In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Mozambique is Number 121 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The Portuguese presence in this large territory along the east coast of Africa (also known as Portuguese East Africa) goes back to 1498, when Vasco da Gama visited Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay) and the mouth of the Zambezi River on his way to India. The soldier and explorer Francisco de Almeida established a fort at Sofala (present-day Nova Sofala) in 1505, marking the start of a continuous Portuguese presence that was to last until the independent Republic of Mozambique was declared in 1975. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. It traces the establishment of Portuguese power and early struggles with the Arabs and Turks, as well as commercial competition with the Dutch, English, and French from the 17th century onward, and rivalries with other European powers during the late-19th-century “scramble for Africa.” In the latter period, Portugal sought to link the colonies of Angola and Mozambique by asserting claim to a belt of territory across southern Africa, but it was forced to abandon these ambitions and to recognize, in the Anglo-Portuguese treaty of June 11, 1891, a British sphere of influence in central Africa. The text of this treaty, along with other documents, is provided in the appendix. The indigenous population of the colony is estimated to be 2,800,000, made up of a large number of ethnic and linguistic groups. The study emphasizes the great potential wealth of the colony—in agriculture, minerals, and fisheries—but notes its generally low level of development, owing in part to Portugal’s lack of capital and administrative capacity.

Last updated: March 24, 2015