Bantu-speakers began to migrate into the region of Mozambique in the middle of the 1st millennium AD From 1000, Arab and Swahili traders settled along parts of the coast, notably at Sofala (near modern Beira), at Cuama (near the Zambezi estuary), and on the site of present-day Inhambane. The traders had contact with the interior, and Sofala was particularly noted as a gold- and ivory-exporting center closely linked with—and at times controlled by—Kilwa (on the coast of modern Tanzania).

In 1498, Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator en route around Africa to India, visited Quelimane and Moçambique. Between 1500 and 1502 Pedro Álvares Cabral and Sancho de Tovar, also Portuguese explorers, visited Sofala and Maputo Bay. In 1505, the Portuguese under Francisco de Almeida occupied Moçambique, and Pedro de Anhaia established a Portuguese settlement at Sofala. The Portuguese also set up trading stations N of Cabo Delgado (near the mouth of the Ruvuma), but their main influence (especially after 1600) in E Africa was in the Moçambique region.

Between 1509 and 1512 António Fernandes traveled inland and visited the Mwanamutapa kingdom, which controlled the region between the Zambezi and Save rivers and was the source of much of the gold exported at Sofala. Soon after, Swahili traders resident in Mwanamutapa began to redirect the kingdom's gold trade away from Portuguese-controlled Sofala and toward more northern ports. Thus, Portugal became interested in directly controlling the interior. In 1531, posts were established inland at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi, and in 1544 a station was founded at Quelimane.

In 1560 and 1561 Gonçalo da Silveira, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, visited Mwanamutapa, where he quickly made converts, including King Nogomo Mupunzagato. However, the Swahili traders who lived there, fearing for their commercial position, persuaded Nogomo to have Silveira murdered. Between 1569 and 1572 an army of about 1,000 Portuguese under Francisco Barreto attempted to gain control of the interior, but Barreto and most of the soldiers died of disease at Sena. In 1574, an army of 400 men under Vasco Fernandes Homen marched into the interior from Sofala, but most of the men were killed in fighting with Africans.

In the late 16th and early 17th cent. the official Portuguese presence in the interior was limited to small trading colonies along the Zambezi. At the same time Portuguese adventurers began to establish control over large estates (called prazos), which resembled feudal kingdoms. They were ruled absolutely and often ruthlessly by their owners (called prazeros); Africans were forced to work on plantations, and considerable slave-raiding was undertaken (especially after 1650). Some of the prazeros maintained private armies, and they were generally independent of the Portuguese crown to which they were theoretically subordinate.

From about 1628 the Portuguese gained increasing influence in Mwanamutapa, and they became intimately involved in the civil wars that led to the demise of that kingdom by the end of the 17th cent. Mozambique was ruled as part of Goa in India until 1752, when it was given its own administration headed by a captain-general. Although the Portuguese helped introduce several American crops (notably corn and cashew nuts) that became staples of Mozambique's agriculture, the impact of their presence on African society was mainly destructive.

From the mid-18th to the mid-19th cent. large numbers of Africans were exported as slaves, largely to the Mascarene Islands and to Brazil. In the 1820s and 1830s groups of Nguni-speaking people from S Africa invaded Mozambique; most of the Nguni continued northward into present-day Malawi and Tanzania, but one group, the Shangana, remained in S Mozambique, where they held effective control until the late 19th cent. From the mid-19th cent. to the late 1880s the mestiço Joaquim José da Cruz and his son António Nicente controlled trade along the lower Zambezi. Thus, when the scramble for African territory among the European powers began in the 1880s, the Portuguese government had only an insecure hold on Mozambique. Nevertheless, Portugal tried to increase its nominal holdings, partly in an attempt to connect by land its territory in Mozambique and in Angola (in SW Africa).

Portuguese claims in present-day Zimbabwe and Malawi were strongly opposed by the British, who in 1890 delivered an ultimatum to Portugal demanding that it withdraw from these regions. Portugal complied, and in 1891 a treaty establishing the boundaries between British and Portuguese holdings in SE Africa was negotiated. Beginning in the 1890s and ending only around 1920, the Portuguese established their authority in Mozambique by force of arms against determined African resistance. Between 1895 and 1897 the Shangana were defeated; between 1897 and 1900 the Nyanja were conquered; in 1912 the Yao were pacified; and in 1917 control was established in extreme S Mozambique. In the 1890s several private companies were founded to develop and administer most of Mozambique. In 1910 the status of the territory was changed from province to colony.

After the 1926 revolution in Portugal, the Portuguese government took a more direct interest in Mozambique. The companies lost the right to administer their regions, and at the same time the government furthered economic development by building railroads and by systematically forcing Africans to work on European-owned land. Portuguese colonial policy was based on the egalitarian theory of assimilation: if an African became assimilated to Portuguese culture (i.e., if he was fluent in Portuguese, was Christian, and had a good character), he was to be given the same legal status as a Portuguese citizen. In practice, however, very few Africans qualified for citizenship (partly because there were inadequate educational opportunities), and they were directed to work for Europeans or to grow export crops.

In 1951 the status of Mozambique was changed to overseas province in a move designed to indicate to world opinion that the territory would have increased autonomy; in a similar move in 1972, Mozambique was declared to be a self-governing state. In both instances, however, Portugal maintained firm control over the territory. Between 1961 and 1963 several laws (one of which abolished forced labor) were passed to improve the living conditions of Africans. At the same time, many African nations were becoming independent, and nationalist sentiment was growing in Mozambique.

In 1962 several nationalist groups were united to form the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), headed by Eduardo Mondlane. The Portuguese adamantly refused to give the territory independence, and in 1964 Frelimo initiated guerrilla warfare in N Mozambique. In 1969, Mondlane was assassinated in Dar es Salaam; he was succeeded by Uria Simango (1969) and by Samora Moisès Machel (1970). By the early 1970s, Frelimo (which had a force of about 7,000 guerrillas) controlled much of central and N Mozambique and was engaged in often fierce fighting with the Portuguese (who maintained an army of about 60,000 in the territory).

In 1974 the government of Portugal was overthrown by the military. The new regime (which favored self-determination for all of Portugal's colonies) made an effort to resolve the conflict in Mozambique. Talks with Frelimo resulted in a mutual cease-fire and an agreement for Mozambique to become independent in June, 1975.

In reaction to the independence agreement, a group of white rebels attempted to seize control of the Mozambique government but were quickly subdued by Portuguese and Frelimo troops. As black rule of Mozambique became a reality (with Machel as president) and as increased racial violence erupted, there was an exodus of Europeans from Mozambique. As the Portuguese left, they took their valuable skills and machinery, which had an adverse effect on the economy. Frelimo established a single-party Marxist state, nationalized all industry, and abolished private land ownership. Frelimo also instituted health and education reforms.

Mozambique became a base for the nationalist rebels of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), a move that angered Rhodesia and South Africa. In 1979, Rhodesia invaded Mozambique, destroying communications facilities, agricultural centers, and transportation lines; many civilians were killed in the attacks. After Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) obtained majority rule in 1980, the Mozambique National Resistance Movement (MNR or Renamo), a powerful dissident group financed in part by South Africa, waged guerrilla warfare against Frelimo.

In addition to the chaos created by economic and political conditions, Mozambique was foundering under the weight of a large and inefficient bureaucracy. In the 1980s, Machel cut the size of the government and began to privatize industry. In 1984, Mozambique signed a nonaggression pact (the Incomati accord) with South Africa; the terms of the pact prohibited South African support of Renamo and Mozambican support of the African National Congress. Mozambique accused South Africa of violating the accord, and fighting continued between the government and Renamo throughout the 1980s. In 1986, Machel was killed in a plane crash and succeeded by Joaquim Chissano.

In 1992, Mozambique suffered from one of the worst droughts of the century and from the widespread famine that ensued. Renamo rebels, who controlled most of the rural areas, blocked famine relief efforts. Civil war and starvation killed tens of thousands, and more than a million refugees fled the country. In 1992, Frelimo and Renamo signed an accord ending the civil war. In multiparty elections held in 1994, with the presence of UN peacekeepers, Chissano, the Frelimo candidate, won the presidency, and his party secured a slight majority in parliament.

The Chissano government had begun repudiating Marxism in the 1980s, pledging itself to develop a market-oriented economy. In the 1990s it privatized a number of state-owned companies and made progress in cutting inflation, stabilizing the currency, and stimulating economic growth, and by the end of the decade it had largely recovered from the civil war, although widespread poverty remained a problem. The Dec., 1999, elections were again won by Chissano and Frelimo, but the Renamo presidential candidate, Afonso Dhlakama, denounced the results as fraudulent and called for a recount; foreign observers, who were denied access to the final vote tabulation, expressed concerns about the vote-counting process. The supreme court denied (Jan., 2000) Dhlakama's request for a recount, stating that Renamo had failed to provide evidence of ballot fraud. In February and March, 2000, the Limpopo and Changane river valleys in S Mozambique experienced severe flooding as a result of heavy rain from a cyclone (hurricane); an estimated one million people were affected. The results of the elections led Renamo to boycott the national assembly for much of 2000, and protest demonstrations in November resulted in scattered violence in central and N Mozambique.

The presidential and legislative elections of Dec., 2004, were won by Frelimo, whose presidential candidate, Armando Guebuza, a millionaire business executive, won nearly 64% of the vote. Dhlakama and Renamo again accused Frelimo of fraud. International observers said there were widespread problems including presumed fraudulent totals in some strongly Frelimo districts but that the irregularities were not enough to have altered the overall result of the voting. The country's Constitutional Council also criticized the election commission's handling of the vote count.

Guebuza and Frelimo won the 2009 elections by even larger margins against an opposition divided between Renamo and the Mozambican Democratic Movement. Both opposition parties denounced the results and accused the ruling party of fraud. In 2013 rising tensions between the government and Renamo led to threats from Renamo leaders and attacks beginning in Apr., 2013, that were blamed on Renamo. The attacks led to military operations against Renamo in response, including an attack against Dhlakama's base in October. By Sept., 2014, however, a cease-fire was signed, and Dhlakama and Renamo participated in the October elections.

Although Frelimo won a majority of the national assembly seats, its majority was significantly reduced and both opposition parties gained seats. Filipe Nyusi, the Frelimo candidate, won the presidency, with 57% of the vote. Renamo again leveled accusations of fraud, and subsequently boycotted parliament for month in early 2015. Tensions between the government and Renamo soon revived, with Dhlakama making recurring threats to seize control of six northern and central provinces, and conflict between the two sides resumed in 2015. In late 2016 a truce, subsequently extended indefinitely, was established. Dhlakama died in 2018; his successor, Ossufo Momade, signed a permanent cease-fire in July, 2019, and a peace accord the next month. Meanwhile, an Islamic insurgency began in N Cabo Delgado prov., in the northeast, in 2017, and attacks occurred with increasing frequency in 2019 and 2020.

In Mar., 2019, a tropical cyclone devastated Beira and caused widespread flooding in central Mozambique. Some 2 million people were affected, and some 200,000 homes damaged or destroyed; several hundred were killed. In the aftermath of the storm, the affected region also experienced a cholera outbreak. A second cyclone, in April, devastated areas in N Mozambique, especially on the coast and offshore islands.

National elections in Oct., 2019, were marred irregularities and fraud, and international and local observers criticized the results. Nyusi was easily reelected, defeating Momade and receiving more than 70% of the vote, a margin that many observers questioned after Frelimo won 51% of the vote in the 2018 municipal elections. Frelimo also won majorities in provinces that historically have been Renamo strongholds, and won more than two thirds of the seats in the national assembly.

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