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In 40 years of self-rule Mozambique has undergone drastic political and economic changes, from a socialist one-party state and to a neoliberal democracy. The people of Mozambique have been plunged into – and survived – a civil war, political crisis and now the neoliberal appropriation with high economic growth but persistent poverty.

On 25 June 2015 Mozambique celebrated 40 years of independence. The south-east African country gained its independence in 1975 following 10 years of armed struggle (1964 – 1974) against its old colonial master, Portugal. The struggle for liberation was led by the Mozambique Liberation Front, the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO), which has been the ruling party since independence.

In four decades the country has experienced important political and economic transformation. It went from a single – party state (1975-1992) to a multiparty democracy which also coincided with its transition from a devastating civil war (1976 – 1992) to peace. Since the mid 1980’s, Mozambique has undergone yet another transition from having a centrally-planned economy into a market-driven one. Since the introduction of political and economic reforms, Mozambique has become one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has consistently grown at 7% per annum. Since the implementation of reforms Mozambique has long been regarded as the darling of donor countries, signalling that multiparty democracy and market reforms equated to economic growth and some social development.

However, recent events in Mozambique seem to have clouded its sparkling image in Africa. The ongoing military and political crisis which started in 2012 (the clash between FRELIMO and the main opposition party RENAMO), its former adversary of in the civil war, including the taking up of arms again, put a question mark behind the political stability of Mozambique. On the economic side, another question mark appeared alongside sustainability of the economic bonanza derived from the exploitation of natural resources (mining) mainly coal and gas, considering the lack of adequate infrastructure and the poor impact this has had on poverty reduction.

In this article I shed light on the political and economic evolution of Mozambique by looking at the structural political and socioeconomic challenges the country inherited in 1975 as well as at the prevailing principal ones. I try to discuss the extent to which the progress achieved (e.g. 20 years of a multiparty democratic system and economic growth) can be seen as a positive political and economic evolution. By evolution I mean the gradual process in which political and economic institutions are invented and re-invented leading to a qualitatively better democratic process (more effective and inclusive) and economic development.


At independence in 1975 the new republic inherited a challenging social, political and economic situation. Portugal itself (with Greece and Ireland) was amongst the three poorest countries in non-communist Europe. It had little to speak of without the resources and land of its colonies like Angola and Mozambique.[1] In Mozambique, the population was growing at 2.5% per annum (7.6 million in 1960 and 9.4 million in 1970).[2] The colonial education system was characterized by a poor infrastructure, shortages of qualified staff, and explicit regional and gender inequities. As a result, by 1975, nearly 95% of the country’s total population of 11 million was illiterate and less than 4% could speak Portuguese. Not more than 5% of the black population lived in around the white major towns.[3]

The health conditions of the majority of the population were also considered extremely poor. With the exception of some health programs, very few or no health services were provided by the colonial state outside the country’s major towns. Most of the existing healthcare services were provided by church groups or traditional medical practitioners.[4] Shortly after independence, only 80 of the 500 doctors remained in Mozambique. In terms of Human Development Index (HDI), in 1975, Mozambique ranked 172 out of 177 countries. Life expectancy at birth was 43.21 years.[5]

During the colonial years black Mozambicans were totally excluded from any kind of political activities. Economically, the population was almost entirely dependent on remittances from migrant workers within South Africa and Rhodesia (numbering 100 000) as well as from a plantation and settler dominated export-oriented agricultural sector, where cash crops accounted for more than 80% of the country’s foreign exchange. This context of structural economic challenges was further exacerbated by the exodus of 200 000 Portuguese who (fearing FRELIMO’S Marxist–Leninist policies) left Mozambique resulting in a dearth of capable administrators and skilled labour in almost all sectors from production to service activities. [6]

In terms of the regional politics, the newly independent Mozambique was surrounded by two white minority governments - Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa neither willing to co-exist with a socialist-oriented neighbour open to supporting independence struggles in both Rhodesia and South Africa. At the global political level, although Mozambique gained its independence in a relatively good period (characterized by the temporary weak interventionist role of the United States), this global context changed five years later in 1980 with the election of the vociferously anti-communist American president Ronald Reagan.[7]

In retrospect, colonialism had resulted in a weak state, underdeveloped infrastructure and inefficient bureaucracy, a culture of authoritarian paternalism and a limited human resource base.[8] This was aggravated by the adoption of a Marxist-Leninist one-party-state system by FRELIMO in 1977, its strategic position in Southern Africa and a neighbour as powerful, aggressive and ruthless as apartheid South Africa.[9]

This bore heavily upon Mozambique’s future until 1994 and the vestiges and consequences still impact the country’s development path today.


Although with minimal reach, Mozambique was also a battlefield of the Cold War. Less than a year after independence, the county fell into one of the most brutal civil wars of the twentieth century which lasted for 16 long years. Understanding the complexities of what pushes a country into a civil war is an onerous task. However, one cannot avoid the factors below when trying to understand Mozambique’s descent into civil war in 1976.

Some schools of thought point to FRELIMO’s socialist (then Marxist – Leninist) policies adopted just after independence as having created significant disgruntlement amongst the rural population. This stemmed mainly from northern and central Mozambique where the population felt marginalized by these policies and the manner in which they were being implemented. There was also a sense of ethnic and regional domination of the northerners and central regions by the southerners and the heavy-handed attempts by the FRELIMO government to rapidly displace existing social and economic relations they encountered without prompt and effective replacement of the colonial legacy. [10]

Regionally, the existence of majority rule in Mozambique threatened the continuity of the apartheid regimes both in South Africa and Rhodesia. These two regimes worked incessantly to destabilize Mozambique. Amongst other reasons, Ian Smith was threatened by Samora Machel’s government because Mozambique supported both the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the United Nations’ sanctions against Rhodesia.[11] The same applied to the Apartheid government because Mozambique also strongly supported the struggle against apartheid offering shelter to the African National Congress (ANC) operatives.

Globally, as mentioned above, Mozambique gained its independence in the context of the Cold War. FRELIMO’s struggle against colonialism was backed mainly by the Eastern bloc and after independence support came from the Soviet Union, Cuba and some Nordic countries. Mozambique’s alliance with the soviet bloc served as a good argument for some western governments and their pro-western allies to side with any kind of political and military opposition to FRELIMO.

It is against this domestic, regional and global background that in 1976 the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) organized some former Portuguese and FRELIMO operatives to form Mozambique National Resistance (MNR today RENAMO) to lead the struggle against FRELIMO. After the death of André Matsangaíssa in 1979, Afonso Dhlakama took over the leadership of RENAMO.

By the end of the war in 1992 the social and economic impact had reached devastating proportions. One hundred thousand people are said to have been killed in the conflict. Nearly one million indirect casualties were registered. 13% of the total country’s population (of 15 million in 1990) was forced to become war refugees and nearly 4.5 million people were internally displaced. The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated to be US$1.969 billion. This is only half of what it would have been without the impact of the war. The economic infrastructure of the country was also in tatters. 60% of all primary schools where either destroyed or closed. Roads, bridges and communication systems were extensively damaged. Furthermore, Mozambique’s debt had grown from US$2.7 billion in 1985 to US$4.7 billion in 1991 marking the country as one of the most aid dependent nations in the world. [12]


At the time of independence Mozambique was one of the world’s poorest countries. It maintained this uncomfortable status up until the end of the civil war in 1992. Nevertheless, Mozambique’s economic situation started improving with the attainment of peace, macroeconomic reforms, foreign aid and more recently with significant increases in foreign direct investment mainly in the mining sector.

Privatisation was at the core of the macroeconomic reforms. In terms of the number of privatisation transactions, until 1990 Mozambique’s privatisation programme was the largest in Africa and a decision was made to further expand and accelerate the trend in 1992. The World Bank classified Mozambique’s privatisation process as a success story, despite the disastrous impact it had on the cashew production sector in the 1990s.[13] Privatisation resulted in the creation of national oligarchic families or a national bourgeoisie. But domestically, under the new dispensation, only the “comrades” deserved entry to this group. The reason being they were [and still are"> regarded as the most patriotic, capable of defending the national sovereignty by controlling the national wealth. In this context, privatisation allowed for the rapid transformation of Mozambique from the so-called “grave of capitalism” into its actual nursery.[14] It allowed the creation of a political capitalist class in terms of its heavy dependence on the state for state capture and rent-seeking opportunities. This new dynamic brought about economic growth.

Meanwhile, in 1990 Mozambique adopted a new constitution which, coupled with the new international political and economic context (brought by the end of the Cold War and some domestic factors like drought), paved the way for the end of the war and the signature of the General Peace Agreement (GPA) on October the 4 1992.[15] The GPA also created the necessary legal and economic conditions for the transformation of the former guerrilla movement RENAMO into a political party.

Since 1994 Mozambique has undertaken periodic multiparty elections. The country organised five general elections (presidential and parliamentary). Two provincial elections and four local elections have taken place.[16] At national level the president and 250 national parliamentary members are elected. FRELIMO has won all the general elections held so far (Joaquim Chissano – 1994 and 1999; Armando Guebuza – 2004 and 2009; and now – 2014 - Filipe Jacinto Nyusi) and most of the provincial and local ones. All these electoral processes have been highly contested by the main opposition parties.


Behind FRELIMO’s apparent electoral hegemony are factors such as neopatrimonialism, electoral fraud and FRELIMO’s machinery and financial robustness. Added to these factors is a lack of financial and organizational capacity by the opposition parties.[17] Though since the 1990 constitution, there is no formal connection between state and party, FRELIMO continues to dominate all spheres state. The relationship between membership of the party and access to the state and wealth is undeniably deep, multifaceted and multilevel. Active membership or possession of FRELIMO’s membership card can ease access to a job, career advancement, promotion, business, and services. On the other hand FRELIMO’s control over the state provides it with human and material resources to run the party and its electoral machinery effectively. The opposition parties, however, struggle to provide minimal adequate oversight.[18] These factors are omnipresent in Mozambique’s democracy but played a major role during Guebuza’s term of office. His advent as FRELIMO’s candidate in 2004 and his re-election in 2009 seemed to rekindle the party’s domination formerly weakened during the Chissano’s period. Based on a politic of total marginalisation of opposition parties, he further strengthened the party apparatus and reward to faithful members.

Although, downplayed by political analysts, FRELIMO’s internal cohesion plays another important role in maintaining its electoral prowess. Amongst others, the party’s capacity to manage internal friction particularly after independence and more visibly since the 1990s includes the strategy of “one generation after another”. This strategy entails allocating and/or prioritizing access to political power and wealth within the party, state, government and economy according to established generational groups, one after another. It gives members of the so-called generations the idea that there their time will come to easily access power and wealth without having to fight for it. At present, FRELIMO recognizes the existence of three different generations (25th September, 8th March and Geração da Viragem). While Samora, Chissano and Guebuza belonged to the first generation, Nyusi is said to belong to the 8th March generation. Meanwhile, the cadres of the Geração da Viragem are in waiting.


Judging by RENAMO’s electoral performance, the years 1999 and 2014 indicated an eminent change in Mozambique’s politics. These years also coincide with the most contested electoral process and generalized political crises in Mozambique. In 1999 while it’s possible that RENAMO may have lost the elections, it’s highly probable that the party presidential candidate was a victim of extensive fraud. In the presidential election the difference between Chissano and Dhlakama was only 2.3% of the total votes. Though RENAMO vehemently rejected these results they were, however, confirmed by the Supreme Court. RENAMO demanded to appoint governors in the provinces in which the party had obtained a majority vote. This was rejected by the government and no concession was made to RENAMO. A political crisis followed. This political crisis was averted by the floods in early 2000 which diverted the national and international attention.[19]

RENAMO’s contestations against the fairness of the electoral processes came to a head in 2012 when after 20 years of apparent peace and stability it returned to armed struggle to, amongst others, demand a revision of the country’s electoral legislation which it said – and is generally accepted - to favour the ruling party. The electoral legislation was amended. Although a cease-fire agreement was signed between RENAMO and the Mozambican government, on 25 August 2014 which seems to have reduced instability, at political level instability still prevailed and was further exacerbated by the results of the 2014 general elections that RENAMO and a local civil society consortium classified as not free, unfair and unjust (fraudulent).[20] Although this time the difference in official results between the two presidential candidates was much wider (20.4%) they too were contested by RENAMO and it again demanded appointing governors where it obtained majority even if it meant using force.[21]

However, while it may seem that political crises in Mozambique are simply products of complete distrust in the electoral institutions and organisations that clearly favour the ruling party, in reality its roots are more profound. In fact, there is a general crisis of political representation exacerbated by the imposition of a system in which “the winner takes all” in a territory where there is a “country without a nation”.[22] The result of this system is a recurrent situation in which the people are governed and represented by whomever they failed to elect (e.g. Sofala, Nampula and Zambézia).


The government’s attempts to estimate poverty can be backdated to 1996/97 when 70% of the population was considered to be living below the poverty line. Between 1997 and 2003 the country experienced a significant decrease in poverty of 14% (56% in 2003). By contrast, between 2003 and 2009 poverty fell by only 4%. Meanwhile Mozambique’s GDP has been growing at a constant rate of 7% since 1994. This rate in GDP growth is considerably above the 2.5% population growth rate.[23]

While the World Bank is of the opinion that the weakened relationship between growth and poverty reduction in Mozambique is caused by the changing pattern of growth (which in the past decade was driven by capital-intensive, import-dependent sectors) for economist, João Mosca, this is a result of a narrow pattern of economic growth. The economic growth is mostly confined to the mining sector and to the areas such as services and infrastructure which are associated with the extractives. This growth pattern is relegating the agriculture sector, for example, which could have a tangible impact on poverty reduction.[24]


Mozambique has achieved considerable progress in 40 years of independence, the right of self-determination arguably being the most important gain. A crucial and relevant question is how inclusive and pro-poor are the political, social and economic decisions the country has made or is making since 1975.

Emphasis should be placed on the last twenty years, with the advent of peace, a multiparty democratic system and economic growth. Nevertheless, the state of political and economic evolution of Mozambique is reflected in its major prevailing challenges which are: the consolidation of peace, effective democracy and the transformation of economic growth into development.

The future of the country should be viewed long-term. Most of the political, economic and social challenges the country is currently experiencing derive from the normal transitions from an extremely centralized colonial administration system to a radicalised socialist system (Marxist-Leninist), and then to a radical neoliberal system (mixed with economic populism) with successively questionable policy options. All these transformations in Mozambique are part of the formation of an evolutionary process.[25]

* Fredson Guilengue works with Rosa Luxembourg Foundation Southern Africa.


[1] See: Arnold, Guy, Africa: A Modern History (Great Britain: Atlantic Books, 2005), 309.
[3] See: Arnold, Africa: A Modern History.
[4] Magnus Lindelow, “Health care demand in rural Mozambique: evidence from the 1996/97 household survey”, a discussion paper, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), February 2002, p.5. Available at:
[5] “Mozambique - Life expectancy at birth: Life expectancy at birth, female (years)”. Index Mundi. 2015. URL:
[6] Finn Tarp. “Agrarian Transformation in Mozambique” Munich. Accessed January 11, 2013. Accessed on:
[7] Following their defeat in Vietnam (1975), the Human Rights Policy of the President Jimmy Carter in the late 70’s (which affected the Apartheid in South Africa) and the “New International Economic Order” approved by the United Nations, only a year before Mozambique’s independency. See Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart. Do Bicycles Equal Development in Mozambique? (UK: James Currey, 2008), 8.
[8] Cahen, 1997 apud Pavignani and Colombo 2001. Enrico Pavignani and Alessandro Colombo “Providing health services in countries disrupted by civil wars: a comparative analysis of Mozambique and Angola 1975 – 2000”. World Health Organization, Accessed 02 July 2015, p. 27. Accessed on:
[9] Pavignani and Colombo 2001; Hanlon & Smart 2008
[10] See: Jaime Pinto, Jogos Africanos (Lisboa: Edição esfera dos livros, 2008), 215; Carrie Mannning, The Politics of Peace in Mozambique: post-conflict democratization (Westport: Praeger, 2002); Martin Meredith, The State of Africa: a history of the continent since independence (UK: Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2011).
For Hanlon and Smart (2008:8) e.g., by the end of the 1970 Frelimo “was hugely popular and widely trusted”.
[11] See: Ann Phillips, “Mozambique: A chance for Peace” Complex Operations Case Study Series, no.10 (2010): 6. Ian Douglas Smith the Prime-Minster of the South Rhodesia between 13 April 1964 to 11 November 1965. He maintained this position after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence until 1979.
[12] See: Loaft Juergensen “ The United Nations Comes to the Hinterland: Peacebuilding and Reconstruction in Mozambique” Peacebuilding and Reconstruction Programme Initiative, pp.1-39; Hanlon and Smart (2008:8);
[13] Christopher Cramer “Privatisation and adjustment in Mozambique: A 'hospital pass'?,” Journal of Southern African Studies, no. 1 (2001): 79; Margaret McMillan, Horn, Karen and Rodrick, Dani “ When Economic Reform Goes Wrong: Cashews in Mozambique,” accessed on 02 July 2015, Available on:
[14] From the third to the fourth line of the fourth strophe of Mozambique’s 1975 – 2002 national anthem read that the country would become the grave of capitalism and exploitation.
[15] This constitution finally included most of the issues RENAMO “allegedly” had been fighting for: A multiparty democracy system, freedom of organization, free and secret elections, individual basic rights and direct vote of the president.
[16] At provincial level, since 2009 Provincial Assemblies, elected at the same time that the national elections.
[17] Michel Cahen, e-mail message to author, July 02, 2015.
[18] Redacção “Faltam membros de partidos políticos para fiscalizar votação.”OPAÍS, 13 October, 2014, accessed on 03 July, 2015, URL:
[19] A demonstration organized by RENAMO to contest the electoral results 43 people died with asphyxia in a single sell in the Province of Cabo Delgado and many other were injured.
[20] One of the local NGOs’ coalitions which were observing the 2014 general election was composed by the following organizations: Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos Humanos; Fórum Mulher; Parlamento Juvenil; Fórum das Rádios Comunitárias and Centro de Integridade Púbilca.
[21] “Renamo anuncia criação de polícia e reorganização militar para forçar autarquias provinciais.”SapoNoticias. Last modified 11th June, 2015. URL:
[22] Michel Cahen, e-mail message to author, July 02, 2015.
[23] “Mozambique Overview.” The Word Bank. Last modified 16th April, 2015. URL:
[24] 40 anos de independência de Moçambique. RDP África (2015; Lisboa: estúdios centrais), audio.
[25] Mosca (2015)



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