Between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from farther north and west. Swahili, and later also Arab, commercial ports existed along the coasts until the arrival of Europeans. The area was explored by Vasco da Gama in 1498 and colonized by Portugal from 1505. After over four centuries of Portuguese rule, Mozambique gained independence in 1975, becoming the People's Republic of Mozambique shortly thereafter. After only two years of independence, the country descended into an intense and protracted civil war lasting from 1977 to 1992. In 1994, Mozambique held its first multiparty elections and has remained a relatively stable presidential republic.
At the time of the song's release, the titular country of Mozambique had just emerged from a ten-year insurgency war against Portugal which led to Mozambique's independence. As a result, some left wing supporters wanted to see the song as lending support to the newly independent country. However, the lyrics of the song don't support such an interpretation, being slight and treating the country as merely a place for a romantic getaway in the sun, apart from a fleeting reference to "people living free". This angered some of Dylan's fans. Music critic Paul Williams suggests that "Mozambique" may have had its genesis in Dylan's desire to write a song about Marseilles.
The melody received more praise than the lyrics. Robert Shelton describes the tune as "playful." Authors Oliver Trager and John Nogowski both describe the melody as "great" and particularly praise the violin playing of Scarlet Rivera.