State relations between the GDR and Africa. The example of Mozambique.

Marcelino dos Santos

With the transition to national independence in 1975, the victorious FRELIMO (founded 25.06.1962) not only fought for the liberation of the Mozambican people from colonial exploitation, tribalism, racism and lawlessness. It immediately began to fight illiteracy and preserve the cultural diversity of the 32 ethnic groups. The close connection between education and culture was reflected in the creation of the “Ministry of Education and Culture” (“Ministério da Educação e Cultura”; MEC). The President of the Republic and FRELIMO leader Samora Moises Machel was aware of the great importance of this ministry for the development of the young state, so he put his wife Graça at the head of this institution.

The GDR had already shown solidarity with FRELIMO (as a broad popular front) during the time of the armed liberation struggle (beginning: 25.09.1964) and provided extensive support. This was part of the GDR’s foreign policy objective of anchoring socialism on the African continent. As early as the 1960s, the GDR was recognised by African countries. In addition to material solidarity, the GDR provided assistance in political education and training as well as in vocational and university education. The leadership of FRELIMO was deeply rooted in the people and wanted to realize the goals decided at the party congresses with the support of the GDR. For both sides, economic, political, scientific-technical and scientific-cultural cooperation meant new territory on which to gain experience. After mutual visits by Samora Machel and Erich Honecker, a treaty on friendship and cooperation between the GDR and the People’s Republic of Mozambique and a programme for long-term economic cooperation were concluded on 24 February 1979. More than 80 bilateral agreements were subsequently signed and (in part too) large agricultural and industrial projects were launched. Some 7200 experts, specialists, officials, teachers and technicians from the GDR worked in Mozambique between 1977 and 1990. From then on, the GDR supplied trucks, supported coal production in Moatize, and helped with agriculture and fishing. In 1983 alone, about 1000 GDR citizens were active as specialists in Mozambique.

The work of the GDR co-operators and their Mozambican partners took place under the conditions of a murderous gang war. The “bandidos armados” (armed gangs) were supported by South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. Gangs of the RENAMO (Resistência Nacional de Moçambique; National Mozambican Resistance) killed aid workers from the GDR. In the 1980s thousands of Mozambicans came to work in the GDR. Staßfurt opened up educational opportunities for 800 to 900 Mozambican pupils.

The GDR never saw itself as the successor of former German states in Africa. In Mozambique this was evident in its support for the liberation struggle and later in the agreements on the exchange of goods, which brought advantages for both sides. It was not least due to the GDR, the Soviet Union and Cuba that FRELIMO declared itself the avant-garde Marxist-Leninist party in 1977. In 1983, at the Berlin Karl Marx Conference, Samora Machel confirmed his agreement with the socialist ideals. However, it became increasingly difficult for the GDR to meet the country’s expectations regarding material support. In addition, Angola had to be supported in its development, as the liberation struggle was still underway in neighboring Namibia, which was directed from Angola.

The GDR’s assistance to Mozambique in the cultural and scientific field was intensive and successful. There were no separate cultural agreements. Culture was always connected in unity with educational projects.

In the MEC we designed and developed the foundations of the new education and training system (Sistema Nacional de Educaçao; SNE; enacted by law 4/83) together with our Mozambican colleagues and provided practical assistance in the training of teachers and teacher trainers. Mozambique returned the favour by sending (up to) 21,000 workers in 1989/90, which helped the young African state to obtain foreign currency and the GDR to fill the necessary vacancies in production facilities.

From 1983/84, the GDR’s involvement in Mozambique declined. Economic hardship forced the People’s Republic to approach the West and sacrifice the results of the revolutionary struggle for financial and economic support.

Even today, people in Mozambique speak with great respect of the work of the “Cooperantes d a RDA” (development aid workers of the GDR). Many of the Mozambican contract workers returned to their homeland in 1990 and testified there to a culture previously unknown to them.

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Last Updated on 2021-05-26