FRELIMO, founded in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on June 25, 1962, is the result of a merger among three regionally based nationalist organizations—the Mozambican African National Union, the National Democratic Union of Mozambique, and the National African Union of Independent Mozambique. Eduardo Mondlane, its first president, settled its headquarters in 1963 outside of Mozambique in Dar es Salaam. His group was founded on the ideals of liberation from Portugal’s colonial power. He was assassinated in 1969 by Portuguese forces.
By 1964 FRELIMO controlled most of the northern regions of Mozambique. The war waged against the Portuguese, concurrent with the anticolonial wars in Angola and Guinea-Bissau, drew heavy economic losses for Portugal. The resulting depression in Portugal contributed to the end of fascism in the home country and aided the victory of FRELIMO over the colonial forces. Portugal and FRELIMO negotiated Mozambique’s independence, but FRELIMO’s victory in 1975 also delivered a completely bankrupt nation.
FRELIMO established a one-party state based on Marxist principles, with Samora Machel as the first president of the newly independent nation. Its Marxist and communist roots provided Mozambique with diplomatic and some military support from Cuba and the Soviet Union. The new FRELIMO government went on to fight a civil war with RENAMO—a South African– and Rhodesian-sponsored political faction. This conflict did not see a resolution until the Rome General Peace Accords were signed in 1992.
Mozambique, as inherited by FRELIMO, was rife with poverty and illiteracy. The Portuguese colonists had prohibited elementary education to the indigenous population, and upon fleeing the Portuguese dug up roadways, destroyed electrical and plumbing infrastructure, killed livestock, smashed equipment, and left the national treasury empty. In March 1976 FRELIMO closed its borders to Rhodesia.
The price of this solidarity was $600 million in lost Rhodesian revenue and punitive sanctions imposed by apartheid South Africa on independent Mozambique. Rhodesia, backed by South Africa, waged war against Mozambique and FRELIMO with increasingly harsh raids into Mozambique’s central provinces. Yet despite the continuation of war, FRELIMO, with overwhelming popular support, was able to cultivate outstanding economic growth in Mozambique by 1979. Mass literacy campaigns quickly nullified centuries of deprivation, and FRELIMO’s healthcare policies were soon lauded worldwide as an ideal for developing nations.
With Machel’s death in 1986, Joaquim Chissano began to lead both FRELIMO and Mozambique. Despite his education in the communist bloc countries, Chissano was not a hard-line Marxist and called for democratic, multiparty elections in 1994 that put an end to single-party rule. Chissano stepped down, and Armando Emilio Guebuza took over as leader of FRELIMO and Mozambique in 2005.