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< BACKHistory, Culture and Politics - Mozambique

As in most of the surrounding countries, the San Bushmen tribes were the first inhabitants of the area now known as Moçambique. These nomadic, hunter-gatherer people were displaced by Bantu tribes moving down from the north following climatic shifts which resulted in the Sahara extending southwards. These people moved into the area between 200BC & 300AD. Arab traders began to discover the wealth of the country around 300AD and many alliances were made with local tribes, leading to intermarriage and extensive trade relations.

Today Moçambique is home to eight major tribal groups, the Tsonga dominate the south of the country, the Shona & Zambezi Valley tribes (the Chuabo, Sena & Nyungwe) live mainly in the central regions and the Yao & Makua-Lomwe are based in the north. Seventeen major ethnic languages are spoken, although Portuguese remains the language of commerce and technology. Although English is rarely spoken by the adult population, many of today's children grew up in refugee camps in nearby English speaking countries, Catholicism is the religion favoured by the urban population whereas Islam is dominant further north. Organised religion was repressed during the countries Marxist era, from independence in 1975 to 1990. As in many African nations, 'western' religion mixes with the traditional culture of ancestor worship and animism. Due to ancient links with Arab traders, Moçambique's cultural and historical heritage is closer to Muslim northeast Africa than to southern Africa, and the European links have led to a lively Latin influence.

The name Moçambique probably originated from an influential Arab trader named Sheik Mussal A'l Bik. His base was on the island of Mozambique, and when the Portuguese made landfall here in the 15th century, his name was given to the explorers when local tribe’s people were asked the name of the island.

The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama first landed at Moçambique Island over Christmas 1497. A fort was erected on the island in the early 16th century and by 1550 Portugal had gained control of coastal trade from the Arabs. Colonial presence was concentrated on the coast with forts being built along its length and very few Portuguese venturing inland.

In addition to the huge quantities of copra (dried coconut flesh), cashew nuts, fish and ivory that were exported from the Moçambique coastline by the Portuguese, slavery was big business with around 1500 slaves being sent to France each year. Pirates from Madagascar raided Moçambique & Ibo Islands in 1808, also taking slaves. Slavery was eventually abolished in 1875. The British colonial powers became interested in Moçambique when the value of Moçambique harbour, the present day Maputo, became apparent. The area provided the safest natural harbour between Cape Town and Moçambique Island. The dispute was finally settled arbitrarily in favour of Portugal by the then French president. Portugal proceeded to move the capital from Moçambique Island to Maputo (previously known as Lourenco Marques) in 1902 and the colonisers enjoyed increased trade with South Africa.

During the latter stages of WWI, Portugal joined the allies to secure continued power over its colonies. Administration of Moçambique remained in the hands of Portugal with no power given to the settlers or African inhabitants. A military coup in Portugal took place in 1926 and the government was overthrown. The colonial act of 1933 made Moçambique part of the Portuguese state with a common law and a centrally planned economy.

Demonstrations for independence began in earnest after WWII and Frelimo (the Moçambican Liberation Front) was formed in Dar es Salaam in 1962. The party’s armed struggle was launched in 1964 and Samora Machel became the new commandant in 1969. A socialist revolt in Portugal in 1974 led to independence being granted to Moçambique on 25th June 1975. The Portuguese recognised Frelimo as the country’s new government despite a complete lack of elections or interim administration. Almost all skilled workers and administrators immediately left the country creating a state of utter chaos as the Marxist Frelimo members had little to no training or experience which would enable them to run a country.

Acts of sabotage by the Portuguese added to the complete lack of infrastructure as existing sewerage networks were filled with concrete and roads and buildings destroyed. 1977 saw the formation of Renamo, the Moçambican National Resistance, with the support of the Rhodesian government. Renamo's prime objective was to destroy existing transport and communication links within the country, and they succeeded in spectacular style. The civil war between Frelimo & Renamo raged from 1977 until 1992 and destroyed the social and economic fabric of the whole country. Russian & East German 'advisors' were drafted in to offer assistance to the Frelimo government, but offered very little in terms of workable solutions.

In 1984 Machel and president Botha of South Africa signed the Nkomati Accord promising no support for each other’s armed insurrections. Samora Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986, some believe this to have been no accident, and was replaced by Joaquim Chissano. In 1990, Frelimo announced a complete turnaround in policy and declared that they would pursue a market economy with privatisation of state enterprises and multiparty elections. This took the wind out of Renamo's sails rather and a reluctant ceasefire was agreed upon in 1992. UN supervised, multiparty elections were held in 1994 with UN peacekeepers facilitating disarmament. Much work has been done to remove the landmines and most of the country is now safe in this regard.

The elections proceeded smoothly and Frelimo won, making Chissano the elected president of a now peaceful Moçambique. In November 1995, the country was the first country, that was not a former colony, to become a member of the British Commonwealth. The president's disciplined economic plan was highly successful, winning the country foreign confidence and aid. While Mozambique posted some of the world's largest economic growth rates in the late 1990s, it has suffered enormous setbacks because of natural disasters, such as the enormous damage caused by severe flooding in the winters of 2000 and 2001. Hundreds died and thousands were displaced.

In 2002, Chissanó announced he would not seek a third term and Frelimo 's candidate, independence hero Armando Guebuza, was elected president and sworn in on February, 2 2005.

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