Mozambican War of Independence

Mozambican War of Independence
Part of the Portuguese Colonial War, Decolonisation of Africa, and the Cold War
Mozambique within modern-day Africa.
Date25 September 1964–8 September 1974
(9 years, 11 months and 2 weeks)
June 25, 1975 (independence)

FRELIMO political victory

Mozambique FRELIMOPortugal Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Mozambique Eduardo Mondlane (1962–69),
Mozambique Joaquim Chissano (1962–75),
Mozambique Filipe Samuel Magaia (1964–66),
Mozambique Samora Machel (1969–75)
Portugal António Augusto dos Santos (1964–69),
Portugal Kaúlza de Arriaga (1969–74)
15,000–20,000[34][35]50,000 (May 17, 1970)[36]
Casualties and losses
10,000 killed[37]3,500 killed[37]
Civilian casualties:
50,000 killed[37]
Part of a series on the
Emblem of Mozambique
Flag of Mozambique.svg Mozambique portal

The Mozambican War of Independence was an armed conflict between the guerrilla forces of the Mozambique Liberation Front or FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique), and Portugal. The war officially started on September 25, 1964, and ended with a ceasefire on September 8, 1974, resulting in a negotiated independence in 1975.

Portugal's wars against independence guerrilla fighters in its 400-year-old African territories began in 1961 with Angola. In Mozambique, the conflict erupted in 1964 as a result of unrest and frustration amongst many indigenous Mozambican populations, who perceived foreign rule to be a form of exploitation and mistreatment, which served only to further Portuguese economic interests in the region. Many Mozambicans also resented Portugal's policies towards indigenous people, which resulted in discrimination, traditional lifestyle turning difficult for many Africans, and limited access to Portuguese-style education and skilled employment.

As successful self-determination movements spread throughout Africa after World War II, many Mozambicans became progressively nationalistic in outlook, and increasingly frustrated by the nation's continued subservience to foreign rule. For the other side, many enculturated indigenous Africans who were fully integrated into the Portugal-ruled social organization of Portuguese Mozambique, in particular those from the urban centres, reacted to the independentist claims with a mixture of discomfort and suspicion. The ethnic Portuguese of the territory, which included most of the ruling authorities, responded with increased military presence and fast-paced development projects.

A mass exile of Mozambique's political intelligentsia to neighbouring countries provided havens from which radical Mozambicans could plan actions and foment political unrest in their homeland. The formation of the Mozambican guerrilla organisation FRELIMO and the support of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Tanzania, Zambia, Egypt, Algeria and Gaddafi regime in Libya through arms and advisers, led to the outbreak of violence that was to last over a decade.

From a military standpoint, the Portuguese regular army held the upper hand during the conflict against the independentist guerrilla forces. Nonetheless, Mozambique succeeded in achieving independence on June 25, 1975, after a civil resistance movement known as the Carnation Revolution backed by portions of the military in Portugal overthrew the military dictatorship, thus ending 470 years of Portuguese colonial rule in the East African region. According to historians of the Revolution, the military coup in Portugal was in part fuelled by protests concerning the conduct of Portuguese troops in their treatment of some local Mozambican populace.[38][39] The role of the growing communist influence over the group of Portuguese military insurgents who led the Lisbon's military coup, and, on the other hand, the pressure of the international community over the direction of the Portuguese Colonial War in general, were main causes for the final outcome.[40]


Portuguese colonial rule

San hunter and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples, were the first known inhabitants of the region that is now Mozambique, followed in the 1st and 4th centuries by Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated there across the Zambezi River. In 1498, Portuguese explorers landed on the Mozambican coastline.[41] Portugal's influence in East Africa grew throughout the 16th century; she established several colonies known collectively as Portuguese East Africa. Slavery and gold became profitable for the Europeans; influence was largely exercised through individual settlers and there was no centralised administration.[42]

The location of Mozambique in southern Africa

By the 19th century, African colonialism in Africa had reached its height. Having lost control of the vast territory of Brazil in South America, the Portuguese began to focus on expanding their African outposts. This brought them into direct conflict with the British.[41] Since David Livingstone had returned to the area in 1858 in an attempt to foster trade routes, British interest in Mozambique had risen, alarming the Portuguese government. During the 19th century, much of Eastern Africa was still being brought under British control, and in order to facilitate this, Britain required several concessions from the Portuguese colony.[43]

As a result, in an attempt to avoid a naval conflict with the superior British Royal Navy, Portugal adjusted the borders of her colony and the modern borders of Mozambique were established in May 1881.[41] Control of Mozambique was left to various organisations such as the Mozambique Company, the Zambezi Company and the Niassa Company which were financed and provided with cheap labour by the British Empire to work mines and construct railways.[41]

The resisting Gaza Empire, a collection of indigenous tribes who inhabited the area that now constitutes Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was defeated in 1895,[43] and the remaining inland tribes were eventually defeated by 1902; in that same year, Portugal established Lourenço Marques as the capital.[44] In 1926, political and economic crisis in Portugal led to the establishment of the Second Republic (later to become the Estado Novo), and a revival of interest in the African colonies. Calls for self determination in Mozambique arose shortly after World War II, in light of the independence granted to many other colonies worldwide in the great wave of decolonisation.[34][42]


Portugal designated Mozambique an overseas territory in 1951 in order to show to the world that the colony had a greater autonomy. It was called the Overseas Province of Mozambique (Província Ultramarina de Moçambique). Nonetheless, Portugal still maintained strong control over its overseas province. The increasing number of newly independent African nations after World War II,[34] coupled with the ongoing mistreatment of the indigenous population, encouraged the growth of nationalist sentiments within Mozambique.[41]

A Portuguese propaganda flier, distributed from aeroplanes: "FRELIMO lied! You suffer".

Mozambique was marked by large disparities between the wealthy Portuguese and the majority of the large rural indigenous African population. Poorer whites, many of them recent immigrants, including illiterate peasants, were given preference in lower-level urban jobs, where a system of job reservation existed.[45] In the rural areas, Portuguese controlled the trading stores with which African peasants interacted.[46] Being largely illiterate and preserving their local traditions and ways of life, skilled employment opportunities and roles in administration and government were rare for these numerous tribal populations, leaving them few or no opportunities in the urban modern life. Many indigenous peoples saw their culture and tradition being overwhelmed by the alien culture of Portugal.[42] A small educated African class did emerge, but faced substantial discrimination.[47]

Vocal political dissidents opposed to Portuguese rule and claiming independence were typically forced into exile. From the mid-1920s a succession of authoritarian regimes in Portugal closed unions and left-wing opposition, both within Portugal and within its colonies, notably in the Estado Novo period (1933–1974).[47] The Portuguese government forced black Mozambican farmers to grow rice or cotton for export, providing little return with which the farmers could support themselves. Many other workers—over 250,000 by 1960—were pressured to work on coal and gold mines, in neighbouring territories, mainly in South Africa, where they comprised over 30% of black underground miners.[34][41][42][48] By 1950, only 4,353 Mozambicans out of 5,733,000 had been granted the right to vote by the Portuguese colonial government.[42] The rift between Portuguese settlers and Mozambican locals is illustrated in one way by the small number of people with mixed Portuguese and Mozambican heritage (mestiço), numbering only 31,465 in a population of 8–10 million in 1960 according to that year's census.[34]

The Mozambique Liberation Front or FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique), formally (Marxist-Leninist as of 1977 but adherent to such positions since the late 1960s,[49]) was formed in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in neighbouring Tanzania, on June 25, 1962, under the leadership of sociologist Eduardo Mondlane. It was created during a conference, by political figures who had been forced into exile,[50] by the merging of various existing nationalist groups, including the Mozambican African National Union, National African Union of Independent Mozambique and the National Democratic Union of Mozambique which had been formed two years earlier. It was only in exile that such political movements could develop, due to the strength of Portugal's grip on dissident activity within Mozambique itself.[42]

The United Nations also put pressure on Portugal to move for decolonisation. Portugal threatened to withdraw from NATO, which put a stop to this support and pressure, and the nationalist groups in Mozambique were forced to turn to help from the Soviet bloc.[34]

Support from the Soviet Union

During the Cold War, and particularly in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China adopted a strategy of destabilisation of Western powers by disruption of their hold on African colonies.[51] Nikita Khrushchev, in particular, viewed the 'underdeveloped third of mankind' as a means to weaken the West. For the Soviets, Africa represented a chance to create a rift between western powers and their colonial assets, and create pro-communist states in Africa with which to foster future relations.[52]

Prior to the formation of FRELIMO, the Soviet position regarding the nationalist movements in Mozambique was one of confusion. There were multiple independence movements, and they had no sure knowledge that any would succeed. The nationalist groups in Mozambique, like those across Africa during the period, received training and equipment from the Soviet Union.[53]

Eduardo Mondlane's successor, future President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, acknowledged assistance from both Moscow and Peking, describing them as "the only ones who will really help us. ... They have fought armed struggles, and whatever they have learned that is relevant to Mozambique we will use."[54] Guerrillas received tuition in subversion and political warfare as well as military aid, specifically shipments of 122 mm artillery rockets in 1972,[52] with 1600 advisors from Russia, Cuba and East Germany.[55] FRELIMO adopted Marxism-Leninism at an early stage.[49]

The Soviet Union continued to support the new FRELIMO government against counterrevolution in the years after 1975. By 1981, there were 230 Soviet, close to 200 Cuban military and over 600 civilian Cuban advisers still in the country.[52][56] Cuba's involvement in Mozambique was as part of a continuing effort to export the anti-imperialist ideology of the Cuban Revolution and forge desperately needed new allies. Cuba provided support to liberation movements and leftist governments in numerous African countries, including Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Congo-Brazzaville.[57]

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