Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony three times the size of Great Britain
Written by Nelson Walker
On 22 May 2024

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeastern Africa, is a beautiful country three times the size of Great Britain and boasts 2500km of coastline.

It is bordered by six countries: Tanzania to the north, South Africa and Eswatini (also known as Swaziland) to the south and southwest, and Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi to the west.

Mozambique borders six other countries and the Mozambique Channel

Lake Malawi straddles the border with Malawi and the Mozambique Channel separates the country from the African island nation Madagascar to the east.

Mozambique has a tropical climate and due to its extensive coastline plays an important role in the maritime economy of the Indian Ocean with its onward connections to the Middle East and Asia.

Boat in the waters off the coast of Mozambique (photo by Deborah Varrie on Unsplash)

The country gained independence from Portugal in 1975. What ensued however was a 16-year civil war as the Marxist government (partly supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba) fought against anti-communist forces funded by South Africa and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) for control of the country.

Flag of Mozambique

The war was significantly damaging as it led to the displacement of at least four million people and potentially resulted in the death of one million more as a result of the violence, famine and disease the conflict brought about.

The civil war formally ended in 1992 and the country has since slowly recovered and begun to emerge as quite an untapped tourist destination. Cafés, bars and nightclubs help make Mozambique one of the countries with the liveliest nightlife in southern Africa. Its beautiful white sandy beaches and turquoise waters are drawing more and more tourists to Mozambique.

The capital city is Maputo located in the far south of the country while other major cities in the country primarily lie on or near the Indian Ocean coast, including Beira, Quelimane, Chimoio, Tete, Nampula and Nasala.

Mocaba, Mozambique

Most of the country’s territory stretches along the Indian Ocean coast from Cabo Delgado in the north down to Maputo in the south.

Tofo Beach, Mozambique

The climate of Mozambique is mainly tropical due to its location within the tropics and much of the coastline is subject to the regular seasonal influence of the Indian Ocean monsoon rains.

Linguistically, Portuguese, despite being the official language of Mozambique, is only spoken by a fraction of the population. It is spoken as a lingua franca (bridge language between two people who do not share a native language) by around two-fifths of Mozambique’s 31 million plus population.

Portuguese speakers are largely concentrated in the capital Mozambique and other key urban areas of the country.

Consequently, the vast majority of Mozambicans speak languages from the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language group. Within this Bantu group, Makua, Lomwe, Tsonga, Sena, Shona and Chuabo are the most widely used and spoken languages.

Mozambican man on a boat

The Bantu people settled in Mozambique about 2000 years ago, setting up the Mwenemutapa Empire in the centre and south of the country.

The country also has great linguistic and cultural variety because it shares languages spoken in neighbouring countries.

These include Swahili spoken by many East African countries, Yao with Malawi and Tanzania, Makonde with Tanzania, the Ngoni and Chewa dialects of Nyanja with Malawi and Tanzania, Shona with Zimbabwe, and Shangaan (a dialect of Tsonga) with South Africa and Eswatini.

Groups speaking European and Asian languages are largely limited to the port cities of Maputo, Beira, Quelimane, Nacala and Pemba.

Makua and Lomwe are spoken by almost half of the population and dominate northeastern Mozambique except in two areas: the coastal strip north of the Lúrio River where Swahili is typically spoken and a significant area on the Tanzanian border that is primarily inhabited by Makonde speakers.

Mozambique was governed from Goa (a region in southwestern India) until 1752 when it was brought under direct control from Lisbon. As a result lots of Indian trading communities settled in the country and their influence can still be felt today.

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