The road not taken: Political imagination and the realm of the possible in decolonizing Mozambique

In April 1974 a coup d’état in Lisbon overthrew the Portuguese fascist regime, leading to a sudden end of Portuguese colonial rule in Africa. In Mozambique, this opened a wide space for political debate and patriotic imagination about the future independent nation both among white settlers and Africans. The capital city of Lourenço Marques became the center stage of political fervency. Urban intellectuals, both African and European, were busy elaborating visions and alternatives for the future. Between April and September 1974 more than twenty political movements emerged in the two main cities, Lourenço Marques and Beira. Most of them had few followers and lacked a formal political structure. FRELIMO viewed them as puppets of colonialism and opportunists looking to harvest the fruits of their armed struggle. Scholars have reproduced the same discourse without questioning who formed those movements; what motivated them; and how they envisioned the future independent nation. This paper attempts to reconstruct what seemed possible for the people who witnessed the end of Portuguese colonial rule in urban Mozambique. It examines what avenues the end of colonialism and the prospects of independence seemed to have opened for both colonizers and colonized. In Lourenço Marques, African and European intellectuals imagined a bright future for Mozambique, and they joined forces to fight for it during the most critical moment of decolonization. Yet, the road they imagined was not taken. FRELIMO’s exclusivist project closed down all the multiple avenues that the fall of colonialism seemed to have opened and which animated the most democratic phase in Mozambique’s history.

About the Author

Benedito Machava is a History Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Michigan. He has done research on political e social history of contemporary Mozambique. His dissertation focuses on morality, repression, citizenship and nation building in socialist Mozambique. He is a junior faculty at the History Department, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Maputo.


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