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War of Independence in Mozambique

Mozambique was the scene of a brutal 16-year civil war that ended in 1992 in which over a million Mozambicans died.

Mozambique's 10 major ethnic groups encompass numerous subgroups with diverse languages, dialects, cultures, and history; the largest are the Makua and Tsonga. The north-central provinces of Zambezia and Nampula are the most populous, with about 40% of the population. The estimated 4 million Makua are the dominant group in the northern part of the country--the Sena and Ndau are prominent in the Zambezi valley, and the Tsonga dominate in southern Mozambique.

When Portuguese explorers reached Mozambique in 1498, Arab trading settlements had existed along the coast for several centuries. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east. Later, traders and prospectors penetrated the hinterland seeking gold and slaves. Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, its power was limited and exercised through individual settlers who were granted extensive autonomy. As a result, development lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and to colonization of Brazil.

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 established railroad lines to neighboring countries and by supplied cheap--often forced--African labor to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies. Because policies were designed to benefit white settlers and the Portuguese homeland, little attention was paid until the last years of colonial rule, to the development Mozambique's economic infrastructure or the skills of its population.

After World War II, while many European nations were granting independence to their colonies, Portugal clung to the concept that Mozambique and other Portuguese possessions were overseas provinces of the mother country and immigration to the colonies soared. Mozambique's Portuguese population at the time of independence was over 200,000.

The Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo, from the Portuguese Frenta de Libertacao de Mocambique / Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) was formed in 1962 in neighboring Tanzania when it was merged from several smaller nationalist groups. Since Portugal, Mozambique's colonial holders, vehemently refused to grant Mozambique its independence, in 1964 Frelimo began a guerrilla campaign to fight for the territory's independence. The insurgency in Mozambique began in the extreme northern areas of the province. The group had the support of communist and western states. FRELIMO was well armed by various communist countries, and its fighters were trained by the Chinese.

Small-scale attacks on military patrols, administrativeposts, and communications lines in northern Mozambique in late September 1964 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 improved its organization and broadened its following inside Mozambique.

Frelimo's, or more precisely, Mondlane's, changed tactics stemmed largely from external considerations, but also reflect 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. Emotionalism on this issue dominated the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Heads of State meeting in July 1964, and it continued at a high pitch at the Nonaligned Conference in Cairo in October 1964. With the Angolan rebellion stalled, with the Rhodesian nationalists disposed to await action by the new Labour Governmentin the UK, and with South Africa much too difficult to crack, Mozambique seemed to the Africans a good chance to dramatize the anticolonialist struggle through armed action.

Largely because of this increased support from abroad, Frelimo enhanced its operational capabilities to a degree. It claimed about 2,000 fighters. Although this figure was probably exaggerated, perhaps by 50 percent, some revolutionaries, including 200 Algerian-trained guerrillas, were receiving training from Tanzania's armed forces at sites near the Mozambique border. Frelimo's irregulars had access to Soviet, Algerian, and possibly Chinese, arms, and chronic fund shortages had been alleviated by subsidies from China.

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 was also possible that another exile organization, the UAR- and Communist-backed UDENAMO, initiated guerrilla raids in order to divert OAU support from Mondlane. It is likely that these various radical elements were encouraged by Oscar Kambona, Tanzania's influential and rabidly African-nationalist Ninister of External Affairs.

At the time of the outbreak of hostilities, Portugal had about 16,000 troops in the province, all deployed in the north where the FRELIMO attacks were concentrated. They were forced into increasing expenditures to maintain a military force in an economically unrewarding area, to build new military and naval facilities and roads, and to strengthenthe police and provide physical security for essential services.

On the surface, Mozambique appeared to be the southern African area most vulnerable to well-organized guerrilla and terror campaigns. The local Portuguese population was clearly suffering from a state of anticipatory nerves. The Portuguese security services proved to be inadequately prepared to cope with the intensified intelligence needs resulting from the outbreak of rebel attacks in northern Mozambique. The Portuguese military, while heavily reinforced, experienced the normal difficulties of pursuing an elusive enemy over terrain which was relatively more advantageous to rebel movement. In addition, Portuguese troops in Mozambique lacked special counter-insurgency training, with the exception of a few experienced units transferred from Angola.

Military tactics in Mozambique emphasized intense and indiscriminate retaliation against local populations at the expense of the loyalty and/or cooperation of hitherto apolitical Africans. The length of the borders, which are contiguous to states which, if not actively hostile, were at least providing sanctuary to rebel groups, itself presented a considerable surveillance problem which the Portuguese are not yet fully equipped to handle. Rebel infiltration from Tanzania and Malawi, therefore, proved difficult to control.

Rebel groups, however, developed only a limited offensive capability, were deficient in well-trained officers and, to an even greater extent, had been unable to turn out well-disciplined and trained recruits to carry the burden of the action in Mozambique. FRELIMO, headquartered in Tanzania, was by far the most active group militarily. By 1965, 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 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 abandoned their arms at the slightest sign of resistance on the part of the Portuguese.

The rebel groups faced a long, uphill struggle before they could seriously challenge the Portuguese military or political position in Mozambique. Considerable preparations, training, and planning were required to achieve this goal. Initially, the best the rebels seem able to do is to frighten scattered and isolated European settlements in northern Mozambique, keep the military busy with patrolling duties, and inflict casualties at the rate of 1 or 2 every fortnight.

For several years, Portuguese forces were able to prevent the guerrillas from moving southward. They could not end the warfare, however, because the guerrillas had a sanctuary to which they could retreat and a constant source of arms. Eventually the guerrillas were able to skirt the Portuguese strength in the north and mount incursions into the relatively unprotected center.

In the first six months of 1968 the rebels significantly increased the number and frequency of their attacks. The effects of their offensive were reflected in the highest monthly Portuguese casualty rates of the war. But this activity may have brought the liberation groups to at least a temporary high water mark. Despite Portuguese claims that the areas of rebel activity have been steadily reduced over the previous few years, the rebels were operating over more of Mozambique than at any time in the past. An incontrovertible fact is that the rebellion has persisted since the first outbreak in September 1964. The Portuguese in Mozambique have resigned themselves to living with insurgency for the indefinite future.

The Portuguese had problems, but none so serious as to overcome their strong determination to retain Angola and Mozambique intact. Despite some evidence that the war effort had stimulated the economy, military expenditures in Mozambique, as well as those in Angola and Portuguese Guinea, were an undeniable strain on a relatively poor nation, but one so far willingly borne. A more intangible problem resulted from one of the strategies adopted to counter the guerrillas—the practice of resettling the African population on the fringes of the war zone in defended villages (aldeamentos). The program was ostensibly successful to date, but the Portuguese had to abandon several of the more “exposed” aldeamentos and created resentment among farmers who were forced to abandon their ancestral lands.

By the early 1970s FRELIMO and their 7,000 guerrillas held most of central and northern Mozambique and were engaging a Portuguese force of roughly 60,000, a force more than 8 times that of FRELIMO. The 1974 left-wing military coup in Portugal proved to be quite beneficial to FRELIMO, as the new Portuguese government had a policy of supporting self-determination for Portugal's colonies. Talks were opened with FRELIMO and a cease-fire was agreed upon as well as an agreement to allow for Mozambique's independence, and it finally became an independent state in June, 1975.

Of the 60,000 government troops ultimately involved in Mozambique, 35,000 were black Africans, 10,000 were white Africans, and the remaining 15,000 were from Portugal. This relatively large force faced approximately 8,000 insurgents. Despite this numerical superiority, the Portuguese government was unable to counter the guerrillas' tactics, which included ambushes, selective terrorism, and severing road and rail links. By September 1975, when the former province became independent as the People's Republic of Mozambique, Portuguese losses were officially reported as 1,606 killed in action and 724 noncombat deaths.

Almost five centuries as a Portuguese colony came to a close with independence in 1975. Large-scale emigration by whites, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country's development until the mid 1990's. The ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) party formally abandoned Marxism in 1989, and a new constitution the following year provided for multiparty elections and a free market economy. RENAMO, which had waged a l4-year war against the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), came under strong pressure from many quarters to negotiate a peace accord with Maputo. Intensive diplomatic efforts since 1989 by the United States. Catholic Church officials, and West European and African governments to end the war, as well as President Chissano‘s aggressive political and economic reform program and waning external assistance to the rebels, helped pushRENAMO to the negotiating table.

A UN-negotiated peace agreement between FRELIMO and rebel Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) forces ended the fighting in 1992. In December 2004, Mozambique underwent a delicate transition as Joaquim Chissano stepped down after 18 years in office. His elected successor, Armando Emilio Guebuza, promised to continue the sound economic policies that have encouraged foreign investment. Mozambique saw very strong economic growth since the end of the civil war, largely due to post-conflict reconstruction.

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Page last modified: 11-09-2016 19:11:39 ZULU