The indigenous hunter-gatherer occupants of Zambia began to be displaced
or absorbed by more advanced migrating tribes about 2,000 years ago. The
major waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants began in the 15th century, with
the greatest influx between the late 17th and early 19th centuries. They
came primarily from the Luba and Lunda tribes of southern Democratic Republic
of Congo and northern Angola but were joined in the 19th century by Ngoni
peoples from the south. By the latter part of that century, the various
peoples of Zambia were largely established in the areas they currently
Except for an occasional Portuguese explorer, the area lay untouched
by Europeans for centuries. After the mid-19th century, it was penetrated
by Western explorers, missionaries, and traders. David Livingstone, in
1855, was the first European to see the magnificent waterfalls on the Zambezi
River. He named the falls after Queen Victoria, and the Zambian town near
the falls is named after him.
In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, spearheading British commercial and political
interests in Central Africa, obtained a mineral rights concession from
local chiefs. In the same year, Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia
and Zimbabwe, respectively) were proclaimed a British sphere of influence.
Southern Rhodesia was annexed formally and granted self-government in 1923,
and the administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British
colonial office in 1924 as a protectorate.
In 1953, both Rhodesias were joined with Nyasaland (now Malawi) to form
the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Northern Rhodesia was the center
of much of the turmoil and crisis that characterized the federation in
its last years. At the core of the controversy were insistent African demands
for greater participation in government and European fears of losing political
A two-stage election held in October and December 1962 resulted in an
African majority in the legislative council and an uneasy coalition between
the two African nationalist parties. The council passed resolutions calling
for Northern Rhodesia's secession from the federation and demanding full
internal self-government under a new constitution and a new national assembly
based on a broader, more democratic franchise. On December 31, 1963, the
federation was dissolved, and Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of
Zambia on October 24, 1964.
At independence, despite its considerable mineral wealth, Zambia faced
major challenges. Domestically, there were few trained and educated Zambians
capable of running the government, and the economy was largely dependent
on foreign expertise. Abroad, three of its neighbors--Southern Rhodesia
and the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola--remained under white-dominated
rule. Rhodesia's white-ruled government unilaterally declared independence
in 1965. In addition, Zambia shared a border with South African-controlled
South-West Africa (now Namibia). Zambia's sympathies lay with forces opposing
colonial or white-dominated rule, particularly in Southern Rhodesia. During
the next decade, it actively supported movements such as the Union for
the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), the Zimbabwe African People's Union
(ZAPU), the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC), and the South-West
Africa People's Organization (SWAPO).
Conflicts with Rhodesia resulted in the closing of Zambia's borders
with that country and severe problems with international transport and
power supply. However, the Kariba hydroelectric station on the Zambezi
River provided sufficient capacity to satisfy the country's requirements
for electricity. A railroad to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, built
with Chinese assistance, reduced Zambian dependence on railroad lines south
to South Africa and west through an increasingly troubled Angola.
By the late 1970s, Mozambique and Angola had attained independence from
Portugal. Zimbabwe achieved independence in accordance with the 1979 Lancaster
House agreement, but Zambia's problems were not solved. Civil war in the
former Portuguese colonies generated refugees and caused continuing transportation
problems. The Benguela Railroad, which extended west through Angola, was
essentially closed to traffic from Zambia by the late 1970s. Zambia's strong
support for the ANC, which had its external headquarters in Lusaka, created
security problems as South Africa raided ANC targets in Zambia.
In the mid-1970s, the price of copper, Zambia's principal export, suffered
a severe decline worldwide. Zambia turned to foreign and international
lenders for relief, but as copper prices remained depressed, it became
increasingly difficult to service its growing debt. By the mid-1990s, despite
limited debt relief, Zambia's per capita foreign debt remained among the
highest in the world.
Zambia became a republic immediately upon attaining independence in
October 1964. The constitution promulgated on August 25, 1973, abrogated
the original 1964 constitution. The new constitution and the national elections
that followed in December 1973 were the final steps in achieving what was
called a "one-party participatory democracy."
The 1973 constitution provided for a strong president and a unicameral
National Assembly. National policy was formulated by the Central Committee
of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the sole legal party
in Zambia. The cabinet executed the central committee's policy.
In accordance with the intention to formalize UNIP supremacy in the
new system, the constitution stipulated that the sole candidate in elections
for the office of president was the person selected to be the president
of UNIP by the party's general conference. The second-ranking person in
the Zambian hierarchy was UNIP's secretary general.
In December 1990, at the end of a tumultuous year that included riots
in the capital and a coup attempt, President Kenneth Kaunda signed legislation
ending UNIP's monopoly on power. In response to growing popular demand
for multi-party democracy, and after lengthy, difficult negotiations between
the Kaunda government and opposition groups, Zambia enacted a new constitution
in August 1991. The constitution enlarged the National Assembly from 136
members to a maximum of 158 members, established an electoral commission,
and allowed for more than one presidential candidate who no longer had
to be a member of UNIP. The constitution was amended again in 1996 to set
new limits on the presidency (including a retroactive two-term limit, and
a requirement that both parents of a candidate be Zambian-born).