The Mozambican Civil War between May 30, 1977, and October 4, 1992, in the southern African country of Mozambique, a 15-year conflict.

Although clearly an internal civil war, the conflict was, in fact, a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union backed the Mozambican government while the United States supported the insurgents. The war occurred just two years after Mozambique officially gained its independence from Portugal.

The major warring sides were the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) led by President Samora Machel and which controlled the central government, and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) which was led by André Matsangaissa. According to estimates, over one million people died during the 15-year conflict in a country which in 1990 had a population of 14 million.

The background of the war can be traced back to 1976 when troops from white minority-controlled Rhodesia entered Mozambique to carry out operations against the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) which had bases in Mozambican territory. André Matsangaissa, an ex-FRELIMO official who had been arrested and imprisoned was freed by the Rhodesian forces.

He joined RENAMO which was formed in 1975 as opposition to FRELIMO and quickly rose to become its leader.  When Matsangaissa was killed in 1979 after an unsuccessful attack on a Mozambican regional Centre, Afonso Dhlakama became the new leader of RENAMO.

During the civil war FRELIMO was strongest in the cities and major towns of Mozambique while RENAMO operated mainly in the countryside. FRELIMO continued fighting against the Mozambique central government even after the white minority regime in Rhodesia had been replaced by Robert Mugabe who had renamed the country Zimbabwe. Mugabe and his government now backed FRELIMO while RENAMO gained the support of Kenya and South Africa.

Raids on towns and occasionally smaller cities were carried out by RENAMO. To expand the size of its troops RENAMO forcefully recruited civilians into its arm, including child solders after mass abductions. A system called Gamdira had been imposed by RENAMO. It was a system in which villagers were required to transport goods and ammunition, produce food, and village women were forced to be sex slaves.

As the war continued both sides began using brutal tactics including land mines. RENAMO however attempted to stall the economy and destroy confidence in the central government by mining roads, schools, and health centers.

The war continued into the 1980s with FRELIMO losing most of Mozambique’s territory although keeping control in the urban areas.  FRELIMO was supported and got aid from the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and France while RENAMO got its aid from South Africa, Kenya, and covertly from the United States.

On October 19, 1986, President Samora Machel was traveling near South Africa’s border when his plane crashed and he died. Up to this day it is still unclear how and why the plane crashed or whether RENAMO or even South Africa was responsible for the crash. Joaquim Alberto Chissano succeeded Machel as president of the country where, because of the nine-year conflict, hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans were dying from famine which was caused by both FRELIMO and RENAMO.

By 1990, neither side in the conflict seemed to be winning the war. The end of the war was in sight due to some developments outside Mozambique. South Africa was moving toward a black majority-controlled nation by 1990 and the Soviet Union had fallen. FRELIMO and RENAMO were losing their major supporters and arms suppliers. 

In 1990, Mozambique adopted a new constitution that included multiparty elections. In 1992, a peace accord was signed in Rome, Italy which allowed UN peacekeepers to enter the country. Their presence effectively ended the war. The first free elections were held in the country in 1994. Despite FRELIMO winning the majority votes, RENAMO candidates were voted for by a portion of the population.  The political rivalry continues in Mozambique but the military conflict is over.


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