A visual history of Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ land rights


As land tenure has been a continuous contested issue in Mozambique throughout history, protected land rights are now on top of today’s priorities in Mozambique’s concerns.

The General Peace Agreement in Mozambique, signed in October 1992 ended 17 years of civil war and 25 years of armed conflict in the country (Tanner, 2002; Van den Brink, 2008), but once again competition for land quickly became a major issue. Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned back home after the agreement was signed. Investors were encouraged mainly by the State to bring abandoned land into production again. Nevertheless, returning refugees or IDPs were likewise claiming their rights to the land, reviving land conflict in the country.

This conflict only grew when colonialera landowners returned to their abandoned farms and properties, as the country, once more, seemed appealing to them. Most of the colonial land owners had documentation supporting their claim, nonetheless they came back to find them occupied by all the IDPs. This situation paved the way for an amended Constitution and a new National Land Policy.

Under Article 109 of the Constitution (Government of Mozambique, 2007), ownership of all land in Mozambique is vested with the State, but use rights are granted to Mozambican citizens. The National Land Policy (Government of Mozambique, 1995) aims to protect Mozambican people’s land rights while promoting investment and ensuring sustainable and equitable use of natural resources for all.

One of the main aspects of this program is governing land laws and forest use that recognise customary rights held by communities and their members. This is not only important for the sake of the environment but for political stability and democracy which, since 1992, have been slowly deteriorating.

The importance of proper land management and protection in Mozambique is emphasised by the fact that agriculture accounts for around 25 percent of the country’s GDP (2016 estimate, USAID) and half of Mozambique’s land is forested.

Pre-Colonial Era

Mozambique was colonised by the Bantu people in the 5th century CE. The Bantu were farmers originating in Cameroon and Nigeria who, with their skill in metallurgy, began expanding across the continent over 2000 years ago, displacing and replacing indigenous peoples and establishing agricultural and pastoral communities.

Mozambique was previously inhabited by San hunter-gatherers for thousands of years.

By the end of the first millennium CE, the Arab trading network had extended down the coast, resulting in the development of a series of port towns that dealt in slaves, gold and ivory.

9th to 13th Centuries

Mozambique’s population began to settle in the east coast of Africa. These peoples founded warehouses on the African coast and many geographers of that time referred to an active trade with the “Sofala lands”. From the tenth century the Arab merchants who dominated the “Sofala” coasts were spreading Islam among the coastal populations, but it was only after the installation in Zanzibar of a dependent sect of the Sultanate of Oman in the seventeenth century that they began to organise small Islamic states. In the province of Nampula, in the north of Mozambique, “Xeicado de Quitangonha”, “Reino de Sancul”, “Xeicado de Sangage” and “Sultanato de Angoche” were formed.

1440 to 1450

Mozambique was a part of the empire of the Mwenemutapas dynasty, who spoke the ChiShona language. They established their capital at a site near the Zambezi River, in the north of the present province of Manica.

Colonial Era


When Vasco da Gama first landed on the coast, the Mwenemutapas Kingdom was the premier Shona state in the region but a large amount of the coast was now controlled by Arabs and many locals had converted to Islam. Da Gama was attacked and forced to flee but his arrival preceded a process of European colonisation and settlement that led to nearly five centuries of Portuguese rule.

For most of this period, Portuguese people mainly stayed in coastal areas; land in the interior was divided into large agricultural estates run mostly by Europeans. Local communities were forced to cultivate these estates and to pay taxes. 


Portugal began to send colonists, many of Indian origin, to settle in that territory. These settlers (called “Prazos”) often married the daughters of local chiefs and established lineages which, through commerce and agriculture, could become powerful.



The Gaza State, also known as the Gaza Empire in southern Mozambique, encompassed in its heyday the entire coastal area between the Zambezi and Maputo rivers and had its capital in Manjacaze, in the present Mozambican province of Gaza.


Portugal decided to grant large parcels of land from Mozambique to private companies that began to exploit the colony, the so-called majestic companies, because they had almost sovereign rights over these parcels of land and their inhabitants. The main ones were Companhia do Niassa and Companhia de Moçambique


The Portuguese shifted the administration of much of the country to a large private company, which was controlled and financed by the British. This introduced the ‘chibalo’ labor system, under which rural Mozambicans were forced to grow cotton and to sell at artificially low prices, with much of their payment being used to pay ‘hut taxes.’


The Colonial Act was published – legislation that organised the role of the State in the Portuguese colonies.

Independence and Civil War


The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) started the independence guerrilla war to try to force the Portuguese government to accept the independence of its colonies. The National Liberation Armed Struggle was officially launched on September 25, 1964.


After a decade of war, Mozambique gained its independence, but just two years later, fell into an intense civil war that lasted 16 years.

People fled the conflict, with millions becoming internally displaced or taking refuge in neighbouring countries. The governing FRELIMO party controlled all cities and district towns, huge swathes of rural areas became no-go zones, and the guerrilla movement Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) used isolated rural locations as military bases.

Post-War and new legal framework:


Mozambique adopted a new constitution that allowed for a multi-party system. The country’s name was changed from ‘People’s Republic of Mozambique’ to ‘Republic of Mozambique’. State companies are privatised. Freedom of expression and formation of political parties are constitutionally accepted.


On 4th October 1992, the General Peace Agreement was signed in Rome, Italy, between the President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, and the leader of the rebel RENAMO, Afonso Dhlakama. The Associação Rural de Ajuda Mútua (ORAM) was founded in 1992 and officially registered in in 1995. ORAM brings together farmers and people committed to the defence of the rights and interests of small-scale farmers.


This year held the first free elections monitored by the United Nations (UN) and international observers. This took place over three whole days.

FRELIMO won the elections with an absolute majority, 44 percent, and Joaquim Chissano was elected President, with 54 percent. Since then, the elections have been held regularly every 5 years.


Mozambique becomes a member of the Commonwealth. This situation paved the way for an amended Constitution and a new National Land Policy.

The National Land Policy (Government of Mozambique, 1995) aims to protect Mozambican people’s land rights while promoting investment and ensuring sustainable and equitable use of natural resources for everyone. The main focus of the Land Law was hence on tenure security, not redistribution or restitution, and the promotion of the conditions for economic investment.


The ORAM Delegation in Nampula Province (ORAM-Nampula) was created in 1996, and later expanded its interventions to the Cabo Delgado province. Since then, ORAM-Nampula has already implemented 7 Triennial Strategic Plans with various programs / projects funded by different international entities.



Under Article 109 of the Constitution (Government of Mozambique, 2007), ownership of all land in Mozambique vests with the State, but use rights are granted to Mozambican citizens.

Three types of land tenure are decreed:

-Occupation of land by a community governed under customary law (a customary DUAT);

-Occupation of land for an uninterrupted period of 10 years, as if the occupier were the owner (so-called ‘good faith’ occupation);

-Allocation of a 50year lease by the State to a private investor, after consultation with the affected local community (granted DUATs).


RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama returned to the party’s former base, Casa Banana, in Satunjira, in the Gorongosa area. This year saw several attacks by armed elements on National Highway 1, which links the south and north of the country. The government directly blamed RENAMO for this.


To end months of violence between the army and former guerrillas, President Armando Guebuza and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama signed a new pact.

Presidential elections give Philip Nyusi victory, with 57 percent of the vote. FRELIMO retained the absolute majority, but Dhlakama did not accept the results and claimed to govern the provinces in which RENAMO had won.


After extensive experience in community land registration; discussing land, mining, environment and related law; mediation and resolution of land conflicts and support in the creation and development of rural farmers’ associations, ORAM-Nampula took a very important step forward. In 2015, ORAM-Nampula began implementing a new approach called the Community Land Value Chain (Cadeia de Valor de Terras Comunitárias – CaVaTeCo).

CaVaTeCo aims to develop local institutional capacity through the creation of legalised community associations capable of representing communities and entering into partnership agreements with different public and / or private sector institutions.

The CaVaTeCo approach has proven to be very efficient and effective in that it can be adjusted for each context.


Beginning in 2016, ORAM Nampula has also managed projects in Zambezia province, in collaboration with ORAM Zambezia.

A more fully fleshed out version of the CaVaTeCo approach, funded by DFID-KPMG, was tested in Zambézia province between 2016 and 2019. This involved the training community members in their land rights under the Constitution and Land Law, establishment of community land and natural resource management associations, delimitation and formalisation of community areas, and delimitation of family and individual land.



Ossufo Momade was elected as the new leader of RENAMO and the cyclones Idai and Kenneth reached Mozambique killing circa 1.000 people.