Mozambique's Sixteen-Year Bloody Civil War

AUTHOR Major Lance S. Young, USAF

CSC 1991




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

A. Geography

B. People

C. Economy

D. Colonialism/Nationalism

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.


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

transportation factories.

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