister.
The new constitution adopted in 1990 introduced into the country a multiparty democratic system and a free-market economy, thus paving the way for the peace process. Negotiations mediated by the Italian Roman Catholic community of Sant’Egidio culminated in a peace agreement in October 1992; a UN peacekeeping force arrived in July 1993, and demobilisation of troops began in mid- March 1994. In the multiparty elections of October 1994 President Chissano was re-elected with 53 per cent of the votes, his main rival, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, securing 34 per cent. In the parliamentary elections Frelimo won 129 seats (44 per cent of the votes), Renamo 112 seats (38 per cent) and the Democratic Union nine seats (5 per cent).
Mozambique, which had long been interested in Commonwealth membership, became the Commonwealth’s 53rd member (and the first not to have once been associated with the British Empire) with the agreement of all the other members, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Zealand in November 1995.