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Atlas Mozambique

Country (long form)
Republic of Mozambique
Total Area
309,495.63 sq mi
801,590.00 sq km
19,104,696 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
Portuguese (official), indigenous dialects
40.1% total, 57.7% male, 23.3% female (1995 est.)
indigenous beliefs 50%, Christian 30%, Muslim 20%
Life Expectancy
38.34 male, 36.68 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
metical (Mt) = 100 centavos
GDP (per capita)
$1,000 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 81%, industry 6%, services 13% (1997 est.)
food, beverages, chemicals (fertilizer, soap, paints), petroleum products, textiles, cement, glass, asbestos, tobacco
cotton, cashew nuts, sugarcane, tea, cassava (tapioca), corn, rice, tropical fruits; beef, poultry
Arable Land
prawns 40%, cashews, cotton, sugar, copra, citrus, coconuts, timber (1997)
food, clothing, farm equipment, petroleum, transport equipment (1997)
Natural Resources
coal, titanium, natural gas, hydropower
Current Environmental Issues
a long civil war and recurrent drought in the hinterlands have resulted in increased migration of the population to urban and coastal areas with adverse environmental consequences; desertification; pollution of surface and coastal waters
Telephones (main lines in use)
60,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
2 (1999)

Our ancestors have been strutting around Mozambique for over 2 million years, and Homo sapiens have been settling the area for at least 100,000 years. Starting around 2000 years ago, Bantu peoples (named for their language group) began migrating into the area, bringing iron tools and weapons with them. Toward the end of the first millennium, several towns along the Mozambican coast grew into Bantu trading ports with links to other parts of Africa, the Middle East and India. The Arab influence in these ports was strong, and Swahili was the lingua franca of trade.

This is the Mozambique that greeted Vasco da Gama when he arrived in 1498. His goal was to establish supply points for Portuguese sea routes to India - a job that brought him into conflict with the resident Arab traders. A flourishing trade in gold and ivory persuaded the Portuguese to overcome such adversities. By the mid-1700s, slaves were added to the cargo. Meanwhile, the Portuguese were moving inland and colonising the country in earnest.

By the early 20th century a pattern was established in Mozambique. Rather than developing the country, the Portuguese simply rented out the available resources. This included human labour hired to neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa and Rhodesia, thus removing a large segment of the male labour force. Even more Mozambican men left the country after harsh working conditions were made worse by the rule of Fascist leader Antònio Salazar in Portugal from 1932 to 1968. Salazar introduced cash crops such as cotton and rice and required all males over 15 to work on plantations for half the year, often in chains. Accompanying the rise in cash crops was a drastic drop in food production, leading to widespread famine in the 1940s and 1950s.

To make matters worse, the Portuguese made no pretence of social investment in Mozambique. Of the few schools and hospitals that did exist, most were in the cities and reserved for Portuguese, other whites and privileged African asimilados. It all came to a head in 1960, when Portuguese soldiers opened fire on peaceful demonstrators protesting taxes, killing about 600 people. The independence movement was born.

The Mozambique Liberation Front, or Frelimo, formed in 1962. Led by Eduardo Mondlane, Frelimo sought to completely liberate the country from Portuguese rule. The war lasted over 10 years, effectively ending in 1974 when the fascist regime was overthrown. The independent Republic of Mozambique was proclaimed on 25 June 1975 - and then troubles really began.

The Portuguese pulled out virtually overnight, leaving the country in chaos: lacking skilled professionals and infrastructure, bleeding capital, the economy plummeted. Frelimo, now the governing party, turned to the Communist governments of the Soviet Union and East Germany for help.

By the early 1980s the country was nearly bankrupt. Money was worthless and shops were empty. Compounding this instability were growing tensions between Mozambique and Rhodesia and South Africa, both of which sought to destabilise Mozambique for harbouring bases of their respective independence movements. Rhodesian-trained rebels in Mozambique formed the Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo, and were eventually taken over by South Africa.

What followed has typically been described as a civil war, but some point out that Renamo was created, trained and supplied wholly by foreign agents. Renamo's aim was the wholesale destruction of Mozambique's social and communications infrastructure and the eventual overthrow of the government. The drought and famine of 1983 brought the country to its knees. Renamo attacked relief trucks and burned grain stores. Frelimo gradually yielded to the pressure and began opening up to the west, which responded with infusions of food.

Relations with South Africa had improved slightly by the late 1980s, but not until Frelimo jettisoned its Marxist ideology in 1990 was the Renamo threat abated. Both sides signed a peace treaty in 1992, officially ending hostilities.

Elections in 1994 were surprisingly smooth and fair, resulting in the election of the head of Frelimo, Joaquim Chissano, to the presidency. Mozambique has done much to rebuild itself since then, though landmines, droughts (one as recent as 1998) and cyclones have continued to plague it.

In January 2001, floods killed about 700 people, left half a million homeless and devastated the economy. Since then, cholera has been an ongoing problem. The economy remains crippled by debt - annual payments are almost twice the public health budget. Thankfully, huge natural gas reserves to be piped to South Africa are expected to pay 20000000000 over the next 25 years.