Mozambique History Facts and Timeline

(Mozambique, MZ, South-East Africa)

Mozambique is a country situated on the south-easterly shoreline of Africa, where it lies alongside the Indian Ocean. Despite years of colonial rule under the Portuguese, the country has managed to stay true to its indigenous roots. African culture remains very much present here, living on through the country's music, art and cuisine.

Those more interested in the colonial history of Mozambique will still find plenty of architecture and relics scattered throughout this wonderful country. Having emerged from a devastating civil war, the country has enjoyed a more prosperous and stable past two decades.

The Middle Ages

Following the Bantu-migrations from the 1st century AD, settlers in Mozambique began to establish successful farming settlements and iron-making facilities. The later medieval cities were not particularly well-built, meaning that few ruins remain from this time in Mozambique history. These settlements included the trade ports that once lined the Swahili coast and welcomed the first Arab traders to Africa.

Portuguese Colonisation

By the decade of the 1530s, many of the Arab settlers had been displaced and the Portuguese held sway over trade on Mozambique's Swahili Coast. Portuguese sailor and explorer Bartholomew Dias landed on this stretch of the East African coast, after being the first European to sail round the tip of Africa and find a new route to India. Thus began the era of colonisation and the balance of power stayed this way for nearly 200 years.

The Portuguese took control of the Isle of Mozambique, which later became their colonial capital. Nowadays, visitors can take in the colonial architecture of 'Stone Town', as well as the traditional Swahili constructions in the 'Reed Town', located in the south of the island. The island is also home to the Church of Nossa Senhora do Baluarte, which is believed to date all the way back to 1522. Interestingly, the church is reputedly the oldest European building left standing in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. At the time, the country's capital and principal harbour was based on the island and called Sofala, although the capital is now actually part of mainland Lourenco Marques and named Maputo, being located to the far south.

After 1700, Portugal began to take more interest in colonising Brazil and Portuguese influence in Mozambique began to wane. During the next two centuries, Arabs started to return to the Swahili Coast and the Portuguese slowly left. Meanwhile, the British and the French were increasingly interested in this part of south-east Africa.

By the time of the 1900s, Portuguese administration had been farmed out to private companies and railway construction had been contracted to the British. However, this ended when contracts expired, as Portugal started to take more control of their overseas territories again.

War of Independence

During the 1960s and the 1970s, indigenous tribal members were becoming increasingly disenfranchised, citing that Mozambique's Portuguese population was favoured both economically and socially. The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (often referred to as simply FRELIMO) began a violent campaign against the Portuguese in the year of 1964. The battle for independence lasted around ten years, until a coup d'état on Portuguese home soil paved the way for FRELIMO to take control.

Around a quarter of a million Portuguese left the country in the run-up to independence in 1975. Many of them fled in fear, while others were kicked out by the new government. After the recognition of independence in 1975, all remaining Portuguese were given just 24 hours to leave the country with only a handful of belongings. With Portugal undergoing its own move to political dictatorship, there was no proper handover or transition to independent rule - the old government literally walked out. This was to have dire consequences for the history of Mozambique.


In the months following independence, it became apparent that FRELIMO lacked the necessary resources to maintain Mozambique's infrastructure to any kind of standard. As such, it aligned itself with the Soviet Union and its communist allies, such as Cuba.

The one-party state soon began to face opposition from the Mozambican National Resistance (known as RENAMO), funded by Rhodesian intelligence and South Africa's apartheid government. RENAMO launched attacks on FRELIMO's transport infrastructure, educational institutes and hospitals, as the Mozambique Civil War (1977 to 1992) escalated. It also became wrapped up in harbouring terrorist forces fighting for independence against the Rhodesian white government.

Hostilities only began to cease when RENAMO's funding dried up in 1990. This led to face-to-face talks between the two factions and the signing of the Peace Accords in October 1992, a turning point in Mozambique history. A previous low point came in 1986, however, when the then president (and staunch anti-apartheid ally) Samora Moisés Machel died in a plane crash on his way home from Zambia. The Russian technicians responsible for the plane's malfunctions accused the South African government of sabotage.

With the end of the Cold War and change to democratic 'African' rule in South Africa, peace came to this war ravaged and dirt poor nation, and Michel's widow, Graca, went on to marry Nelson Mandela. South Africans now flock to the Mozambique coast for holidays and the country is enjoying a period of prosperity once more.