Mozambique is a southeastern African country that straddles the space between South Africa and Tanzania. It borders Tanzania, South Africa, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The country has a Bantu population with heritage from Arab and Portuguese trade adventures on the Indian Ocean.
Mozambique was named so by the Portuguese colonialists after the Island of Mozambique that blocks Mossuril Bay from the Mozambique Channel to the north of the country.
The channel is the waterway between Mozambique and the Island of Madagascar. It is more like Britain naming their East African colony that became Kenya as Mombasa.
Mozambique is the only country whose name makes use of all the five vowels. If Scrabble allowed names of places, Mozambique would be worth 34 points, the highest score of any other one-word country name. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan come in second place with 30 points.
It has an area of about 800 square kilometres and a population of about 31 million. The national languages are Makhuwa and Portuguese while Kiswahili is spoken along the coast. Mozambique is a low-lying country with the highest point about 2,400 metres to the west. The mean elevation is 345 metres above sea level.
The island was named after a famous Arab trader who set up a trading hub on it called Ali Musa Mbiki. The Portuguese called him Musa bin Bique which later became Mozambique. The island was inhabited by Swahilis from Kilwa Island to the south of Tanzania. Renowned explorer Vasco da Gama landed on the island in 1498 and claimed it for Portugal. They then put up a chapel there in 1522 which is the first European building in the southern hemisphere. When they were pushed out of Fort Jesus by Arabs they retreated to Mozambique Island. They made it the capital of Portuguese East Africa.
The hospital on the island could be the first modern hospital on the continent put up by the Portuguese in 1877. It is a majestic neo-classical building with a garden decorated with fountains. It was the biggest hospital south of the Sahara for many years until independent states put up modern hospitals. The hospital is a UNESCO heritage site.
The decline of the slave trade and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 led to a decline in the island’s fortunes. Ships and boats to India did not have to go around the Cape of Good Hope. The island was a popular stopover for sailors. In 1898, the Portuguese moved the capital to the south in Lourenço Marques later Maputo on the mainland. The operations on the island were later moved inland to a new harbour to the north in Nacala and it remained a tourist spot. The island is connected to the mainland by a 3.4-kilometre bridge since 1967. The island currently has 14,000 permanent inhabitants.
Mozambique’s flag has green, black, yellow and narrow white stripes, and a red triangle featuring a yellow star, a red star, an open book and a crossed hoe and rifle. It is the only country in Africa with an AK-47 rifle on its flag and one of the two in the world, the other is Guatemala. Mozambique is also one the few countries that display their communist leanings on their flag represented by the five-point red star.
Mozambique is one of two Commonwealth members without historic ties to the United Kingdom, the other one being Rwanda. Several scenes from the 2006 Oscars Award Winning movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio were shot in Mozambique.
Portugal was reluctant to relinquish its African colonies until a 1974 coup made them rethink the stand. In 1975, they granted freedom to Mozambique and their two other main colonies of Angola and Guinea Bissau. FRELIMO, Front for Liberation of Mozambique, was formed in 1962 in Tanzania and fought a guerrilla war for independence. It was led by Samora Machel who became the country’s first president.
Machel died in 1986 in a plane crash in South Africa. It was believed that the South African government was involved in his death which they denied. Frelimo crafted a single-party state and deviated from its socialist ideals which were not embraced by some of its members. This was exploited by some foreigners to instigate a civil war.
Civil war broke out in 1977 when the Zimbabwean Intelligence Unit formed the National Resistance Movement – RENAMO which fought the FRELIMO government until 1992 when a truce was reached. The civil war left Mozambique, a southern African nation, with a high number of landmines.
The rebels were backed by the West who were fighting the spread of communism in the world. Mozambique embraced multiparty politics with RENAMO as an opposition party.
A quarter of Lake Malawi lies within Mozambique where it is called Lake Niasa. Lake Malawi is the ninth-largest lake in the world by area and the fourth-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. Rivers Limpopo, Zambezi and Ruvuma are the main rivers in Mozambique and source of water for domestic and industrial use. Kahoura-Bassa, which means “finish the job”—is Africa’s fourth-largest artificial lake, situated on River Zambezi in western Mozambique.
The civil war led to the extinction of Mozambique elephants, so they began to rear the elephants again. In 2013, the last rhinos in Mozambique were killed by poachers making them extinct as well.
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2020, the country was ranked ninth-lowest in the Human Development Index in the world. In 2011, gas was discovered offshore in Mozambique. However, the gas reserves have not done much to alleviate poverty. More than half of Mozambique’s population still lives below the poverty line.