Mozambique's earliest inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, often referred to as Bushmen. The land was occupied by Bantu peoples by about AD 1000. In the following centuries, trade developed with Arabs who came across the Indian Ocean to Sofala. The first Europeans in the area were the Portuguese, who began to settle and trade on the coast early in the 16th century. During the 17th century, the Portuguese competed with Arabs for the trade in slaves, gold, and ivory, and set up agricultural plantations and estates. The owners of these estates, the prazeiros, were Portuguese or of mixed African and Portuguese blood (mestiços); many had their own private armies. Mozambique was ruled as part of Goa until 1752, when it was given its own administration.
Until the late 1800s, Portuguese penetration was restricted to the coast and the Zambezi Valley. The African peoples strongly resisted further expansion, but they were ultimately subdued. By the end of the 19th century, the Portuguese had made boundary agreements with their colonial rivals, the United Kingdom and Germany, and had suppressed much of the African resistance. Authority was given to trading companies such as Mozambique Co., which forced local people to pay taxes and work on the plantations. After the Portuguese revolution of 1926, the government of Portugal took a more direct interest in Mozambique. The trading companies' influence declined, and Mozambique in 1951 became an overseas province of Portugal.
As in other Portuguese territories, African resistance to Portuguese rule grew stronger as the British and French colonies in Africa began to win their independence. Gradually, various liberation movements were formed. On 25 June 1962, these groups united to form the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and elected Eduardo C. Mondlane as its first president. The armed struggle began on 25 September 1964, when FRELIMO guerrillas trained in Algeria went into action for the first time in Cabo Delgado. By 1965, fighting had spread to Niassa, and by 1968, FRELIMO was able to open fronts in the Tete region. By that time, it claimed to control one-fifth of the country. In response, the Portuguese committed more and more troops, military supplies, and military aid funds to the territory. On 3 February 1969, Mondlane was assassinated in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the acting leader of FRELIMO, Samora Machel, became president of the organization in December 1970.
The turning point in the struggle for independence came with the Portuguese revolution of 25 April 1974. Negotiations between Portuguese and FRELIMO representatives led to the conclusion of an independence agreement in Zambia in September. Mozambique became officially independent at midnight on 24–25 June 1975, and the People's Republic of Mozambique was proclaimed in ceremonies on 25 June. Machel, who had returned to Mozambique on 24 May after 13 years in exile, became the nation's first president. He quickly affirmed Mozambique's support of the liberation movement in Rhodesia, and guerrilla activity along the Rhodesian border increased. On 3 March 1976, Mozambique closed its border with Rhodesia, severed rail and communications links, and nationalized Rhodesian-owned property. Because the transit fees paid by Rhodesia had been a major source of foreign exchange revenue, the action aggravated Mozambique's economic ills. During this period, Rhodesian forces conducted land and air raids into Mozambique to punish black nationalist guerrillas based there.
These raids ended, and the border was reopened in 1980, following the agreement that transformed Rhodesia into Zimbabwe. However, South African airmen bombed Maputo in 1981 and 1983 in retaliation for Mozambique's granting refuge to members of the African National Congress (ANC), a South African black nationalist group.
The Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), created in 1976, allegedly by Portuguese settler and business interests with white Rhodesian (Central Intelligence Organization) backing, conducted extensive guerrilla operations in Mozambique during the 1980s. With an armed strength estimated as high as 12,000, RENAMO blew up bridges and cut rail and road links and pipelines. After the loss of its Rhodesian support, RENAMO received substantial aid from South Africa and also had bases in Malawi. Voluntary support for RENAMO within Mozambique was difficult to ascertain, but there was known to be considerable disaffection with the government because of food shortages and resistance by peasants to being resettled onto communal farms. In addition to these political problems, Mozambique experienced widespread floods in 1977–78 and recurrent drought from 1979 on, especially in 1992.
On 16 March 1984, Mozambique and South Africa signed a nonaggression pact at Nkomati whereby Mozambique agreed to keep the ANC from using Mozambican territory for guerrilla attacks on South Africa, while South Africa agreed to stop supporting RENAMO. Nevertheless, South Africa continued to aid RENAMO, and as a result, in 1985 Mozambique pulled out of the commission that monitored the nonaggression pact. On 19 October 1986, President Machel and 33 others were killed when their Soviet-built jetliner crashed inside South Africa while returning to Maputo. Mozambican officials accused South Africa of employing a radio beacon to lure the craft off course to its destruction, but an international commission found that the crash was caused by negligence on the part of the Soviet crew. On 3 November 1986, FRELIMO's Central Committee elected Foreign Minister Joaquim A. Chissano president. In 1987, despite the jetliner crash and despite Mozambican claims that RENAMO and South Africa were responsible for the massacre of 386 people in a village near Inhambane, Mozambique and South Africa revived their nonaggression pact. Fighting intensified and hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans fled to Malawi and Zimbabwe.
In 1990, there was movement toward resolving the civil war. There were serious signs in the late 1980s that FRELIMO was moderating its views. At its 1989 Congress, FRELIMO formally abandoned its commitment to the primacy of Marxism-Leninism. The first peace talks in 13 years were scheduled for Blantyre, Malawi, but they broke down just before they were to open. In August, government and rebel leaders concluded three days of talks in Rome. That same month, Chissano announced that FRELIMO had agreed to allow opposition parties to compete openly and legally. Finally in November, government and RENAMO agreed to appoint the Italian government and the Catholic Church as mediators in peace talks.
It took until 4 October 1992 to sign a peace treaty ending the war, but sporadic fighting and new RENAMO demands slowed down the implementation process. Chissano and Afonso Dhlakama, RENAMO's leader, signed an agreement that called for the withdrawal of Zimbabwean and Malawian troops that had assisted government forces guarding transport routes and the regrouping of both government and RENAMO soldiers at assembly points. It called for the formation of a new national army composed of half government and half RENAMO troops. A joint commission of government and RENAMO, along with a small UN monitoring force, and other joint commissioners, the police, and intelligence services were to oversee the agreement's implementation. In addition, multi-party elections were to be held within a year.
Delays troubled the process practically from the start. RENAMO was slow to appoint its representatives to the joint commissions. The UN operation (UNOMOZ) was formally approved in December 1992, but no troops arrived until March 1993, and it was midyear before 6,000 troops were deployed. RENAMO failed to implement the provision for demobilization and all of the provisions regarding freedom of movement and political organization in areas it controlled. New RENAMO demands were put forward almost monthly, and despite direct meetings between Dhlakama and Chissano and an October 1993 visit by UN Sec. Gen. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the delays continued.
Political party activity picked up as efforts to resolve the civil war continued. By the end of 1996, 22 parties were active. In March 1993, government presented a draft electoral law to opposition parties, but not until late July was a meeting convened to discuss it. The opposition parties demanded a two-thirds majority on the National Electoral Commission. After Boutros-Ghali's visit, a compromise (10 out of 21 for the opposition parties) was agreed to. Delays also marked the effort to confine armed forces in designated areas.
Elections first scheduled for 1993 were conducted on 27–29 October 1994. On the presidential ballot, Chissano won 53.3% of the vote to Dhlakama's 33.7%. The remainder was split among 10 other contenders. On the legislative ballot, FRELIMO took 44% of the popular vote to RENAMO's 37.7%. FRELIMO has 129 seats and RENAMO, 112. The Democratic Union took nine seats. Dhlakama disputed the fairness of the vote, and the UN observers agreed that it had been less than ideal, but insisted that the announced results were sufficiently accurate. More than 2,000 international observers agreed. Chissano formed the new government on 23 December, with the entire cabinet made up of FRELIMO MPs. Early in 1996, the Chissano government announced that it would postpone municipal elections slated for later that year until 1997. In presidential and parliamentary elections held in December 1999, Chissano defeated Dhlakama by 52.29% to 47.71% while his party took 133 seats against 117 for RENAMO in the parliamentary contest.
With the return of normalcy to the war-torn country, Mozambique attempted to address the huge problem of the repatriation of the millions of refugees. By 1996, 1.6 million had returned. In 1997, Mozambique had become relatively stable, but remained mired in poverty. International investment, following structural adjustment programs initiated by the World Bank, poured in as the country engaged in a wholesale privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises on a scale unmatched anywhere in the world. In mid-2003, Mozambique was set to benefit from a $11.8 million disbursement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), following a positive review of its economic performance under the IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Over 70% of the population reportedly lives in poverty, and an estimated 13% of adults between 15–49 years old are infected with HIV. Food insecurity also remained an issue for some 600,000 people affected by cyclical droughts and flooding.
By mid-year 2003 it appeared that local elections scheduled for 28 October 2003 would be far more hotly contested than the first ones five years ago. RENAMO had reneged on its earlier position, and signed an agreement with ten smaller parties to take on FRELIMO. According to the agreement, RENAMO would field candidates in all 33 municipalities, but had to admit that smaller parties could win in some municipalities. Analysts interpreted the amount of attention devoted to the elections to mean that people were beginning to realize how important and powerful local government could be. A victory with the coalition of ten smaller parties would be the first time in Mozambique's history that the opposition could obtain real political power.