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Story of mozambique

A country colonized by an another country made poor


Mozambique was coveted by its neighbours for its riches, but above all because it was the natural outlet into the Indian Ocean for the countries of the interior. At the end of the 19th century, it found itself at the centre of a conflict of interests between the British and the Portuguese. The British had created the African Lakes Company in Nyassa in the west of Mozambique and wanted access to the sea via the valley of the Mozambique part of the Shire River to export sugar and coffee. They contested Portuguese authority, as the region had no effective colonisation. Portugal obtained the submission of several local chiefs and founded a mission. The conflict was heightened in 1889 when England created the British South Africa Company to exploit the mines of the Shona plateau but with the aim of controlling the whole of the eastern part of Africa from the Cape to Cairo. As for Portugal, it was dreaming of linking Angola with Mozambique. The British prime minister took up arms since the Portuguese presence had not materialised. Reconnaissance operations put in place by Portugal between Angola and Mozambique revived tensions and the English government threatened to occupy the island of Mozambique. The treaty signed in 1891 by a humbled Portugal and Great Britain gave Mozambique its current shape. There was no longer any question of a link with Angola and the British reclaimed the Shona plateau. The colony’s dependence on British activities grew. Portugal had to accept freedom of traffic on the rivers, which established the country’s role as an entry point. Portugal, agricultural and poor, wishing to regain its prestige following the loss of Brazil, had no human and financial means of developing a distant territory much larger than its own. Mozambique represented 3% of Portugal’s external trade, its internal trade dominated by the Indians. It was a far less important partner than Angola at the time and the mother country did not have the means of investment.

The town of Beira in 1905 – Postcard published by The Rhodesia Trading Co. Ltd. In Beira.

The town of Beira in 1905 – Postcard published by The Rhodesia Trading Co. Ltd. In Beira.


The large colonial companies


Portugal then decided to appeal to the large European companies to help develop its territory. They were called “majestatic”  Companies and were developed on the model of those already in existence in British Africa: as part of an agreement made with the State, which received a licence fee, they raised taxes and customs duties and kept order in a huge territory which they developed economically. Three large companies, formed with European funds, were created for a period of forty years in 1891-92.
The Mozambique Company controlled a territory of 135,000 km2 situated between Zimbabwe and the port of Beira. Recruiting with difficulty a fairly unenthusiastic Portuguese workforce, it struggled to exploit the territory but succeeded in exporting sugar by developing the railway line from the frontier to the port of Beira. The Zambezi Company was set up in the Zambezi Valley, recruiting from the workforce intended for the South African mines and the coffee plantations. The same was true for the Niassa Company in the north of the country, which sent workers into the sugar plantations of the Zambezi, to Mombasa to build the port and into the Katanga mines. None of them managed to develop the country, controlled by non-Portuguese investors and the profits went back to Europe without being invested in a “foreign” colony. The country found itself deprived of basic infrastructures: few schools, few clinics, few roads. Only Beira and Lourenço Marques, which became the capital in 1898, benefited from the achievement of the railway where sugar, copra, tea, sisal and cotton were exported. Before taxes were raised, most of which were paid in forced labour, the Africans fled and there were constant revolts. Initially the Portuguese settled for repressing them. In 1907, an administrative reform divided the country into civil districts in order to better manage the rural population. This new carving up of the country covered the areas coming under the State and encircled the territory with large companies, which gradually disappeared after half a century. The Portuguese government encouraged the export of raw materials, mainly cotton, which became a necessity. A limited small industry in conversion appeared after the First World War, but was not enough to retain the Mozambique workforce, which left to work in the diamond, gold or coal mines of the Transvaal.