Mozambique's Sixteen-Year Bloody Civil War
AUTHOR Major Lance S. Young, USAF
SUBJECT AREA - General
MOZAMBIQUE'S 16-YEAR BLOODY CIVIL WAR
THESIS: Our exploration of the background and development of Mozambique,
including the current status of its brutal Civil War, demonstrates that it is in our
national interest economically and militarily to continue to support the nation's
I. Profile of Mozambique
II. Development of the Civil War
A. Mozambique's Liberation Front (Frelimo)
B. Mozambique's National Resistance (Renamo)
III. Current status of the Civil War
A. Political situation
B. Civilian/Refugee dilemma
C. Constitutional Reform
D. South African nations' involvement
IV. Mozambique's Foreign Relations
A. USSR and Mozambique Relations
B. U.S. and Mozambique Relations
V. Mozambique Bilateral Improvements
I. Purpose: To help determine if it is in our national interest economically and
militarily to continue our current support to Mozambique by examining its
background and development, including the current status of its sixteen-year Civil
II. Background: Although the United States is currently one of the largest
economic contributors to Mozambique, we are also increasing our military influence.
Our interests in Mozambique are not widely understood or accepted in the political
or military communities. Acceptance of a strong viable bilateral agreement requires
a new review of Mozambique's internal situation and its progress towards
III. Data: Famine and dismal conditions in Mozambique began centuries ago
when foreign inhabitants exploited the country. Plagued with a high illiteracy rate
and its people forcibly removed for slavery and sold as cheap labor, a slow but
understandable resistance movement began to surface. Sentiment for Mozambique's
own national independence developed and the Front for Liberation of Mozambique
(FRELIMO) was born. This organization fought its Portugese foe for ten years to
finally win an agreement to transfer power to FRELIMO. The struggle continued,
but this time it was against an internal resistance movement known as the
Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO). With U.S. encouragement, the
FRELIMO government initiated contact with RENAMO and direct peace talks
began. This past December a partial cease fire was achieved. U. S. policy of
constructive relations with the government of Mozambique has moved their
government towards a more genuine pursuit for internal political and economic
IV. Conclusion: I feel we should continue our economic and military support
to Mozambique contingent on a continued cease fire and their continued effort
towards democracy. The long term payoff would be a stable country in Southern
Africa friendly to the U.S., one which would promote peaceful regional initiatives.
Militarily, it is useful as a strategic access to secure lines of communications as well as
the strategic minerals it possesses. It would be beneficial to our nation while
providing the basis for Mozambique to rebuild itself.
MOZAMBIQUE'S SIXTEEN-YEAR BLOODY CIVIL WAR
Since December 1990, Mozambique has enjoyed a partial cease fire from its
16-year devastating Civil War. This war has torn the nation apart and has caused
widespread economic misery and famine. Few Americans are familiar with
Mozambique; therefore, a review of its background and development, including the
current status of its brutal Civil War, will help determine if it is in our national
interest economically and militarily to continue our current involvement.
Mozambique is located on the Indian Ocean in southern Africa. Its 2,000-mile
coastline and three major ports of Maputo, Beira, and Nacala are all ideally suited
for naval bases and have long been coveted by the superpowers. These ports, from
which a great power could interdict, or at least disrupt, Indian Ocean commerce and
alter the balance of power in Southern Africa, also offer international gateways to
the landlocked countries of the region.(5:1) Maputo, the capital, is the economic,
political, and cultural center of Mozambique.
The nation's strategic importance, however, transcends its geographic position.
Mozambique, according to Business International, "Mozambique: On the Road to
Reconstruction and Development? (Geneva, 1980), has enormous mineral potential.
The world's largest reserve of columbotantalite, which is used to make nuclear
reactors and aircraft and missile parts, is located in Zambezia Province in central
Mozambique. The country is the second most important producer of beryllium,
another highly desired strategic mineral.(5:1)
Mozambique's social structure merits attention because of its diversity. There
are 10 major ethnic groups that are divided into subgroups with their own languages,
dialects, cultures, and history; the largest are the Makua and Tsonga. The north
central Provinces of Zambezia and Nampula are the most populous, comprising
about 50% of the population. However, between 1986 and 1988, hundreds of
thousands of Mozambicans fled conflict-torn areas of central Mozambique to
neighboring countries or secure areas within the country.(1:3) By far, they are
probably the lucky few because if caught by the rebels they could have been killed,
used as forced labor, or systematically raped or beaten. More than 2 million
Mozambiquens have fled their homes and found sanctuary, either in secure camps in
their own country or across the border in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South
Africa. An additional 100,000 to 200,000 have died at the hands of what may be
today's most brutal rebel army.(7:45)
During the colonial regime, educational opportunities for black Mozambicans
were limited and 93% of the population was illiterate. Since independence, the
government has placed a high priority on expanding education, reducing the illiteracy
rate to 86%. The continuing insurgency, however, has disrupted education in many
of the rural areas.(1:3) The illiteracy rate has added to the continued internal
problem of the economy.
Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, employing
approximately 85 percent of the labor force. Mozambique historically has been a
major world supplier of cashew nuts. Other agricultural exports include sugar, tea,
cotton and copra.(10:4) Mozambique has a small industrial sector to include food
processing, fisheries, textile plants, mining (large deposits remaining), and assorted
To understand the enormous economic, social, and political difficulties of
Mozambique, we must examine its
past history. Impoverishment and inequality, rooted at least as far back as the
sixteenth century, dramatically increased as a direct consequence of Portugal's
imposition of colonial-capitalism during the early years of this century. By the middle
of the eighteenth century, Mozambique had become to Portugal little more than a
backwater malarial zone of minimal value in comparison to Lisbon's holdings in Asia,
Brazil, and even Angola.(5:15)
During the 19th century the slave trade had far-reaching economic and social
effects on the colony. It is likely that more than 1 million Mozambicans were forcibly
removed from their homelands and sold as cheap bound labor.(5:18) This destroyed
entire villages and compelled survivors to flee to inaccessible, unproductive locations
to avoid slave raiders. The violent disruption of much of the rural economy and the
export of many of the most productive members of the indigenous Mozambican
societies ensured continuing of underdevelopment and impoverishment.
In the early 20th century, the Portuguese shifted the administration of much of
the country to large private companies (controlled and financed mostly by the
British), which made lucrative profits by establishing railroad lines with neighboring
countries and by supplying cheap (often forced) African labor to the mines and
plantations of the nearby colonies. Because policies were designed to benefit white
settlers and the Portuguese homeland, little attention was paid to developing
Mozambique's economic infrastructure or the skills of its population.(7:45) After
World War II many European nations were granting independence to their colonies,
but Portugal decided to hold on to its overseas provinces.
Mozambican resistance began to surface, as people eventually concluded that
decades of exploitation, oppression and neglect by Portugal's colonial expansion was
the cause of their misery. Sentiment for Mozambique's own national independence
developed and on 25 June 1962 several Mozambican anti-Portuguese political groups
formed the Front for Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO).
FRELIMO's first president was Eduardo Mondlane whose first objective was
to forge a broad based insurgent coalition that could effectively challenge the
colonial regime. Mondlane had been a professor of anthropology at Syracuse
University in New York prior to his heading a national liberation front and a guerrilla
movement. He was a man of iron will, who became a hard-core revolutionary of
radical thought.(4:171) In FRELIMO's struggle, Mondlane sought to forge as wide a
coalition of nations against Portugal as possible. Pragmatically, he reasoned that aid
and diplomatic supports from the West were as useful as that from the East. The
United States gave no overt assistance to FRELIMO, but its Agency for
International Development provided a few scholarships for Mozambicans to study in
America. Anonymous private contributors, many of them friends of Mondlane,
financed or secured money for FRELIMO's health, publicity, and educational
projects, while military equipment and training came from Algeria, Russia and
On 25 September 1964, FRELIMO solders, with logistical assistance from the
surrounding population, attacked the administrative post at Chai in Cabo Delgado
Province. This raid marked the beginning of the armed struggle against the colonial
regime. FRELIMO militants were able to evade pursuit and surveillance by
employing classic guerrilla tactics: ambushing patrols, sabotaging communication
and railroad lines, and making hit-and-run attacks against colonial outposts before
rapidly fading into accessible backwater areas.(5:84) At the war's outset, FRELIMO
had little hope for a military victory; its hope lay in a war of attrition to compel a
negotiated independence from Lisbon. The goal of FRELIMO was to make the war
so costly that eventually Portugal would withdrawl, a goal made difficult by loans
from the United States and West Germany and arms from NATO to
Portugal.(4: 187) Portugal fought its own version of protracted warfare. Had the
military succeeded with a minimum of expenditure and casualties, the war could have
remained undecided for much longer. But the expense in blood and treasure, not
military defeat, cost Lisbon the war; its army was never destroyed on the battlefield,
although some of its officers were converted to FRELIMO's revolutionary social
goals for Portugal.(4:187&188)
On 24 April 1974 the authoritarian regime had been overthrown in Lisbon, a
move that was supported by workers and peasants. The Armed Forces Movement in
Portugal pledged a return to civil liberties and an end to the fighting in all colonies.
The rapid chain of events within Portugal caught FRELIMO, which had anticipated
a protracted guerrilla campaign, by surprise. It responded quickly to the new
situation and on 7 September 1974 won an agreement from the Armed Forces
Movement to transfer power to FRELIMO within a year. On 25 June 1975
Mozambique became free. At the independence celebration the now President
Samora Machel warned that although the first phase in the struggle had been won,
the young country still had to overcome illiteracy, disease, poverty, and economic
dependence, which were the legacies of colonialism.(5:106&107)
In 1977 a new resistance movement was formed by the name of RENAMO, the
Mozambique Resistance Movement. This force was formed to counter the
FERLIMO government and to disrupt the logistical flow of goods to neighboring
Zimbabwe. Once Zimbabwe became independent, South Africa then became
RENAMO's chief sponsor. RENAMO is a shady organization. It is led by Afonso
Dhlakama, who is 38 years old. What makes this organization remarkable among
insurgencies is not only its level of violence but its total unconcern for politics or
winning popular support. It makes no effort to preach a political program, to
provide services or to set up an alternative government in the 10 percent of
Mozambique it controls. People are compelled to work long hours without pay on
farms, to serve as porters on forced marches without food, and to service the sexual
needs of RENAMO warriors.(7:45) The "Gersony Report" submitted on April 1988,
reported that refugees provided eyewitness or other credible accounts about killings
(from RENAMO) which included shooting executions, knife/axe/bayonet killings,
burning alive, beating to death, forced asphyxiation, forced starvation, and random
shooting at civilians in villages during attacks.(3:21)
RENAMO is estimated to have 15,000 to 20,000 combatants. Mozambican
civilians have been RENAMO's principal targets in the war, although the insurgents
have also attacked government installations and the economic infrastructure.
Between 1986 and mid-1988, some 100,000 civilians are believed to have been
murdered by RENAMO, and about 1 million others fled to neighboring
countries.(1:4) Foreign relief organizations estimate that a total of 3.2 million people
are now totally dependent on food aid, while about the same number require some
assistance.(1:5) Peasants who have fled said they were pleased to be free of the
rebels, to whom each homestead had to donate at least a quart of flour each week.
"When RENAMO first came (to their village) in 1985, a lot of people wanted to fight
back," said Pinto Simone, 35, father of three. "But they had arms. They were a force
the people could not resist."(8:4)
The FRELIMO administration, led by President Machel, was economically
ruined by RENAMO's rebels. The military and diplomatic entente with the Soviet
Union could not alleviate the nation's economic misery and famine. As a result, a
reluctant President Machel signed a non-aggression pact with South Africa, known as
the Nkomati accord. In return, Pretoria promised to sever economic assistance in
exchange for FRELIMO's commitment to prevent the African National Congress
(ANC) from using Mozambique as a sanctuary to pursue its campaign to overthrow
white minority rule in South Africa.(9:1313) The volume of direct South African
Government support for RENAMO diminished after the Nkomati accord, but
documents discovered during the capture of RENAMO headquarters at Gorongosa
in central Mozambique in August 1985 revealed continuing South African
Government communications along with military support for RENAMO.(1:4)
On 19 October 1986, Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel died when
his presidential aircraft crashed near South Africa's border. An international
investigation determined that the crash was caused by errors made by the flight crew.
Machel's successor was Joaquim Alberto Chissano, who had served as foreign
minister from 1975 until Machel's death. Chissano continued Machel's policies of
expanding Mozambique's international ties, particularly the country's links with the
West, and pursuing internal reforms.(1:4)
Since 1973 the Soviet-Mozambican ties have been strong. The USSR's
interests were brought to light in 1973 when Soviet President Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev
said, "Our aim is to gain control of the two great treasure houses on which the West
depends: the energy treasures of the Persian Gulf, and the mineral treasure house of
central and southern Africa." In the 27th CPSU Congress in March 1986, the Party
Programme stated, "Relations with those countries are based on strict respect for
their independence and equality and that the Soviet Union supports those countries'
struggle against imperialist neocolonialist policies, against the remnants of
colonialism, for peace and universal security. The Soviet-Mozambican economic,
trade, scientific, technical and cultural ties are an example of mutually advantageous
and equitable cooperation between socialist and developing states."(11:49) The
Soviet Union seem to want to "serve the interest" of both countries but the real goal
of the USSR is to secure the strategic minerals in the region.
The fall of communism in Eastern Europe is being felt throughout the Third
world. The Soviet Union with its dismal economy and "new thinking" is shaping a
new foreign policy. Moscow is disenchanted with a strategy that annually pumps well
over $19 billion into the Third World, two-thirds of it in military assistance and much
of it never repaid. The emerging Soviet policy reduced expensive military
commitments in favor of cheaper political solutions, with Moscow exhorting Third
World allies to adopt glasnost and perostroika reforms. "The Third World," says
Andrei Kozyrev, a senior Soviet Foreign Ministry official, "suffers not so much from
capitalism as from a lack of it." What this means for Moscow's Asian, African and
Middle Eastern clients is a drying up of crucial economic and military funds.(12:27)
The current President, Joaquim Chissano, is showing signs of change and has
abandoned the Marxist-Leninist form of government and changed to one for all the
people of his country. He no longer depends on the socialist bloc for military
assistance and announced that he will remove all Soviet military advisors from
Mozambique. The FRELIMO government is looking to find a new source of
assistance and the ties to the West are improving rapidly.
U.S. relations with Mozambique were established 23 September 1975. In 1977,
because of concerns with alleged human rights violations, the U.S. Congress
prohibited the provision of development aid to Mozambique unless the president
certified that such aid would be in the foreign policy interests of the United States.
After that, the Chissano government expelled four members of the U.S. Embassy
staff. At that point, our relations were at their lowest and mutual suspicions were at
their highest. In 1983 reestablishment of cooperative relations between the two
countries began again. The United States has significantly expanded its economic
support to Mozambique and the FRELIMO government. The United States is now
the largest provider of emergency food assistance to Mozambique.(1:7) The U.S.
policy has been to encourage the government of Mozambique to initiate contact with
RENAMO and explore all peace options.
This was successfully accomplished and on 3 November 1990 President
Chissano called for an immediate end to his country's civil war, saying a new
constitution adopted by the legislature had guaranteed the right of all Mozambicans,
including rebels trying to overthrow his government, to organize and compete in
democratic, multi-party elections. The new constitution addresses RENAMO's main
political demands for direct elections by secret ballot in a multi-party democracy, a
free enterprise economy and freedom of religion.(8:4) The following month
RENAMO agreed to a partial cease fire along the Beira and Limpopo corridors. A
ten-nation Joint Verification Commission, which includes the U.S., had been
established in Maputo to monitor that agreement. There have been no violations
reported since 9 January 1991.(6:1)
The U.S. has recognized these recent, positive transitions in Mozambique.
Increased humanitarian assistance ($110 million in development and humanitarian
relief in 1990), investments, and political influence along with the dynamic
personality of Ambassador Melissa Wells has netted many improvements for
--A new market-basket economic system that replaced a centrally planned
--Improved railroad systems with new G.E.locomotives ($10 million supplied by
the U.S. for this effort).
--Exploration of the possibilitiy of establishing a small Peace Corps program for
Mozambique centered on providing health care in Maputo and Beira.
And for the first time the U.S. has programed funds for a military education
and training program for Mozambique. Also, in 1990 the Department of Defense
established a position for a Defense Attache Officer to work with the Ambassador in
establishing better relations with Mozambique's military.(6:4) And in 1990 a
delegation from the U.S. EUROPEAN COMMAND, headed by General James P.
McCarthy, DCINCEUR, flew into Maputo to meet with President Chissano. As a
member of this delegation, I witnessed the discussions of many issues concerning
possible military aid, especially in the form of Security Assistance.
It is reasonable to assume that these improvements will support the cease fire
currently in effect. During a recent discussion with Commander Grant J. Caughey
from the African Affairs Division at the Joint Staff, he conveyed that the stability of
the region in Southern Africa would be enhanced by the resolution of Mozambique's
The U.S. should continue its current support to Mozambique. The long term
political payoff would be a stable country in the Southern Africa area friendly to the
U.S., one which would promote peaceful regional initiatives. Militarily, it is very
attractive to have strategic access to a "choke point" such as Capetown point to
secure lines of logistical reinforcement for naval supremacy. Additionally, the
strategic minerals in Mozambique could be useful to the U.S. U.S. support to
Mozambique contingent on a continued cease fire of its civil war would be beneficial
to our nation while providing the basis for Mozambique to rebuild itself.
1. Adams, Juanita. Mozambique. U.S. Department of State Publication 7965.
Bureau of Public Affairs. Washington D.C., May 1989, pp. 3-7.
2. Caughey, Grant J. DOD Africa Affairs Divison of the Joint Staff. Personal
interview about U.S. military involvement in Mozambique. Pentagon,
Washington D.C., 26 February 1991.
3. Gersony, Robert. The Gersony Report. Submitted to the Director, Bureau for
Refugee Programs, U.S. State Department. Washington D.C., April 1988,
4. Henriksen, Thomas H. Mozambique: A History. Southhampton, England. The
Camelot Press, 1978, pp. 171-188.
5. Isaacman, Allen, and Barbara Isaacman. MOZAMBIQUE: From Colonialism to
Revolution, 1900-1982. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983, pp. 1-
6. Lecocq, Randy. Changes in Mozambique Since 1987. African Affairs Desk
Officer, U.S. State Department. Washington D.C., 1991, pp. 1-4.
7. MacFarquhar, Emily. "The killing fields of Mozambique." U.S. News & World
Report, 104 (2 May 1988), p. 45.
8. Maier, Karl. "Mozambique's Leader Urges Rebels to Take Fight to Ballot Box."
The Washington Post, 4 Nov 1990, Section C, p. 4.
9. Moorcraft, Paul L. "Mozambique's long civil war." International Defense Review,
20 (October 1987), p. 1313.
10. Mozambique American Embassy Maputo. "Foreign Economic Trends and Their
Implications for the United States." U.S. Department of Commerce
Printing, May 1989, p. 4.
11. Shchedrin, Vladimir., Major. "USSR--Mozambique." Soviet Military Review, 8
(25 August 1986), p. 49.
12. Smolowe, Jill. "Don't Call Us, Friend, We'll Call You." Time, 135 (5 March
1990), p. 27.
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