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.
Despite the influence of Islamic coastal traders and European colonizers, the people of Mozambique have largely retained an indigenous culture based on subsistence agriculture. Mozambique's most highly developed art forms have been wood sculpture, for which the Makonde in northern Mozambique are particularly renowned, and dance. The modern elite continues to be heavily influenced by the Portuguese colonial and linguistic heritage.
During the colonial era, Christian missionaries were active in Mozambique, and many foreign clergy remain in the country. While precise statistics are impossible to obtain, most observers believe that about 20 to 30% of the population is Christian, 20-30% Muslim, with the rest mainly influenced by traditional beliefs.
Under the colonial regime, educational opportunities for black Mozambicans were limited, and 93% of the population was illiterate. After independence, the government placed a high priority on expanding education, reducing the illiteracy rate to about two-thirds as primary school enrollment increased. Unfortunately, in recent years, school enrollments have not kept up with population increases and the quality of education has decreased.
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 drive for Mozambican independence developed apace, and in 1962 several anti-Portuguese political groups formed the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), which initiated an armed campaign against Portuguese colonial rule in September 1964. After 10 years of sporadic warfare and major political changes in Portugal, Mozambique became independent on June 25, 1975. FRELIMO quickly established a one- party Marxist state and outlawed rival political activity.
A civil war between the FRELIMO government and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) began in 1976. RENAMO originally emerged as a creation of the Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia to destabilize the Mozambican government which supported Zimbabwean and South African liberation movements. After Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980, the South African government took over the external sponsorship of RENAMO and began providing the insurgents with logistical support and training. Despite its brutal methods and documented human rights abuses, RENAMO was also able to draw upon strong internal dissatisfaction with FRELIMO to garner some support among local populations.
On March 5, 1984, the Government's of Mozambique and South Africa signed the Nkomati accords, which committed both countries to cease hostilities against the other and to search for ways to increase economic cooperation. Thereafter, Mozambique severely restricted African National Congress (ANC) activities within Mozambique, and the volume of official South African support for RENAMO diminished.
Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel, died when his aircraft crashed near Mbunzi on South Africa's border with Mozambique in October 1986. Machel was succeeded by Joaquim Alberto Chissano, who had served as Foreign Minister from 1975 until Machel's death.
Despite a reduction in external support to RENAMO, the government was unable to defeat the insurgents. As early as 1980, the war's stalemate had led the two sides to begin peace talks in Rome under the auspices of Italy and the Catholic Church. Not until December 1990, however, did FRELIMO and RENAMO agree to a partial cease-fire covering two of the country's principal transportation arteries: the Limpopo and Beira corridors. The partial cease-fire continued through mid-1992. Though the negotiations only progressed slowly during 1991 and 1992, the parties were able to agree on three protocols regarding the electoral system, political parties, and the structure of the talks. In June 1992, the United States was invited to become an official observer to the talks, and the General Peace Accord was signed in October 1992. A UN Peacekeeping Force (ONUMOZ) successfully oversaw the cease-fire and the two year transition to multiparty elections (see below). The last ONUMOZ contingents departed Mozambique in early 1995.
By mid-1995, the over 1.7 million refugees who had sought asylum in neighboring Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa as a result of war and drought had returned to Mozambique, as part of the largest repatriation witnessed in sub- Saharan Africa. Additionally, a further estimated 4 million internally displaced persons had largely returned to their areas of origin.
Those efforts culminated in the enactment of a new constitution in November 1990 which provided for a multiparty political system, a market-based economy, and free elections. In 1991, FRELIMO party activities and government responsibilities were officially separated, and mass organizations created by FRELIMO (such as the worker, youth, and women's groups) declared themselves independent, autonomous entities. However, FRELIMO has maintained a de facto monopoly over the government and many societal organizations.
Following enactment of constitutional guarantees for a multiparty political system, political activity in the country increased. During the country's first multi-party democratic elections in October 1994, 14 parties contested seats in the National Assembly and 12 candidates ran for President. The international donor community played a major role in financing and supervising the elections, which were held under the formal supervision of an independent National Elections Commission. The polls were monitored and pronounced generally free and fair by the UN and other international organizations.
Opposition parties, including RENAMO, accepted the results despite their complains of irregularities. Chissano was elected president by a margin of 53-34% over RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama and FRELIMO gained a narrow majority in the National Assembly. RENAMO made a strong showing, outpolling FRELIMO in five central and northern provinces, including the two most populous.
The National Assembly, after a rocky start in which RENAMO walked out to protest the election of the Speaker by secret vote, has steadily matured. Its effectiveness is limited, however, as the Assembly has yet to develop as a check on executive power and suffers from a lack of resources and experience.
Economic reform began in 1984 when Mozambique joined the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF) and the Lome Convention. Until 1993, progress was painstakingly slow and shrouded by ongoing civil war, seasonal droughts, and a lingering distrust of free market principles within FRELIMO. Corruption found fertile ground and flourished until it became a real problem in the 1990s. Since 1993, the pace of market oriented reform has quickened and substantial foreign assistance was restoring much of the nation's basic infrastructure.
For now, the country's beleaguered economy is entirely dependent upon foreign assistance and, even under the brightest of scenarios, will continue to be so for the next 3-5 years. In recent years, annual foreign assistance pledges have totaled $1 billion, with about two-thirds to three-quarters actually being disbursed in any given year. This compares to an official GDP of $1.6 billion. The country's large foreign debt of $5.2 billion ($1.6 billion to the former Soviet Union) has cost the country less than $50 million to service, but these charges will grow as grace periods lapse. Mozambique is seeking debt relief along with many other African countries.
An estimated 80% of Mozambique's population relies upon subsistence agriculture and fishing to survive. The principal staple is corn; wet rice is also grown in the natural flood plains of the country's many rivers; but all wheat is imported. Time needed to resettle those displaced by war and reestablish rural trading and transportation networks, coupled with two devastating droughts, has slowed Mozambique's post-war effort to regain self-sufficiency in food production. Hopes run high that 1996-97 will prove different.
Business activity in Mozambique is centered upon import/export trading. Foreign assistance programs supply the foreign exchange required to purchase imports of goods and services. At nearly $1 billion, official imports are five times official exports. These figures exclude a vibrant and growing informal sector that conducts much of the trade along the porous borders with six neighboring countries and outside of the formal economy. Historically, principal exports have been shrimp, cashews, copra, sugar, cotton, tea, and citrus fruits. Private initiatives in each of these areas are currently being undertaken. These initiatives, coupled with the rehabilitation of electricity transmission from the giant Cahora Bassa hydro-electric dam in South Africa and Zimbabwe; proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline to South Africa; and reform of transportation services could make a major impact on foreign exchange earnings in the future. The export of minerals could also be a source of future foreign exchange earnings.
What manufacturing industry there is has either recently been privatized or is currently undergoing privatization. Obsolete and poorly maintained capital equipment coupled with the lack of managerial capacity and an excess of employees has caused a number of privatizations to immediately fail. On the other hand, foreign managed privatizations, most notable Portuguese and South African, have been scoring some successes, particularly in plastic products, tires, cashew processing, milling, beverages, and construction materials. Practically all manufacturing is located in the major urban areas of Maputo, Beira, and Nampula, which are situated along historic transportation corridors to neighboring countries.
All transportation corridors are receiving increased attention from neighboring states and foreign investors, but none more than the Maputo (or Limpopo) corridor, the object of a high level bilateral initiative between the South African and Mozambican governments. A major sticking point, however, has been the desire of the Mozambican government to limit the level of private management in port and rail operations. The port and rail authority continues to be widely criticized for inefficiency, mismanagement, and corruption,
In the past few years, over 500 privatizations have been accomplished, most of which involve small enterprises. More recently, larger enterprises have been subject to privatization. In 1996, the government plans to privatize the country's largest commercial bank, and a number of sizable manufacturing companies. Other reform measures being considered include the privatization of customs operations, customs and tax reform, and the introduction of competition and/or private participation to the transportation, energy, and telecommunications sectors.
During its first two decades, Mozambique's foreign policy was inextricably linked to the struggles for majority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa as well as superpower competition and the Cold War. Mozambique's principled decision to enforce UN sanctions against Southern Rhodesia and deny that country access to the sea, led Ian Smith's regime to undertake overt and covert actions to destabilize the country. While majority rule in Zimbabwe in 1980 removed this threat, the apartheid regimes in South Africa continued to keep the pressure on Mozambique. The 1984 Nkomati accord, which provided the beginnings of a political and economic accommodation with South Africa thus marked a watershed in Mozambique's history. This process gained momentum with South Africa's own implementation of internal political reforms, which culminated in the establishment of full diplomatic relations in October 1993. While relations with neighboring Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania show occasional strains, Mozambique's ties to these countries remain strong.
In the years immediately following its independence, Mozambique benefited from considerable assistance from some western countries, notable the Scandinavians, but quickly fell under the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. During these years, Moscow and its allies became Mozambique's primary economic, military, and political supporters. In exchange, Mozambique's foreign policy was closely linked to the goals of its patrons. This began to change in the mid-1980s and notably, in 1984, when Mozambique joined the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Western aid quickly displaced Soviet largess in supporting the Mozambican state. While the Scandinavians continue to provide significant amounts of aid, the United States, the Netherlands, and the European Union are increasingly important sources of development assistance. Italy also maintains a high profile in Mozambique as a result of its key role during the peace process. Relations with Portugal, the former colonial power, are close and of increasing importance as Portuguese investors play a significant role in Mozambique's economy. Mozambique is a member of the Non- Aligned Movement and ranks among the moderate members of the African Bloc in the United Nations and other international organizations. Mozambique also belongs to the Organization of African Unity and the Southern African Development Community, which is increasingly assuming a political, as well as economic role. In 1994, the government became a full member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in part to broaden its base of international support but also to please the country's sizable Muslim population. Similarly, in early-1996 Mozambique joined the Commonwealth, an organization which includes all of its anglophone neighbors. At the same time, Mozambique will be a founding member of the community of Portuguese language countries when that organization is launched in mid-1996.
The U.S. embassy opened in Maputo on November 8, 1975 and the first American Ambassador arrived in March 1976. In that same year, the United States extended a $10 million grant to the government of Mozambique to help compensate for the costs of enforcing Rhodesia sanctions. In 1977, however, largely motivated by a concern with human rights violations, the U.S. Congress prohibited the provision of development aid to Mozambique without a Presidential certification that such aid would be in the foreign policy interests of the United States. Relations hit a nadir in March 1981, when the government of Mozambique expelled four members of the U.S. embassy staff. In response, the U.S. suspended plans to provide development aid and to name a new ambassador to Mozambique. Relations between the two countries were then firmly mired in a climate of stagnation and mutual suspicion.
Contacts between the two countries continued in the early 1980s as part of the U.S. Administration's conflict resolution efforts in the region. In late 1983, a new U.S. ambassador arrived in Maputo and the first Mozambican envoy to the United States arrived in Washington, signaling a thaw in the bilateral relationship. The U.S. subsequently responded to Mozambique's economic reform and drift away from Moscow's embrace by initiating an aid program in 1984. President Samora Machel paid a symbolically important official working visit to the United States in 1985. For his part, President Chissano has met with Presidents Reagan (October 1987) and Bush (March 1990), and also with Secretary of State Baker (July 1992) since replacing Machel.
The bilateral relationship has been fostered by the end of the superpower confrontation on the continent, South Africa democratic transition, and most importantly, Mozambique's own internal changes. By 1993, Mozambique had become one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in sub-Saharan Africa, due in part to significant emergency food assistance in the wake of the 1991-93 southern African drought. During the U.N.-financed peace process leading up to elections in October 1994, the U.S. served as a member of several of the most important commissions established to monitor implementation of the Rome Accords. The United States continues to play a leading role in donor efforts to assist Mozambique's on-going economic and political transitions and is currently the largest bilateral donor to the country. Vocal U.S. support for reform at times is perceived as an irritant in the bilateral relationship, especially by hard-liners within the government who are resisting these changes.
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