MOZAMBIQUE: A Short History of Mozambique by Malyn Newitt

While I’m trying to prioritize reading books by authors from that country about that country, I ordered Malyn Newitt’s A Short History of Mozambique – probably one of the most extensive book on Mozambique in English. I was hoping to get a grand shape of the country’s history and this book definitely delivered – from pre-colonial trade along the Indian Ocean, to the waves of Portuguese colonization, independence and civil war, and a look at the politics and economy of Mozambique today, including nuanced look at the “foreign aid trap” and the current situation as of 2017.

This history is very focused on the political structure and power shifts through Mozambique’s history, and a narrative forms about Mozambique returning to pre-independence colonial economic and political structures, especially as the colonial handoff from Portugal was abrupt and without a chance to build much in terms of lasting institutions. The importance of regional politics, instead of the ethnic, is a big factor in how Mozambique developed – the waterways and connections between the resources of the interior and the coastal ports meant that Mozambique developed more like “slices of a cake” instead of a unified north-south country. The regional divide continues today, with the capital deep in the south often seen as disconnected from the rest of the country, particularly the rural and northern parts.

The downside with this book is that, while the author is one of the foremost academics on Portuguese Africa, you can tell it was written by a white English man looking in. It’s so heavily focused on the holders and structures of power that there is very little space dedicated to the people, their voices and culture. The construction of rail between British colonies into Mozambique in takes up many more pages than the war for independence from Portugal, and quotes from other academics outnumber quotes by actual Mozambicans by a significant margin. Still, A Short History of Mozambique did give me a good view of the long curve of the country’s history, and is definitely a great starting point.

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