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Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO)

Founded in 1962, the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) aimed to combat poverty and reduce social imbalances, fight corruption, and increase national unity. Opposition to Portuguese rule by Africans under traditional rulers had persisted well into the twentieth century, reflecting in part the belated efforts of Portugal to establish an effective administration over the country's hinterlands and in part the harshness of life for the Africans under company management and colonial administration.

Because there were few connections between the Mozambicans in the different neighboring states, each country of refuge provided its own group of refugee political organizations. In East Africa the major political group was the Mozambique African National Union (MANU) founded in 1960. The adopted English name was a deliberlate attempt on the part of the Mozambican liberation movement to make common cause with the Tanganyikan and Kenyan political parties, TANU and KANU. In Southern Rhodesia refugees joined the National Democratic Union of Mozambique (Uniao Democratica Nacional de Mocambique—UDENAMO), founded in 1959 by Adelino Gwembe. In Nyasaland the National African Union of Independent Mozambique (Uniao Nacional Africana de Mocambique Independente—UNAMI) was led by Baltazar Changona.

Small-scale attacks on military patrols, administrative posts, and commmications lines in northern Mozambique in late September 1961 marked the outbreak of guerrilla violence in that Portuguese territory which had remained largely free of nationalist agitation. Until then Frelimo, the principal Mozambique nationalist organization, which was led by Eduardo Mondlane and based in Tanzania, sought to avoid guerrilla operations until it had substantially improvad its organization and broadened its following inside Mozambique. Frelimo's, or more precisely, Mondlane's, changed tactics stemmed largely from external considerations, but also reflected some minor changes in nationalist capabilities within Mozambique. In Africa generally there had been renewed pressure to show some progress in "liberating" the white-dominated areas in southern Africa.

Apart from radical African pressure generally, the chief event which probably caused Mondlane to advance his revolutionary timetable was the steadily growing pressure from more activist elements within Frelimo. These figures, notably some leaders of the prickly Makonde tribesmen comprising the Mozambique African National Union (MANU), were only loosely subject to Mondlane's orders. It is also possible that another exile organization, the UAR- and Communist-backed UDENAMO, initiated guerrilla raids in order to divert OAU support from Mondlane.

In June 1962 representatives of the three groups — MANU, UDENAMO, and UNAMI — met in a conference at Dar es Salaam under the sponsorship of Tanganyikan leader Julius K. Nyerere. The result was the formation of a new organization, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique — FRELIMO). Party leadership was officially vested in a grand council composed of these three and from seven to 12 others. FRELIMO held its First Party Congress in September 1962. The congress adopted a platform aimed at mobilizing forces to attain self-government and independence for Mozambique.

The merger of the three parties to form FRELIMO did not result, however, in a unified independence movement. Between 1962 and 1964 major splits among the leaders resulted in the resurgence of UDENAMO with a modified name, the National Democratic Union of Munhumutapa. In 1965 the Revolutionary Committee of Mozambique (Comite Revolucionnario de Mocambique — COREMO), a coalition of five parties, was formed in Kampala, Uganda. Its leaders, Paulo Jose and Illomulo Chitofo Gwambe, had been members of FRELIMO at its inception, but they had criticized the exiled leadership for not being sufficiently active inside Mozambique.

FRELIMO was clearly the dominant organization of the liberation movement; alone among the contending groups it had established a bureaucratic structure, a program of political action within Mozambique, and a military wing. It had gained the recognition of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as the legitimate representative of the Mozambican people and, more important, the active support of the Tanzanian government.

The armed guerrilla struggle against Portuguese colonialism began in earnest in September 1964 under FRELIMO's direction. The Portuguese forces, having experience with a similar insurgency in Angola, were prepared, however, and had 30,000 troops deployed in Mozambique. The level of success of the nationalists in the first three years of the war of liberation was to prove a point of considerable debate. On the one hand, FRELIMO announced more than 7,000 Portuguese casualites, the downing of 16 aircraft, and the capture of most if not all of two districts, while condemning members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for arming the Portuguese forces. On the other hand, the Portuguese at first said FRELIMO was responsible only for a "few acts of banditry."

By 1965 FRELIMO, headquartered in Tanzania, was by far the most active group militarily. FRELIMO had 150–250 men of officer potential, trained in guerrilla tactics for 3–6 month periods in Algeria, the UAR, Communist China, or the USSR. (The number trained in Communist countries was relatively small.) Training of the bulk of recruits was carried on in 2 or 3 camps in Tanzania, under the direction of Mozambican, Tanzanian, and, we understand, Algerian instructors. FRELIMO leaders admitted the difficulties of training in a matter of weeks raw recruits who lacked even a rudimentary understanding of guerrilla tactics. Portuguese military sources alleged that the rebels lacked sure knowledge of the proper use of their weapons and that they frequently abandon their arms at the slightest sign of resistance on the part of the Portuguese. But by 1967 the Portuguese were admitting limited casualites and some loss of territory to rebels, while protesting that the insurgency had been instigated by the Soviet Union.

That same year the Portuguese established a "no man's land" inside the northern frontier, abandoning to the rebels the remote and thinly populated regions along the border with Tanzania. Below the no man's land they concentrated the population in a series of aldeamentos (fortified village complexes), where the Portuguese forces could both provide security for Africans and isolate them from contacts with FRELIMO forces.

Portions of Russian and, possibly, Chinese Communist arms shipments to Tanzania were made available to the Mozambicans. The USSR backed FRELIMO in its public media, albeit with a certain amount of reserve. FRELIMO leaders were in frequent contact with Chinese Communist representatives in Dar and Peking.

Of FRELIMO’s rivals, the once vociferous MANU was seldom heard from. A recent MANU adherent, Leo Milas—formerly “Defense Secretary” for FRELIMO — claimed that MANU had attracted a number of disaffected FRELIMO militants. MANU was apparently responsible for a number of the more primitive guerrilla actions in October and November 1964, but by 1965 seemed to be no more than a small political exile organization temporarily based in Kenya. A second would-be rival, the UDENAMO faction led by Paul Gumane, laid no claim to guerrilla activity in Mozambique.

Gradually FRELIMO spread westward, however, heavily infiltrating parts of the Niassa District. By 1968 the name of Samora Moises Machel appeared in the uppermost ranks of FRELIMO as commander of its military wing. Machel, like Mondlane from southern Mozambique, replaced a northerner as head of an army composed largely of northerners, especially members of the Maconde group, whose homeland straddled the border between Mozambique and Tanzania and was a natural recruiting ground for FRELIMO. The Maconde plateau was protected by steep escarpments and dense forests that were ideal for insurgent operations. Though capable of forcing their way into the area, the Portuguese drew their defense perimeter beyond its edges and established the line of aldeamentos further south and east among the Macua-Lomue ethnic group, segments of which had been historically in conflict with the Maconde.

The role of the Maconde and other northern ethnic groups created problems for FRELIMO in the late 1960s as it sought to extend its area of operations to the south, far from the homelands of most of its soldiers. This stirred up another internal problem, namely, the divisions among those competing for leadership within the party who sought backing along ethnic and ideological lines. Between 1966 and 1970 a number of FRELIMO leaders were assassinated by rival factions within the party, by Por- tuguese security units, or by right-wing political groups active within Mozambique's European community. The assassinations further heightened tensions within the party and caused a number of party leaders to defect to the Portuguese.

The attacks reached their peak in February 1969 when a series of bombs were sent through the mail, one of them killing Mondlane. Despite intensive investigation by international organizations, the identify of his assassins remained a mystery, although accusations ranged from the Portuguese secret police to communist elements within FRELIMO. Mondlane, it was noted, had come under attack from the Soviet Union and China because he had sought to limit the degree of communist involvement in order to win greater support in Western countries.

Most of the foreign assistance on which FRELIMO depended in its first five years of the war of liberation was provided by African sources. Much of the nonmilitary aid came from Western sources, including the United States. As the military effort increased, however, so did the insurgents' need for arms. The communist states in Europe and Asia provided scholarships, military training for officers, diplomatic support at the UN, and funds as well as arms. By 1971 FRELIMO recruits were receiving indoctrination in Marxism along with their military training.

Nevertheless, FRELIMO's most important foreign support came from the government of Tanzania, a country whose ruling philosophy was socialist but clearly non-Marxist. Tanzania provided a headquarters for FRELIMO, refugee settlements and educational opportunities for its members, training for its soldiers, and safe supply routes and rear-echelon bases for its forces. The Portuguese contemplated punitive military action against Tanzania but were reluctant to stir up world opinion further against its colonial policies. A few Portuguese attacks against targets in Tanzania close to the border did occur, but these were isolated incidents. Tanzania was compelled to enlarge its army at considerable cost to defend the remote border, but Nyerere's support for the Mozambican liberation movement never faltered.

After the death of Mondlane, Portuguese authorities hoped that FRELIMO might founder without his leadership. Instead its military activity increased. Early in 1969 FRELIMO forces began to infiltrate Tete District, intending in one step to bypass the relatively successful Portuguese containment effort in the north, to open a new front to divide the Portuguese military forces, and to present a threat to Portugal's major hope for improvement in the Mozambican economy — the huge Cahora Bassa hydroelectric project. Portugal's determination to hold onto Mozambique, despite rising military costs, stemmed partly from exaggerated notions of its "civilizing mission" in Africa and partly from the belief that Mozambique had great economic potential.

In 1970 the Portuguese commander, General Kaulza Oliveira de Arriaga, launched the largest military operation of the pervasive Mozambican war in an effort to crush the 10,000 FRELIMO guerrillas. Penetrating the northern areas of Cabo Delgado and Niassa districts long left to FRELIMO, Arriaga demonstrated the ability of the Portuguese troops to inflict tactical defeats on any FRELIMO force anywhere in the country. Nevertheless, the campaign and its aftermath clearly pointed up Portugal's actual strategic military weakness.

The insurgents depended almost entirely on units of platoon size or smaller, although on rare occasions they were able to combine them into joint attacks involving as many as 400 men. The units engaged primarily in mining roads and paths, intimidating scattered villages, and ambushing small Portuguese patrols or pro-Portuguese African self-defense units. When large Soviet rockets became available, the guerrillas launched them at Portuguese bases and towns.

During 1972 and 1973 FRELIMO was able to improve its military position substantially despite continued counter-offensives by the Portuguese forces. FRELIMO's major growth occurred in Tete District. Zambia's president, Kenneth Kaunda, who had earlier backed COREMO, was persuaded by Nyerere to throw his support to FRELIMO, whose insurgents could there- after enter Mozambique across the remote and unmarked Zambian border.

Strong economic ties had prevented overt Malawian support for Mozambican nationalists, but by 1973 Malawi was providing important strategic assistance to FRELIMO, allowing it to use that country as a transportation route and sanctuary. The proximity of the Malawi frontier allowed FRELIMO forces to attack the railroad to Tete, which ran parallel to the border, and to attack Zambezia District, an area that the Portuguese had previously been able to leave unguarded.

FRELIMO's terror tactics and the inability of the thinly spread Portuguese forces to stop the infiltration added greatly to the alarm of Portuguese settlers and pro-Portuguese Africans, who in turn pressured the government to take firmer measures against the insurgents. The result was an overreaction by Portuguese troops. Africans were forcibly removed from their villages, many of which were destroyed, and taken to aldeamentos. This action contributed to an appreciable growth of African support for FRELIMO in areas that had earlier been indifferent to the liberation movement.

By 1974 there were signs of widespread disenchantment in Portugal with the government's colonial policies. Confidence within the armed forces had been shaken by the apparent success of FRELIMO's offensive campaign. More than 80 percent of Portugal's available forces had been committed to the three colonial wars being fought simultaneously in Africa.

On April 25, 1974, officers belonging to the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento da Forcas Armadas—MFA) overthrew the Caetano regime in a bloodless coup. The new government that they sponsored saw as its first objective the effective end of the wars in Africa by granting self-determination in the overseas territories. General Antonio de Spinola, the provisional presi- dent, intended that this should be achieved within a Lusitanian (Portuguese-speaking) confederation in which the former colonies would maintain close economic and political links with metropolitan Portugal.

In Mozambique the government set a cease-fire with FRELIMO as its immediate objective, to be followed by a popular referendum, within one year to determine the country's future. The Spinola government offered the people of the territory three choices: total integration in a greater Portuguese state, self-government within a Lusitanian confederation, or complete independence. In the meantime, FRELIMO was invited to participate openly in the democratic process in competition with other groups.

FRELIMO, however, refused to agree to a cease-fire until Portugal had accepted its terms in full. These were the immediate granting of complete independence without a referendum, the recognition of FRELIMO as the sole legitimate representative of all the peoples of Mozambique, and an agreement to transfer all powers of government directly into FRELIMO's hands. Spinola refused FRELIMO's demands on the grounds that there was no evidence that FRELIMO represented the majority of Mozambique's people, and he ordered a resumption of hostilities. Escalation of the conflict met with growing refusal by Portuguese troops, black and white, to continue to fight for what now seemed a lost cause.

In July 1974 Spinola conceded his government's willingness to recognize the right of the colonies to independence without referenda. On September 6 Machel and Soares announced that an agreement was being signed granting Mozambique its independence as of June 25, 1975, the thirteenth anniversary of the founding of FRELIMO. The Lusaka agreement was a complete triumph for FRELIMO, effectively meeting all of its demands. A cease-fire was ordered, and security until independence became the joint responsibility of FRELIMO and Portuguese forces. A transitional government was to be established in which the prime minister and three cabinet ministers were to be appointed by the Portuguese and six other ministers were to be named by FRELIMO.

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Page last modified: 11-08-2017 18:51:01 ZULU