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About Mozambique

The earliest inhabitants of Mozambique are believed to be nomadic hunters-gatherers who traveled from the Niger River region in West Africa. They reached the area some time in the 1st century. Eventually, people settled into loosely affiliated chiefdoms. Some chiefdoms combined to form kingdoms and larger states.

Around the 10th century, traders from Arabia began to appear along the eastern coast of Africa. Trade flourished between different African communities and with the Arabic traders. As a result, more organized settlements were formed to ease trade.

In the 15th century, trading began to flourish between Africa and Europe. Reports from European explorers describe prosperous cities of learning and of culture and of gold and prosperity. The fragile relationship was quickly destroyed when the European countries began a violent race, 'The Scramble for Africa', to acquire wealth and land-the process of colonization.

The Portuguese, probably the most brutally exploitative of the colonial powers, settled the area now known as Mozambique. Beginning in the 17th century, the Portuguese attempted to strengthen their presence and control in the region by establishing internal plantations. Mozambicans were forced under duress to work on the land. Much of the culture; including religion, language, dance; of the plantation workers was absolutely lost due to the Portuguese insistence on the 'adaptation' of the locals to a Portuguese way of life. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the slave trade offered enormous profit to the colonists and to Portugal. It is estimated that as many as 2,000,000 able bodied people were sold into slavery abroad from the area of Mozambique and up to an additional one million slaves made their way through the ports of Mozambique from internal parts of Southern Africa. Beginning in the early 20th century, with the loss of the international slave trade, cheap labor became vital to the colonists. Through a mix of heavy taxation, coercion, and forced labor, the colonists achieved their goal. The resulting wealth almost entirely went to Portugal and Mozambicans became increasingly poorer.

Rather than developing the country, the Portuguese simply rented out the available resources. This included human labor hired to neighboring countries, particularly South Africa and Rhodesia, thus removing a large segment of the male labor 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. After independence, there was a 99% illiteracy rate and almost no skilled workers of any kind. 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.

In June of 1962, and armed resistance movement was formed under the name of FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique), with the primary goal of gaining independence from Portugal and the colonists. The struggle for independence lasted for over a decade. A socialist political ideology developed gradually as social welfare programs were implemented in 'liberated zones', areas where Portuguese control was eliminated.

On June 25, 1975, Mozambique won its independence and the FRELIMO party came into power. The Portuguese pulled out virtually overnight, leaving the country in chaos: lacking skilled professionals and infrastructure, bleeding capital, plummeting economy. FRELIMO, now the governing party, turned to the Soviet Union and East Germany, both Communist countries, for help. Immediate, positive changes were made, for example, investments were made in education and healthcare and support was given to the liberation movements in minority ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and in South Africa.

In return, Rhodesia and South Africa created, trained, and wholly supported the rebel force RENAMO (Mozambique National Resistance). RENAMO consisted mostly of Mozambicans unhappy with FRELIMO policies. For 17 years, the 'armed bandits', as RENAMO was often called, fought a savage war to destabilize Mozambique and to prevent it from becoming a successful, black, majority-ruled country. The overall goal was to destroy all infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, roads, and communications, and eventually overthrow the government. At the height of the war, Mozambique was considered the most dangerous place in the world for a child to live. 3 out of 5 children died before their 5th birthday. If they did survive, they were living in brutal war conditions, perhaps in a refugee camp, but almost certainly malnourished. In all, over one million people were killed and over 3 million abandoned their homes in search of safety.

In 1990, FRELIMO abandoned much of their socialist politics and a ceasefire was soon arranged between the two groups. In October 1992, a peace treaty was signed between RENAMO, now a legitimate political party, and FRELIMO. The treaty still stands today. Elections in 1994 were surprisingly smooth and fair, resulting in the election of the head of FRELIMO, Joaquim Chissano, to the presidency.

Mozambique has been praised by many as a development success story. And in many cases, it is. There has been an influx of foreign investment since 1992. Albeit from a small base, Mozambique's economy grew at an annual 10% rate in 1997-99, one of the highest growth rates in the world. However, with all of the reforms, it has very rarely been the poor who benefit, in fact, over 70% of Mozambicans live under the poverty line. During the civil war, landmines were planted and, still, Mozambicans are feeling the effects. The social implications of landmines are enormous. Landmines have been designed to maim thus leaving people unable to work and reliant on family members for support. Additionally, HIV/AIDS has and will continue to take its toll on Mozambique until a cure is found. Presently, 600 new infections occur each day in Mozambique alone. There is only one teacher for every 100 students and the number of teachers is expected to drop as more die due to HIV/AIDS. Mozambique is prone to both flooding and droughts. This year, hundreds of thousands of people are threatened with starvation due to the droughts in the north. Major flooding is again expected this year. With the flooding comes cholera and malaria, diseases that are treatable. However, most people do not have access to medical care and if they did have access there is no guarantee that they could afford any sort of treatment.

This barely even touches on the present day issues. There is a great need for change. We know that we cannot possibly change all that is wrong in Mozambique, but we can do our part.