Welcome to Mozambique


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Geography and Climate

The country of Mozambique is on the eastern coast of southern Africa bordered on the east by the Indian Ocean (the Mozambique channel), on the north by Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, on the west by Zimbabwe and on the south by South Africa.  The total area the country covers is 801,590 sq. km. and the coastline is 2,470 km. long.  In comparison, the country is slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of California.

The country has a wide plain of coastal lowlands in the south and in the north the plain narrows and rises to mountains and the plateaus.  Also in the south there are many lakes, and the center of the country is dominated by the Zambezi river valley and its deltas.  Other major rivers include the Limpopo (along with the Zambezi, two of southern Africa's largest rivers), the Save and the Rovuma which forms the border with Tanzania.

Natural resources include coal, titanium, natural gas and hydropower.

The dry season in Mozambique runs from April/May to October/November and temperatures range from 24 to 27 degrees Celsius with some areas on the coast and inland cooler.  The rainy season runs from November to March with temperatures ranging from 27 to 31 degrees Celsius with areas in the north being warmer and more humid.  Average rainfall in the capital of Maputo is 750mm per year while in the rainiest parts of the country annual rainfall can be as high as 1,800-2,200mm.

The rainy seasons of 2000 and 2001 resulted in massive flooding throughout the central portion of the country.  These floods have caused displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed vast areas of cropland.  The world community has responded, although sometimes slowly, with food and medical assistance.  To see satellite photos of the magnitude of the flooding, look at this video from NASA.

What is the weather like today in Mozambique?   Follow this link for the weather.

Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  

Temp. converter: Enter a number and click outside the box
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Mozambique currently has one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.  Inflation has decreased to 1% and is one of the lowest in Africa.  The majority of the growth is taking place along the "Maputo corridor" linking Maputo with Johannesburg.

Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, employing 80% of the population.  Crops include cashews, cotton and sugar.  Fishing is also an important sector with shrimp a major export.  Because of the war however, lack of infrastructure often makes it difficult for goods to get to market.

Tourism is becoming increasingly important, with major hotels locating in the capital city of Maputo.  In the rest of the country however, tourist facilities are slow in growing.

Despite outlooks for positive growth in the future, Mozambique is still one of the poorest countries in the world and devastating floods in 2000 and 2001 have damaged the agricultural market.

Find out how much your money is worth in Mozambican meticais (pronounced meticaish; one is a metical).  Click here!

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The history of Mozambique, as in most African countries, is long and complicated.  The earliest inhabitants are believed to have been the San people.  From about 1000BC the Bantu people began migrating from west Africa to the south bringing their knowledge of farming and ironworking.   By 11 AD loosely constructed states or "kingdoms" had been formed by various tribes but there was no real organization of the people.  During this time Arabs from the north began arriving along the coast opening trade routes.  Intermarriage with the Bantu people resulted in the rise of the Swahili language and culture.

The Portuguese arrived in 1498 when Vasgo de Gama landed on Mozambique Island.  Permanent settlements and trading posts were established and by the mid 1500's the Portuguese started moving inland to consolidate their influence.  Attempts at this were unsuccessful however and their influence remained weak.

Some of the attempts made by the Portuguese to consolidate their power included establishing privately owned agricultural estates (prazos) and charter companies that were operated by private firms who held the rights to develop the land and natural resources within their boundaries.  None of these schemes was successful and in most cases the companies abused their workers and forced them to live under terrible conditions.

In the late 1800's, even after signing a treaty with Great Britain establishing the boundaries of Portuguese East Africa, the Portuguese still didn't have firm control of the country.  The north and center were under the control of the prazeiros and the charter companies.  Further fragmentation occurred when in 1899 a law was passed which divided the Mozambican population between the non-indigenous people who had full Portuguese rights and the indigenous people who were under African colonial law.  Because of the inequity of these laws a great migration to southern Africa began.  In addition, in the late 1920's the president sealed the country off from outside investment.  This further worsened conditions for Mozambicans as the few schools and hospitals that did exist were reserved for the Portuguese, whites and "assimilated" blacks.

Discontent grew and finally overflowed in June of 1960 when government troops opened fire on a group of people peacefully protesting taxes.  The "massacre at Mueda" galvanized exiles outside of the country to start working toward independence thus the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) was formed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Frelimo was plagued from the beginning with problems, but its charismatic leader, Eduardo Chivambu Mondlane, managed to provide structure for the group and a movement of armed struggle for independece was begun.  The movement moved slowly but combined with further mistakes by the Portuguese government and international pressure, in 1974, the Portuguese government agreed to hand power over to Frelimo and a transitional government.

The Portuguese government pulled out virtually overnight and left the fledgling nation with no infrastructure and few skilled professionals.  Frelimo threw themselves into forming socialist programs to improve the standard of living, however these proved to be unrealistic and by 1983 the country was nearly bankrupt.  In addition other political groups supported by South Africa and Zimbabwe were attempting to destabilize the country.

It was into this atmosphere that the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) came on the scene.  Supported initially by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and later by the apartheid government of South Africa, guerilla soldiers fought Frelimo troops for 17 years resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the relocation of 1.7 million refugees and the destruction of the country's infrastructure.  

In 1992, as a result of the fall of  SA's apartheid government, and with the help of many outside governments and agencies, Frelimo and Renamo agreed to abide by a ceasefire.  In 1994 UN-monitored elections were held and  a Frelimo-backed president was sworn in.  Since then Frelimo and Renamo have worked together to bring Mozambique into a market-economy and the subsequent growth has made Mozambique one of contemporary Africa's success stories.

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People and
Ethnic Groups

Approximately 19 million people live in Mozambique.  In the past, 80% of them lived in rural areas and 53% of those lived in the northern part of the country.  However because of flooding along the Zambezi river since 2000, there has been increased migration to the cities.  Settlement in the south is mostly along the coast and the interior is sparsely populated.

There are 16 main ethnic groups or tribes and they make up 99.66% of the population.  The main tribes are the Shangaan, Chokwe, Manyika, Sena and Makua.  The Makua who make up 25% of the population are actually a group of people made up of many different tribes and brought together under one name.  Tribes in the north and south have patrilineal systems while tribes in the interior have matrilineal systems.

The official language spoken in Mozambique is Portuguese, however outside of the cities the majority of people speak indigenous languages.  Although these are comprised of many different languages, they can be broken into three groups.

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In Mozambique, traditional medicine is an important part of the culture and traditional healers known as curandeiros are highly sought after.  Their skills are often combined with western medical practices and in rural areas they are sometimes the only medical help available.  Different healers have different powers, so it is important to choose the correct healer for the problem.   Religious healers known as profetas (spirit mediums) and feticeiros (witch doctors) are also used.

Ritual dances are also an important part of Mozambican culture.  The mapiko dance is one of the best known but its orgins are not completely understood.  It is believed to have come from male attempts to limit the power of women and to define the relationships between the sexes.  The dancer (always a man) wears a special mask decorated with hair, drawings and dyes, and wears special clothing made from five pieces of clotht hat cover every inch of his body except for his fingers and toes.  The dancer represents the spirit of a dead person and the purpose is to frighten the women and children into believing that the only people who can protect them are the men of the village.

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Faith and Values

Of the religions practiced in Mozambique, 30% are Christian based and they are found mainly in the south.  20% of Mozambicans are Muslim and they can be found mostly in the north . The remainder of the population hold indigenous beliefs and these cover a broad spectrum of religious life.  

Traditional beliefs based on the idea that all living things have a spiritual life dominate while there are also strong beliefs that the spirits of dead ancestors influence daily life.  In addition there are many sacred sites such as forests, mountains, rivers and lakes which play important religious roles.

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Flora and Fauna Because of the civil war, information regarding the flora in Mozambique is poorly documented.  More than 5,600 plant species have been recorded but the number may actually be much higher.  250 endemic species of plants are also known to exist.  The Chimanimani mountains and the Maputaland Center of Plant Diversity are considered sites of global significance for their plant biodiversity.  Much of the country is covered by woodlands and  mangrove swamps can be found along the coastline.  These swamps provide many resources for local communities including insect-resistant wood to build houses and furnishings and the swamps themselves provide erosion control and fish nurseries.

Mozambique also has a diverse fauna population however many of the larger species of mammals were killed off during the war.   Elephants at Gorongosa National Park used to number 3,000 but since the war, the number has dwindled to 120.  Buffaloes used to number 14,000 but by the end of the war, none could be found.  Some wildlife recovery has started however and two large endemic mammals that can be found in the Niassa Reserve include the blue Niassa wildebeest and the Burchell's zebra. There are also large numbers of documented reptile and amphibian species as well as a rich insect biodiversity.

Approximately 600 species of birds can be found in Mozambique including several rare and endemic species.  Efforts are underway to better document the bird populations with the Mozambique Bird Atlas Project aiming at charting the bird populations from south to north over a 10 year period.

In Mozambique's coastal waters, several species of dolphin and turtles can be found and there is also the endangered dugong which is a tropical marine mammal.  Related to the manatee, these animals can grow to 3m in length and weight up to 170kg.  Large and docile, they are hunted for their meat and fat and often become trapped in fishing nets.  Numbering 150 in the early 1990s, there are now thought to be less than 100.  Several whale species also inhabit the Mozambique coast during the winter.  

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Source: CIA World Fact Book, Lonely Planet Publications, ABC News Country Profile

Kim and Don Greene, Authors; publication date May 1 2001