'The comprometidos': questioning the future of the past in Mozambique

April 1, 2010 to September 30, 2013
42 months

Throughout most of its short history, the Mozambican State has pursued a nation-building policy that includes the political adoption of an official history grounded on a set of public (and intensely publicized) memories of its colonial past, both recent and distant (Meneses 2007). The Mozambican State thereby seeks to eliminate or make invisible the diversity of memories generated by the complex social interactions between the colonizers and colonized over the long period of Portuguese colonialism (Santos 2002; Santos & Meneses 2006). Such silencing has never been fully accomplished and even less so in more recent years. The different perspectives of multiple organizations and individuals have allowed alternative histories and memories to surface in public opinion, albeit in a restricted and often censored way. The specific objective of this project is to comparatively examine the interrelation and dynamic interplay between, on one hand, the official history and the publicized memories of influential political leaders and, on the other, the memories of specific groups whose social and political trajectories are bound to collide drastically with the premises underlying the official history and its memories. They are ‘the comprometidos’, a sizable mass of people that were accused of having collaborated very closely with the colonial system, upon the independence of Mozambique (about 100.000 people). Their subsequent rehabilitation was obtained at the cost of erasing their past from the public sphere; as a past that was to be kept a private, silenced memory. As time went by the silence began to break, eventually finding its way to the public. The unfolding clash between these two sets of memories and its main terms is the main goal of this project. Soon after independence, Frelimo, the leading political force in the country, carried out a complex political strategy that sought to deal with the ambivalence and hybrid identities that constitute an intricate colonial legacy (Bhabha 1994). To put an end all forms of possible continuities with the colonial past, the target of this policy became those caught in ‘transition’, the ‘comprometidos’. Frelimo’s politics of memory were founded upon the idea of ‘Let us not forget the time that passed’. This strategy aimed "to transform the compromised based on presumption of guilt, repentance, punishment and re-education" (Coelho 2003: 191). In the aftermath of this political process, in the early 1980s, most of the ‘comprometidos’ were recognized as politically re-educated and accepted as full citizens. From then on the memories of this group faded into obscurity, overshadowed by the multiple political events that characterized the early 1990s in Mozambique. Since the 1992 Peace Agreement and the introduction of multiparty elections, Mozambique is often described as a country that has been on a successful journey towards reconciliation and peace. However, the silences over the dynamics of these memories of the past are enmeshed in contemporary practices and structures. Today, its aftermath, in the form of legacies of violence, is present in collective and individual memories that struggle to understand, resist or modify the legacy of the official history. In terms of methodology, the project follows two main axes: 1) a detailed analysis of the archival and documentary data gathered in libraries, archives and research institutions (Portugal and Mozambique). Particular attention will be placed upon the Mozambican media (radio, journals) covering the period under study, as well as on the films specifically focusing on the subject of the project; 2) life stories and semi-structured interviews of various social actors included in the broad category of ‘comprometidos’. Each phase of gathering memory/narratives will be followed by their interpretation, through collective hermeneutic. The team seeks to contribute theoretically to postcolonial developments in Africa by adding to scholarly debates on conflicts, memories, violence and political practices. Making distinct recollections of the past visible will help reflect upon politically informed agendas for improving cooperation for development. The team integrates 6 researchers, including 2 research assistants that will be hired. This composition reflects the project’s major concerns and orientations: it gathers researchers with distinct academic backgrounds that are strongly engaged with research on memory, culture and politics. Moreover, the PI has worked with two of the researchers (Santos & Borges Coelho) in earlier projects focused on the mechanisms of conflict resolution processes in Mozambique. The results will be presented and discussed at two major scientific events (Maputo 2011 and Coimbra 2012) and will also provide the basis for various publications (journal articles and two books) thereby contributing to the strengthening of the research ties between the institutions involved.


Website; workshop; international conference; publication of book.

Benedito Machava
Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Carolina Peixoto
Celso Braga Rosa
João Paulo Borges Coelho
Maria Paula Meneses (coord)
Silvia Rodríguez Maeso
postcolonial state, polysemic silence, identity and violence, space/memory
Funding Entity
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology