Mediators of liberation: Eastern-bloc officials, mozambican diplomacy and the origins of soviet support for Frelimo, 1958–1965

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This article draws on recently declassified archival sources in former Eastern-bloc countries to investigate the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique’s (Frelimo) international diplomacy 1958– 1965 and to examine how the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) responded to these overtures. The article begins by looking at the development of initial contact between Soviet officials and Mozambican nationalists. The middle-level Soviet officials involved had diverse personal trajectories, but many had prior experience in the international communist movement, and some had fought in the Second World War. These experiences shaped their commitment to ending colonial exploitation and their enthusiastic quest to support ‘progressive’ African nationalists. My account stresses the importance of key interlocutors in shaping initial Eastern-bloc officials’ decisions over which movements to support – emphasising in particular the mediating role played by the trusted figure of Marcelino dos Santos. Dos Santos used his connections with Eastern-bloc countries to facilitate both Frelimo’s rise over rival nationalist movements and Eduardo Mondlane’s ascendance as Frelimo leader. The Frelimo leadership’s successful pursuit of assistance from socialist countries in 1964–65 shows their capacity to leverage the Cold War to their own advantage. The article argues that the Mozambicans in this story, rather than following Moscow’s diktat, were the agents of their own emancipation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-81
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2017


  • Mozambique
  • Soviet Union
  • Cold War
  • African history

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