Colonial Railways of Mozambique: Critical and Vulnerable Infrastructure, 1880s-1930s

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In the early 1880s, Portugal began the construction of railways in its colonies. The maingoals were to reinforce Portuguese presence and increase colonial revenue. This paper aimsto analyse the transnational railways built in Mozambique, between the 1880s and the1930s, as critical infrastructure (or critical systems). I argue that the lack of railways inMozambique was the cause for deep concern and fostered a “sense of urgency” among thePortuguese authorities, as this could potentially jeopardise the Portuguese imperial project.Railways were considered critical to bolstering Portugal’s sovereignty, as well as to exploitlocal resources and attract traffic from neighbouring territories. Once built, the railwaysrevealed two major vulnerabilities: competition from South African ports and dependenceon British capital. A few episodes involving Portuguese and British agents highlightedthese vulnerabilities and motivated Portuguese policymakers to find solutions. This paperexplores these topics based on a comprehensive literature review and the use of primarysources, intended to provide a novel approach to Portuguese colonial railways
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-28
Number of pages22
JournalHoST - Journal of History of Science and Technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • critical infrastructures
  • colonialism
  • imperialism
  • scramble for Africa
  • history of technology


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