The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism

Living Edition
| Editors: Immanuel Ness, Zak Cope

Mozambique, Imperialism and

  • Joseph HanlonEmail author
Living reference work entry

Mozambique has been exploited for slaves and ivory in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: sugar, labor for the South African mines, and land in the twentieth century and energy and minerals in the twenty-first century. Independence in 1975 brought a brief window of local control, but imperialism fought a decade-long war in 1982–1992 which killed one million Mozambicans and regained control. This new control is managed through a comprador elite which has become the new wealthy oligarchs, while Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Mozambique in Southeast Africa has always been shaped by its 2470 km coastline. There were Arab traders and coastal settlements from the tenth century followed by Persian and Indian traders. Chinese explorers arrived in the fifteenth century and the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. This generated an important Mozambican trade between the coast and the interior and linked commercial farming. Portugal became dominant but did not have territorial control. Instead it increasingly traded in slaves and ivory. In 1807, Britain abolished the Atlantic slave trade, but it continued in Mozambique for another century. Between 1800 and 1850, Brazil imported 2,460,000 slaves, most of whom passed through Mozambican ports (Newitt 2017). The ivory trade in this period was over 100 tonnes per year.

At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the imperial powers divided up Africa between them. Portugal was given Mozambique and Angola, as well as the connecting territory. But the conference also agreed the “Principle of Effective Occupation” which required the colonizing power to exercise strong and effective control of its colonies. Portugal was always the weakest of the imperial powers and did even not effectively occupy Mozambique. Britain soon claimed the interior areas – now Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia – leaving Portugal with just coastal Mozambique and Angola. Portugal then leased vast tracts of land to British concession and sugar companies as a way of bringing it under occupation. Although the Berlin conference gave Britain the best land, it also left its colonies land-locked, and it was the British capital that developed colonial Mozambique’s ports and railways. Thus Mozambique was effectively a colony of two imperial powers, Britain and Portugal.

Portugal was never rich enough to develop Mozambique, so its colonization was built on people. Up to 500,000 Mozambicans worked as migrant labor on South African and Rhodesian mines and farms. Inside the country, Mozambicans had to produce cash crops or do forced labor on plantations or on construction projects. Fascist Portugal refused to do a land reform and could not create enough jobs, and instead between 1943 and 1975, Portugal sent 164,000 people to Mozambique to become peasant farmers or to take the lower-level jobs still reserved for Portuguese. Most returned “home” to Portugal at independence.

Portugal may have been poor and marginal, but in World War II, it became important by remaining neutral, in contrast to its neighboring fascist state Spain which joined the German-Italian “axis.” In 1942, the United States agreed “to respect Portuguese sovereignty in all Portuguese colonies” which was confirmed to gain Portugal’s 1949 agreement to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and to allow the Azores in the mid-Atlantic to be used as a stopping and refuelling place during the 1948–1949 airlift to Berlin, a key event in the early Cold War. Thus the United States agreed not to push for decolonization of Portugal’s African colonies, which included Mozambique. Independence and majority rule came to most of Africa, but white rule continued in Mozambique, Angola, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, and Namibia. By the early 1960s, the liberation movements in all five countries were receiving support from the then communist countries, as well as clandestine support from the Nordic states. Portuguese soldiers refused to continue to die in the colonial wars and overthrew the Portuguese government in the 1974 “Carnation Revolution.”


Mozambique came to independence in 1975 under the single liberation movement Frelimo (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) and President Samora Machel. Most Portuguese fled, frightened by Portuguese anti-communist propaganda. Businesses were abandoned overnight and sometimes smashed up before the owner departed. Key administrative posts as well as middle-level positions such as railway ticket collectors had all been reserved for Portuguese, and most Mozambicans had been limited to 4 years of primary school, although in response to the liberation war, Portugal had made major changes including ending forced labor and allowing secondary and university education for Mozambicans. Nonetheless, there were not enough educated Mozambicans to fill all the gaps; however workers took over factories, and newly named teachers took over the schools.

The new Mozambique was nominally socialist, but its image of socialism was Nordic social democracy. Frelimo tried not to interfere in economic sectors, and few companies were nationalized; old colonial companies such as Entreposto and João Ferreira dos Santos continued to operate and still do. Machel even promoted a new factory by the US company General Tire (Hanlon 2017b).

Mozambique’s neighbors were hostile. South Africa was a white-ruled “apartheid” state; the white government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) had declared independence, and Malawi although independent was allied to the white states. Although the Cold War was still on, the United States was chastened by its defeat in Vietnam in 1975, and US Presidents Gerald Ford (1974–1977) and Jimmy Carter (1977–1981) did not take strong international positions. Although South Africa invaded Angola with US support (under Ford) after its independence in 1975, neither took military action against Mozambique. However, Carter refused to continue the past practice of overlooking the human rights abuses of US allies and put pressure on South Africa and Rhodesia – which did provide a partial check on South Africa and promote the settlement of the war and then independence in Rhodesia. The nonaligned movement and the Brandt Commission were both influential, and a real change in North-South relations seemed possible in the late 1970s.

In Rhodesia the liberation war was increasing, and Mozambique imposed United Nations sanctions on Rhodesia and allowed the liberation movement ZANU to have bases in Mozambique. Rhodesia responded by some attacks into Mozambique and by creating an opposition guerrilla force, the Mozambique Resistance or Renamo. This caused some problems in the center of the country, but was not serious.

Thus independent Mozambique had a 6-year window (1975–1981) without major imperial pressure. Actions were taken to keep the economy running, to make some changes, and to look ahead to development and industrialization. The only university was closed for a year, and university students were sent into rural areas to do literacy training. Internationally, sympathetic governments and solidarity movements sent technicians to be employed by the state, not aid agencies, to support the new managers. The economy declined until 1978, but as the new managers and bureaucrats began to learn their jobs from experience, the economy picked up and by 1981 had returned to pre-independence levels.

By the end of this period, it was becoming clear that the initial emergency measures were no longer needed. Hundreds of small businesses had been abandoned at independence with workers not knowing how to run them, so state officials took over. By 1979, long before privatization was pushed by the IMF, Samora Machel said “the state does not sell needles” and handed state-run shops and small businesses to local private businesspeople – either workers who now had the skills and confidence to run their own business, or small businesspeople who now had enough trust in Frelimo and its mixed economy to take over these businesses, despite price and market controls.

Zimbabwe’s independence at the beginning of 1980 brought peace and optimism. For a year, Mozambique had a chance to dream and plan a future.

Mozambique had become a serious challenge to apartheid South Africa. It was a multiracial country with a mixed government, with a rapid spread of public health and education services, and with a growing economy. Of course, not without problems. But Frelimo and the government were popular and trusted as shown by the currency change in June 1980. Changing the currency was never a priority, and Mozambique continued to use the colonial Mozambican escudo. Then suddenly Samora Machel went onto the radio to announce a new currency, the metical, with money converted one for one over the next 3 days. Banks would be open 11 h, and government officials have been sent to the most remote areas with new banknotes. Thousands of people knew; hundreds of people were unexpectedly sent on trips to rural areas, but no one was worried, and it never leaked. At workplaces, people were told to hand in all their money to the office on Monday. A junior official then queued all day Tuesday to change everyone’s money, took all the money home, and then handed it out on Wednesday when the new currency could be used in shops. There were no reports of thefts, despite millions of dollars in banknotes moving around the streets and remote rural areas. And there was no panic – Frelimo was trusted to be doing the right thing (Hanlon 1996).

But popular, non-corrupt, multiracial socialism with health and education for all and a growing economy challenged the apartheid and imperial agendas. And in the background, change was already happening. In the newly independent Zimbabwe in early 1980, the British governor’s staff did not disband Renamo but instead allowed 1000 trained insurgents to be transferred from the Odzi base in Zimbabwe to the South African Department of Military Intelligence base at Phalaborwa (Hall and Young 1997).

Imperialism Comes Back from Its Holiday

Under President Richard Nixon (1969–1974), the United States had pushed the imperial project, backing the coup in Chile on 11 September 1973 (the first “9/11”). And it became the model for neoliberal economics. From the 1950s, the US State Department Chile Project had included training Chilean economists at the ultraconservative University of Chicago school of economics, which promoted the neoliberal package of deregulation, privatization, and extreme free market of what were called the “Chicago boys” in charge of the economy, and Chile became the test bed for these policies.

The 1973–1975 defeat in Vietnam temporarily curbed imperial ambitions. But free elections and independence in Zimbabwe in 1980 were the end of that hiatus. The 1970s ended with a new conservative and imperial agenda, built around neoliberalism and intensifying the cold war. Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1979 and Ronald Reagan president of the United States in late 1980.

When Ronald Reagan took office as US president in January 1981, he escalated the Cold War and began a massive military buildup to confront the Soviet Union. This had a dramatic impact in Southern Africa. Under a policy of “constructive engagement,” white apartheid South Africa was seen as the bulwark against “communist” governments in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Angola. A Cold War proxy war was launched in Mozambique with apartheid South Africa permitted to back Renamo. Other proxy wars were being waged in Afghanistan, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Angola.

Just 10 days after the Reagan inauguration, lorryloads of South African commandos came over the border and raided Matola, a suburb of Maputo. They killed 13 members of the African National Congress and a Portuguese electricity technician and left behind one of their own, a dead British mercenary whose helmet was painted with swastikas and the words “sieg heil.” It was clearly a very public test of US government response, and the United States did nothing to discourage similar actions. Other major commando raids included destruction of bridges carrying the main road, railway, and oil pipeline from Beira port to Zimbabwe as well as cutting the main railway bridge across the Zambezi River and destroying the oil tank farm in Beira (Hanlon 1991).

The fighting on the ground was done by Renamo, a proxy force of Mozambicans trained, supplied, and controlled by South Africa. In early 1981 the Renamo guerrillas who had been delivered to South Africa were flown by helicopter to a new base at Garagua inside Mozambique (Hall and Young 1997). By late 1981, South Africa had established Renamo bases in Manica and Sofala provinces in the center of the country. There were regular supply flights to the interior as well as seaborne landings, including by submarines. By 1982 Malawi has been pressured by South Africa to allow Renamo bases, which made cross border raids into Tete and Zambézia provinces. There were two initial goals. First, Frelimo had won popularity by a major expansion of health and education, so the first target of Renamo was to destroy schools and health posts. Second, Renamo wanted to stop transport, and this was done by making people afraid to travel. For example, buses would be stopped, and the passengers burned alive inside the bus – but a few survivors were allowed to leave first, to tell the story. The railways were attacked with rocket launchers, and lorries were ambushed. Renamo also attacked any private business, burning shops and farm machinery (Hanlon 1991, 1996).

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought dramatic change in Southern Africa. In Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa, parties backed by the United States lost elections. Mozambique’s war ended with a peace accord in 1992. But the price of the US’s proxy war was very high: one million Mozambicans died in the 1981–1992 war (8% of the population), and damage exceeded US$20 billion. And the proxy war had been effective. At the end of the war, the United Nations estimated that Renamo controlled 23% of the land, but only 6% of the population. But transport had been made almost impossible, and the economy was devastated; 3000 rural shops were closed or destroyed. And Renamo was successful in destroying social fabric: of 1200 health posts in the country, 500 were closed or destroyed (Hanlon 1996).

During the entire decade-long war, the US government was divided. The conservative Heritage Foundation wanted the United States to openly back Renamo and gained supporters in congress. The Defense Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) wanted to back Renamo and thought it could win the war. The Central Intelligence Agency opposed Renamo and thought it could not win. The White House and State Department were divided and for the most part did not want to openly back Renamo. A State Department report by Robert Gersony in 1988 said “the level of violence reported to be conducted by Renamo against civilians is extraordinarily high.” Also in 1988 US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Roy Stacey, said Renamo was carrying out “one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II” (Hanlon 1991).

The Economic Component

There was an economic component to this. In 1971 Richard Nixon ended the convertibility of the US dollar to the gold, which had the effect of making the dollar the international reserve instead of gold. That meant countries all over the world had to hold billions of dollars – these were dollars which were not being used to purchase US good and were, in effect, giant loans to the United States and thus major transfers of wealth to the United States – in part to help pay the huge cost of the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, by the late 1970s, interest rates for developing countries were negative – that is, less than the rate of inflation – and developing countries were receiving $25 bn per year in new loan money for development. Reagan pushed up US and global interest rates, and real interest rates reached 12% in 1984. Developing countries could not pay, so interest payments were simply added to the debt. In the years 1984–1993, developing countries transferred $81 billion to the rich countries, yet their long-term debt increased by $675 billion (Hanlon 2017a).

In Mozambique the war was causing major economic damage by 1982. In 1984, Mozambique defaulted on its debts – higher interest rates combined with a war damaged economy meant Mozambique could not pay. President Samora Machel toured Europe trying to obtain money, only to be told that Mozambique first had to join the IMF and World Bank – the main enforcers of the new neoliberalism. It joined in 1984. Drought combined with the war and refugees to the cities to cause food shortages, which were largely filled with aid. But to put pressure on Mozambique to “turn to the west,” food aid was withheld in 1983 and again in 1986 (Hanlon 2004).

The United States imposed an interesting additional condition – the acceptance of US NGOs. In the late 1970s, Mozambique had thousands of foreign technicians, sent by solidarity groups in Europe as well as fraternal governments like Cuba. But all worked directly for the government and reported to Mozambican department heads. Nongovernment organizations, who sent technicians that reported to the NGO and not the government, were banned. This reflected both the fear that US NGOs were linked to the security services and unwillingness to allow foreign agencies to take control of development policy. But the United States demanded that two of its NGOs, Care and World Vision, be allowed to work in Mozambique, which was allowed in 1983 and 1986.

“Shock therapy,” the sudden and dramatic change in national economic policy to turn a state-controlled economy into a free-market one, built on privatization and ending financial controls, was already being tried in Chile after the US-backed coup and was being discussed for the post-socialist countries. China’s slower and more considered reforms have already started but were not recognized in the West. So Mozambique became the first test of shock therapy in a socialist country. Through 1985–1987, while the war continued, the IMF and World Bank pushed shock therapy, while Mozambique recognized that the war-battered economy needed change but wanted to move cautiously. In late 1986, both Bank and Fund demanded major policy changes. Finally in January 1987, without consulting the Bank and Fund, the government announced its own Economic Reform Programme (PRE) which included devaluation, a freer market, reduced subsidies, and higher wages – but not at levels demanded by Bank and Fund. However, they accepted. Mozambique became the first country in the world to impose structural adjustment in time of war.

It was not enough. In 1990, with the war going on, the IMF imposed stabilization in order to cut inflation and money supply. Most important were sharp cuts to government wages. In January 1991 the civil service wage range was $31–$500 per month. Five years later it was $20–$150. A 1995 UNDP/Unicef report “Pay, Productivity and Public Service: Priorities for Recovery in SubSaharan Africa” estimated the “absolute minimum wage” for Mozambique to be $75 per month (two-thirds of civil servants were below that) and the “abject poverty line” of $50 per month, with half of civil servants including nurses and teachers below that. The result was many civil servants taking time off work to do other jobs or grow food or taking bribes. The report called for the hiring of more civil servants and paying them more in Mozambique (Hanlon 1996). The report was published, but then suppressed under pressure from the IMF, and has never appeared on the web.

With the end of the war with the 1992 cease fire, the IMF stepped up its demands and began to impose shock therapy. It wanted much higher tax payments and a sharp cut in government investment. In particular, it opposed repairs of the massive war damage because they would be inflationary. Such repairs were being paid for by aid, so it imposed an unprecedented cap on aid, actually demanding a reduction in aid (Hanlon 1996).

Creating Capitalists and Oligarchs

Agreement to accept structural adjustment during war led to a more than doubling of aid and a crash course in capitalism for Mozambicans who had run businesses, ministries, and the military but had never been capitalists. And the lesson was that capitalism is not about profit but about patronage – state assets are “privatized,” and people are given “loans” that need never be repaid entirely based on who you know and donor whim.

The first priority was privatization, and in the years 1989–1998, over 800 of the 1250 public companies were sold. Haste was the first rule. The second was that big companies such as cement, beer, and food processing be sold to foreign companies. The third was the companies should go to the nomenklatura – the Frelimo elite and their friends and family. This continued through the 1990s, with the family and close associates of President Joaquim Chissano becoming shareholders in a range of businesses. As late as 1999, the World Bank promoted a less than transparent part-privatization of part of Maputo port to a consortium involving a senior politician.

Second was providing money to the new capitalists. In 1988 the Agricultural and Rural Development Fund was set up using donor funds to give “loans” to military men and party officials, with no intention that the loans would be repaid. Donors accepted that the money was being used to buy out military people and Frelimo party officials opposed to ending the war and abandoning socialism. The World Bank’s 1989 Small and Medium Enterprise Development Project was intended to help the new owners of privatized businesses. Nearly $33 million was lent, and the World Bank’s 1998 evaluation admitted that 90% of the loans would never be repaid. The bank admitted it put “substantial pressure” on honest Mozambican bankers to bend the rules to give loans they knew could not be repaid.

This was the start of the creation of the oligarchs.

Meanwhile in early 1990s, banking was being liberalized. The governor of the Bank of Mozambique, Adriano Maleiane, was trying to clean up the two state-owned commercial banks to privatize them, preferably to foreign banks. In 1995–1996 the IMF and World Bank forced the privatization of both banks, even though Maleiane knew they were not ready. Only corrupt groups including part of the Frelimo elite would take them. They were looted for $400 mn and collapsed and handed back to the state in 2000. Four people revealing details of the corruption were murdered: a bank managing director, José Alberto de Lima Félix; a branch manager, Passarinho Fumo; António Siba-Siba Macuácua, Bank of Mozambique director of banking supervision who had been named president of one of the banks to clean up the mess; and Mozambique’s most important journalist, Carlos Cardoso. Only Cardoso’s killers were tried and killed; the others were protected.

The donor Consultative Group (CG) met in Maputo 25–26 October 2001 just 2 months after the murder of Siba-Siba Macuácua; no investigation was underway, and his efforts to collect bad debts had been stopped. Mozambique asked for $600 million in aid and was given $722 million – the extra money was enough to plug the hole in the banking system. After this, former security minister Sergio Vieira wrote that the donors recognize “the good performance of the government” and this “overrides the bank scandal and the assassinations of Siba-Siba Macuacua and Carlos Cardoso.” Not only could the new oligarchs steal, they could get away with murder.

Speaking at a Maputo press conference on 11 July 2003, IMF managing director Horst Kohler said “it is our conviction that the government, under the leadership of President Joaquim Chissano, has done a fine job in defining and implementing the fundamentals for growth and for reducing poverty.” Nothing was said about corruption and the failure to investigate the Siba-Siba murder, even after journalists raised the issue; instead Kohler called only for “deeper reform” in the financial sector.

Becoming a Mineral-Energy Exporter

At independence Mozambique was not seen as an important natural resource producer, with only limited mining. The Portuguese built the giant Cahora Bassa dam on the Zambezi River to supply cheap electricity to apartheid South Africa, but it only began operating at the time of independence in 1975. After the end of the war in 1992, the Mozal aluminum smelter opened near the capital, Maputo, in 2000. It was promoted by the IMF which said the foreign owners had been given a good deal to prove that Mozambique was open to foreign companies at the end of the socialist era. Production of a small gas field in Inhambane province began in 2004, and the gas was shipped by pipe to Sasol in South Africa. All three projects were for foreign benefit, and Mozambique gained little.

The picture changed when large amounts of coal, including high-quality coking coal, were found in Tete province around 2000. Brazilian, Australian, and Indian companies invested and coal exports began in 2012. Meanwhile gas explorations off the coast of Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique began in 2006, and by 2012, US-based Anadarko and Italian-based Eni announced huge discoveries which will make Mozambique one of the largest gas producers in Africa. Production and gas liquefaction investment will exceed $100 bn with production due to start in 2025. This transforms Mozambique into a major natural resource country.

As well as coal and gas, mining has also developed for rubies, graphite, titanium, and other minerals.

In contrast to Russia, natural resources in Mozambique are largely controlled by foreign companies, not domestic oligarchs. Even the elite is subject to the demands of imperialism as enforced by the World Bank and IMF. Local oligarchs do have interests in some mining, notably rubies, and have some shares in foreign-owned companies, but their main involvement has been in contracts to service the mineral-energy sector.

Teaching Subservience

A major increase in bilateral and multilateral aid and the opening of international non-governmental organization (INGO) offices in the late 1980s and early 1990s brought a massive change. Previously technicians and officials, including the “cooperantes” from foreign countries, worked for the government with the same wages and conditions as local staff. Now each agency and INGO had its own programs and large office and paid much higher salaries just at a time that the IMF was suppressing government salaries to below the poverty line. The impact of lack of education in the Portuguese era was still felt, and there was a shortage of skilled people. Senior Mozambicans officials became secretaries in aid agencies to earn higher salaries in dollars. Health and agricultural workers moved from government to aid projects.

The World Bank and other agencies began to notice that key ministries were being stripped of skilled staff, which made it increasingly difficult to get projects implemented. So it was decided to try to keep key people in ministries with “top-ups” – extra salary payments. All of the donors and INGOs began running seminars on their pet projects and paid per diems for those who attended. Consultancies were commissioned, usually from government staff, who often wrote the report in work time.

Not everyone could obtain these jobs, top-ups and consultancies. It required agreement with the new agenda, of transferring power away from government to the private sector and international agencies and INGOs. And it was those who seemed the most committed to the imperial agenda who were sent to Europe and the United States for conferences and training, who were promoted, and who won university scholarships. International agencies and INGOs also watched the staff they sent to Mozambique; those who were seen to support the government were accused of “going native” and recalled or did not have their contracts renewed.

The World Bank became powerful in several areas and imposed policies and projects over strong initial domestic opposition. A deputy minister and a national director were forced to be dismissed because they opposed a World Bank policy. Resistance withered.

In the 1990s, donors introduced a new form of aid, “budget support,” in which money was given directly to the government for its budget. That became between one-quarter and one-third of non-emergency aid. In exchange, the donors had “advisors” inside ministries, involved in setting and implementing policies. In some cases, these “advisors” had to be included on internal e-mail lists. At the Ministry of Planning, internal meetings were held at the nearby Café Nautilus so that discussions could be held out of hearing of the “advisors.” There was a donor budget support group which increasingly set policy. Of course, the donors had to approve the national budget before it was sent to parliament (which was not allowed changes – donor interest overrode democracy). After an incident in 2005 when the government sneaked into the budget a rural development fund opposed by donors, the budget support group added to its conditions that the group not just see and approve the budget before it went to parliament but must each draft of the national budget.

Mozambique did have a nascent domestic NGO sector – a national peasants association and a national cooperative association linked to peri-urban food producers, and a vibrant women’s association linked to the ruling party Frelimo. But the northern donors and INGOs wanted to create domestic NGOs that would be explicitly apart from government and perhaps hostile to government and would carry out northern imposed programs – on environment, HIV/AIDS, governance, gender, etc. Dozens of domestic NGOs were created and were and are dependent on foreign funding for their survival. Funding is sometimes withdrawn from domestic NGOs that become too outspoken. And the salaries are high – staff in donor-funded Mozambican NGOs earn more in dollars than would be paid for similar posts in Europe.

The broad outlines of neoliberalism are still sometimes criticized, but it is very difficult to criticize the policies of the IMF, World Bank, bilateral donors, or INGOs for fear of losing funding, perks, and protection.

Over 20 years, this created a climate of subservience. At top level the government was constantly praised for being the “best pupil,” parroting the neo-liberal rhetoric and officially introducing neo-liberal policies. In private, the real praise was for allowing the World Bank, bilateral donors, and INGOs to carry out whatever programs and projects they wanted. Health, for example, for the first 20 years was an integrated national health service. But by the 2000s, it had become a fragmented set of vertical programs run by foreign foundations and agencies.

The period since the 1992 peace agreement has slowly molded a new elite and a growing middle class whose status depends on being subservient to foreign, imperial interests. This is a comprador elite. But it is more complex, because built into this new structure is also subservience to Frelimo and deepening corruption.

Corruption and the Power of a Comprador Ruling Party

The new elite’s growth was based on corruption. The baby oligarchs were growing up based on government contracts and loans and land and mining exploration licenses – which naturally required payments to the ruling party, Frelimo. There was a tacit agreement that as long as the government said the right things and adopted the right policies, corruption would not be challenged. Indeed, in 2002, the World Bank, the United Kingdom, and Norway all had policies not to challenge corruption. World Bank policy said: “It is not the Bank’s role to identify and prosecute individual offenders, but rather to address the various aspects of policy and institutional reform that are likely to be critical in reducing corruption” (Hanlon 2004). The message is clear – the new oligarchs can steal and even kill, as long as Frelimo is seen to adopt the correct policies and reforms, even if they are never implemented.

For the elections in 1994 and subsequently, many NGOs and other agencies ran competing seminars for journalists, paying up to $100 per day. Similar competing seminars were held on gender, HIV/AIDS, and other fashionable subjects, and government staff and journalists attended just to collect the per diems. It became quite brazen with people just arriving to sign in and staying long enough to collect their envelope and, not caring to hear the same thing again, simply leaving. The agencies did not care – they also only wanted the attendance sheets to present to headquarters. Thus comprador corruption extended to the new middle class in the donor-dependent NGOs and ministries who skipped work for the day and to Mozambican and foreign staff who only wanted to tick the boxes in report to their headquarters in the United States or Europe.

And the corruption extends to projects. Relatives, friends, and lovers of NGO and donor staff are given jobs on the projects that the donors and NGOs have funded. Consultancy and evaluation contracts are only given to those Mozambicans who say that the project was good.

This develops into a dense network of patron-client relations, at all levels. The ultimate imperial patrons sit in the headquarters of international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF, and European Union, as well as those in the headquarters of bilateral government donors and INGOs. Their clients are lower-level staff, including in Mozambique, and increasingly intermediate contractors who have taken over the implementation of aid. Below them are a set of Mozambican subcontractors and facilitators – in ministries, in NGOs, or in some cases with tiny one-person “briefcase” NGOs. At each level, they are clients of those above and patrons of those below. But as with capitalism and business itself, complexity leads to less rigor and more personal intervention. And the clients become more subservient and the patrons more powerful.

The final piece of the subservience jigsaw is Frelimo, the ruling party, itself. In exchange for subservience in key places, Frelimo has been allowed to build its own patron-client relations. Contracts and jobs are dependent on having Frelimo patrons. Sometimes it is quite simple – teachers cannot stand for or work for opposition parties in elections; if they do, they are transferred to a school far away. But if they properly support the party, they are allowed to ask bribes for school places and to pass courses.

The demands of imperialism change over time. Just after the war in the 1990s, it was to covert the socialists to capitalists and create a comprador elite, as well as accepting the basic rules of neoliberalism. A decade later, Mozambique suddenly became important as a mineral-energy producer, and the demand was to give free access to transnational capital.

Mozambique’s new oligarchs often sit on Frelimo’s Political Commission, the ruling body, or the Central Committee – or they are close to those who hold those seats. They know they will be supported to build their businesses if they use their political role to allow imperial dominance. Thus they are “comprador oligarchs” – both clients and patrons. And Mozambican society is being shaped in their image, at all levels.

Mozambique is unusual in being treated both as a post-Socialist country needing “shock therapy” like Russia and Eastern Europe and also as an African developing country. The result has been the creation of what might be called “comprador oligarchs.” Their wealth comes partly from control of state assets and contracts, but, unlike Russia, not from control of the mineral-energy resources, which are instead controlled by international capital. History, a proxy war, and the aid industry have ensured that the end of colonialism did not mean the end of imperialism in Mozambique.



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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International DevelopmentLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  2. 2.Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK