Mozambique was one of only five Portuguese colonies on the African continent. After independence in 1975 it was ruled by the Socialist government of FRELIMO under the charismatic leader Samora Machel. The country however descended into a brutal civil war between the government and RENAMO – initially a proxy of the Rhodesia Smith regime, which aimed to destabilise its independent African neighbours by stimulating internal conflict. This war – in which RENAMO largely terrorised rural populations - lasted from 1977 to 1992 until a peace was negotiated with the aid of international assistance.
The legacy of the war and the effects of severe flooding in 2000 have left 70% of the population living under the poverty line and the country now has some of the highest infant mortality and lowest life expectancy rates in the world. It was ranked 172 (out of 175 UN member countries) on the Human Development Index, which measures standard of living based on per capita GDP, life expectancy and education. A large majority of the population remain engaged in subsistence agriculture.
Since the mid-1990s a radical liberalisation of the economy has seen high levels of foreign investment and rapid economic growth. The economy has grown at an average annual rate of 9% over the past decade. A 1997 census found over 50% of the Mozambican population were Christian and 28% Muslim. This is the legacy of both European colonisation and ancient Arab trade routes that stretched down Africa’s East Coast.