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Prehistory and antiquity

The first human habitation in present-day Zambia dates back to about 200,000 years ago. Tools and worked flints bear witness to this. An important archaeological find was made in 1921, the so-called Broken Hill Man. The skull that was found was estimated to be 125,000-300,000 years old, and this Broken Hill Man is considered a distant relative of the European Neanderthal.

Approximately 17,000 years ago, bushmen or Twa roamed the Zambian savannahs. Initially they were hunters and gatherers, but later farmers settled in this area. Many rock paintings of this people have been found. The Twa of today still live in small groups as fishermen and gatherers in the swamps of the Kafue and in the vicinity of Lake Bangweulu.

Around the beginning of our era, Bantu people came from the north to Zambia. At this time, they also began to settle on a large scale. These peoples brought new agricultural and cattle-breeding techniques with them, but until the 19th century the Bantus (including the Kalomo tribe) and the Twa lived quite separately from each other. From the 15th century onwards, the hunters declined in number, because more and more farmland was needed for new immigrants.

The Bantus had tools of iron, used copper and were also meritorious potters. It has also become clear that they traded with peoples on the east coast of Africa, including Tanzania.

The Lunda-Luba Empire

Around the year 1000, new Bantu-speaking peoples entered Zambia, and between 1100 and 1200, ancestors of the Tonga tribe moved from the Great Lakes region in Central Africa to the south of Zambia, where they still live today.

In the 16th century, the Luba kingdom, which was important for this region, developed from the grasslands of Katanga in the south of the Congo Basin. A new feature of this people was that they had a strong central authority, and could therefore quite easily expand at the expense of other, often smaller peoples. A central authority also often causes internal tensions, and the Luba kingdom was no different. As a result, many tribes moved away and founded new kingdoms elsewhere, now also often with a strong central authority.

The largest of these new kingdoms became the Lunda kingdom, after which all other kingdoms were also named. These Lunda kingdoms were found in Western, Central and Northern Zambia and in Eastern Angola. These kingdoms were headed by a 'kazembe', who appointed a kind of governors and left local administration to the many village chiefs. At that time, there was also an extensive barter trade (including ivory) with Europe (including the Portuguese).

Important groups that emerged from the Lunda empires were the Lozi and the Bemba. Both the Bemba and Lozi entered present-day Zambia from the north and west (Katanga). The Bemba settled in the Northern Province and in Luapula. They were farmers, but when that did not yield enough, they became rich from the eighteenth century onwards by earning their living from cattle raids, slave trade and conquests. Under successive kings or 'chitumuku', their territory became larger and larger.

The Lozi also came to Zambia from Katanga. They settled in the flood area of the Zambezi River in the Western Province. The many floods created a fertile agricultural area that ensured a prosperous Lozi empire at that time. The Lozi also had a rigidly managed form of government, headed by a king or 'litunga' and an extensive network of chiefs who ensured that everything relating to the production of agricultural produce and cattle breeding was well managed.

Because of the Zulu wars in southern Africa, many people fled from there to the north. The Ngoni, who entered eastern Zambia, and the Kololo, who invaded the land of the Lozi, were particularly threatening.

By the end of the 19th century, Europeans had reached the point of entering Africa's mysterious interior on a large scale. In southern Africa, they found warring tribes bent on taking as much land as possible from each other. In present-day Zambia, the Bemba and the Ngoni fought each other in the north and east of the country. In the west, the Kololo and the Lozi fought each other, and the Tonga were attacked by the Ndebele in the south.

The first Europeans

The first Europeans to come into contact with the Africans in the interior were the Portuguese. They were gold seekers and also tried to link the colonies on the east and west coasts.

From about 1840, the Bemba were employed as slave traders, holding slave marches together with Arab and Portuguese traders. These slaves went to the plantations in the Portuguese colonies and to Arab sultanates. Large parts of Zambia suffered from these practices, as societies were completely disrupted.

In the mid-1850s, the British went to Zambia, among other places, in search of raw materials for their industry. Famous names from this time were the later statesman Cecil John Rhodes and the explorer David Livingstone. Livingstone spent a long time in the Lozi and Bemba areas between Victoria Falls and Lake Tanganyika. He also wanted to convert the population to Christianity and, as a declared opponent of slavery, to improve their living conditions.

Rhodes was a completely different figure, with different, mainly economic interests. He was particularly interested in the many raw materials hidden in the African soil and fully supported the British aim of gaining control of the entire African continent. To achieve this goal, he founded the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in 1889. Queen Victoria also allowed him to negotiate the administration of large parts of Africa. He succeeded in this by offering protection to endangered peoples in exchange for mining concessions. Only the Free State of Congo was 'nicked' by the Belgians in the same way. Later, the validity of the agreements concluded at the time was even questioned under English law; since 1973, copper mining has been entirely in Zambian hands.

In 1895 the entire area controlled by the BSAC was renamed Rhodesia. Until 1911, North-West Rhodesia and North-East Rhodesia were administratively separate. In 1923 Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was granted a form of self-government within the British Empire, but Northern Rhodesia was placed directly under the Ministry of Colonies in London in 1924. The colonial officials administered the country on the basis of the so-called 'indirect rule', i.e. the tribal leaders appeared to have the power, but the colonial officials exercised the actual authority and the tribal leaders were also controlled by them.

Northern Rhodesia becomes a British colony

Until 1 April 1924, the BSAC retained formal control over the protected areas. From that date onwards, Northern Rhodesia became a British colony with a governor appointed by the British government, who from 1935 was based in the new capital Lusaka. The first Legislative Council initially consisted entirely of whites; it was not until 1938 that Africans were admitted.

Until then, the local leaders and chiefs only had a say about their own people, but otherwise the British determined everything that happened in the country. In 1900, for example, a so-called 'native tax' was introduced, which meant that the poor people had no choice but to work for the whites in the mines and on the plantations in order to obtain the necessary money. These businesses were mainly located in Congo, Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

Northern Rhodesia in the early 20th century served as a labour reservoir, food producer and transit country for minerals from Katanga, an area between Zambia and the Congo Free State of the Belgians. Until 1928, the only possibility to transport ores from Katanga to the ports was via a railway line through Northern and Southern Rhodesia. Along this railway, European farmers produced their products. None of this benefited the black population and when the British government heard about the BSAC administration, Northern Rhodesia was one of the poorest colonies of the British Empire. This picture changed considerably from 1928, when copper mining (Copperbelt) started in Northern Rhodesia. Bemba men, in particular, began to work in the mines, and other ethnic groups were able to sell their products there.

The number of whites also increased noticeably, without being able to speak of a so-called 'settler economy', which did exist in South Africa and Zimbabwe. What was striking about Zambia was the high degree of urbanisation. Discrimination and a form of apartheid were also typical of the relationship between the British and Africans, even though there were more than five times as many Africans than whites until the early 1950s. Some restaurants were off limits and the best jobs were for white settlers.

The British recognised the unequal situation and wanted a federation (Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland) with internal self-government, but completely dominated by the whites. African politicians, including Harry Nkumbula, were fiercely opposed to this idea. During a study in London, he was even more inspired by Kwame Nkrumah, the later president of Ghana. When Nkumbula returned from London in 1950, he founded the African National Congress (ANC) of which the Zambian Kenneth Kaunda became the secretary-general. In April 1953, they wrote a petition to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to stop the settlers' federation plans. However, this was in vain and on 23 October 1953, the Central African Federation (Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Malawi) was launched under the leadership of Prime Minister Lord Malvern.

Under Malvern's rule, the new state immediately acquired features of an apartheid state. For example, Africans had no voting rights and there was widespread exploitation through the payment of very low wages in mining and industry. The income from copper mining in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) did not benefit the development of the indigenous population, but the white settlers in Southern Rhodesia. Southern Rhodesia thus benefited by far the most from this situation, while the other two states were economically only marginally affected. Resistance to this inevitably grew and resulted in a split within the ANC in 1958.

The party that split off called itself Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) and was led by the more radical Kenneth Kaunda.

In 1959, the party was again banned and Kaunda was imprisoned along with a number of supporters. On 9 January 1960, he was released again and ZANC was renamed the United National Independence Party (UNIP). Despite Kaunda's words of warning, the resistance became increasingly violent and he was blamed by the white Northern Rhodesians.

Zambia independent, Kaunda first president

Meanwhile, the time of resistance against the white settlers had begun in almost the whole of Africa. Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria were the first countries south of the Sahara to gain independence. In 1962, Africans in the Central African Federation were given the right to vote by the British. At the first elections, the ANC and UNIP together obtained a majority and Northern Rhodesia got a black government. An African majority government was also established in Nyasaland.

The inevitable result was that on 31 December 1963 the Federation fell apart; Northern Rhodesia was renamed Zambia and Nyasaland Malawi. In January 1964, new elections were held and the whites won only ten of the 75 seats available. On 24 October 1964, Zambia finally became independent and Kaunda became the first president. Southern Rhodesia remained a white stronghold for a long time, because it was not until 1980 that an independent Zimbabwe emerged.

The Zambian government made a very ambitious start in 1964 and was able to carry out its social and economic duties thanks to the high income from copper mining. Free education and health care were introduced, which not only improved the prosperity but also the well-being of Zambians.

Zambia: police state

At the end of the 1960s, the Kaunda government began to bring the entire economy under state control. The profits made from copper mining hardly benefited the local population and, in Kaunda's view, that was a bad thing. In 1968, the government therefore took a majority share of 51% in the copper mining industry, which was completely transferred to the Industrial Development Corporation (MINDECO). A wave of nationalisation now followed and in 1991, 80% of all economic activities were managed by the government.

Most enterprises were incorporated into the Zambia Industrial and Mining Corporation (Zimco), headed by President Kaunda himself. The official party ideology behind all these developments since 1967 had been the Zambian humanism developed by Kaunda, which sought to combine the modern phenomena of the times with the good of the old African traditions and customs.

Because of threats of war from abroad and political developments in Zambia itself, Kaunda's regime became increasingly repressive. In 1966, the United Party was founded by two Lozi parliamentarians. This party soon became popular in Barotseland, but was banned after clashes between UP and UNIP supporters.

In 1968, parliamentary elections were held again and the country's relations became clear. Harry Nkumbula's ANC won 23 seats, mainly among the Tonga in the Southern Province and among the Lozi. Kaunda's UNIP won 81 seats and had supporters mainly among the Bemba in the Copperbelt. Deputy Prime Minister Kapwepwe founded the Bemba party 'United Progressive Party' in 1971, but this party too was soon banned by Kaunda.

On 13 December 1972, a new constitution was adopted and the so-called 'Second Republic' began. Zambia became a 'Participatory Democratic One Party State' with Zambian humanism as its guiding principle. All other ideologies and parties were banned and after Kaunda declared a state of emergency in 1976, Zambia had effectively become a police state.

After 1972, UNIP completely controlled economic and social life. The party and the government ruled the country, trade unions and other interest groups were sidelined. Corruption and disappointing business results were the order of the day, but all the negativity was masked, as it were, by the profits from the copper industry, which ensured that there was economic growth year after year.

As a result of the oil crisis in the early 1970s, economic growth came to an abrupt end in 1975. Copper revenues declined rapidly, as a result of which things like free education and health care, high salaries and subsidies for food for city dwellers could no longer be paid. Zambia was forced to print money and borrow money abroad. This inevitably resulted in inflation rising to over 200% per year and the State of Zambia slowly becoming bankrupt.

The dissatisfaction among the population was of course considerable, but the turnout for the 1978 elections was still fairly high. That Kaunda's UNIP would win the elections was obvious from the start. In 1980, discontent escalated; riots and strikes dominated the streets. Kaunda responded by imprisoning several trade union leaders, including Frederick J.T. Chiluba, the president of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions.

In 1983, Kaunda was re-elected for the fifth time under still very poor economic conditions. The International Monetary Fund was willing to help Zambia with extra money, but had to promise, among other things, to stop subsidising food. As a result, food prices rose even higher and riots broke out again in the cities, becoming increasingly violent: in the Copperbelt, for example, fifteen people were killed. Kaunda decided to cancel IMF aid in 1987, but the continuing poor state of the economy led to this decision being revoked in 1989. Food prices doubled again and 25 people were killed in new riots in the capital Lusaka, among other places.

In 1990, there were two attempted coups, which admittedly failed, but it was clear to Kaunda as well that something had to be done to appease the people. In April of that year, the UNIP Congress voted against a multi-party system; in May, Kaunda announced a referendum on the subject. On 25 July, all captured coup plotters and even looters were released. Kaunda appointed a commission to rewrite the constitution. When this committee came up with the draft constitution, it was immediately heavily criticised by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), which included Frederick Chiluba. The MMD strongly objected to the fact that, even under the new constitution, the president still had far too much power in relation to parliament. Under this pressure, Kaunda agreed to a multi-party system in September 1990.

Chiluba wins presidential elections

Presidential and legislative elections were held on 31 October 1991. Chiluba was elected president and the MMD won 150 of the 250 seats in parliament, after which the Third Republic could begin. On 2 November 1991, Chiluba was sworn in as President of Zambia and in January 1992, Kaunda even resigned as party leader.

In July 1992, the Paris Club decided to cancel half of Zambia's foreign debt. In March 1993, an attempted coup was foiled; the attempt was made by, among others, Kaunda's son Maj.

Chiluba was optimistic about the political and economic health of the country, but soon had his feet firmly on the ground.

Soon, the entire Chiluba team of ministers fell apart; some left of their own accord, others were dismissed by Chiluba for, among other things, corruption. This coming and going of new ministers continued until 1996. In the meantime, despite the confusing political circumstances, the restructuring of the economy was tackled resolutely. With the help of the World Bank and the IMF, many state companies were privatised, trade with foreign countries liberalised, subsidies abolished, the government slimmed down and funds were set aside to stimulate small and medium-sized enterprises. The results were quickly visible: in October 1994, 44 state companies had already been privatised, inflation was 'only' 35% and exports of food products such as sugar, honey, gold, zinc, diamonds, cobalt and even cut flowers to the Netherlands increased. The dependence on copper decreased considerably. In 1991, 91% of the total export value consisted of copper, in 1995 this percentage had dropped to 72%.

However, the downside of the economic restructuring programme also quickly became apparent. The average income of Zambians remained very low and they were hardly able to buy enough food, which moreover had quadrupled in price in three years. Another major problem was the enormous unemployment rate. Between 1991 and 1995, more than 70,000 jobs disappeared in the government and privatised companies alone. Most people were forced to earn an income in the informal sector (street trading, prostitution, domestic work). Farmers in rural areas could only provide for themselves.

Kaunda returns to politics

In this difficult time, former President Kaunda re-emerged on the political scene, was re-elected leader of his party in July 1995 and from then on was diametrically opposed to Chiluba. Through a clever constitutional amendment, Chiluba and the MMD managed to keep Kaunda out of the race for the presidency. This amendment meant that a president could not serve more than two terms in office, effectively excluding Kaunda, who had already served six terms, from further elections.

As early as June 1996, there were attacks on government buildings and on the offices of the government newspaper, 'Times of Zambia'. The attacks were claimed by the organisation 'Black Mamba', Kenneth Kaunda's old nickname. Nine UNIP leaders were arrested in connection with this, but were eventually released. On 19 October 1996, Chiluba announced that elections would be held on 18 November of that year. Kaunda immediately announced that UNIP would boycott the elections. As a result, Chiluba's MMD won 129 of the 150 seats. The second largest party was the National Party with only five seats. After the elections, two independent observer groups announced that electoral fraud had taken place, but this had no further impact.

After his inauguration on 21 November, Chiluba ordered the closure of the organisation's offices and its leaders were arrested. In January 1997, UNIP and other opposition parties petitioned the Supreme Court, claiming that Chiluba was an illegal president because he had no Zambian parents, but Chiluba refused the proposed DNA test. Meanwhile, the economic reform programme continued, including the privatisation of copper mines. However, the much hoped-for foreign investment did not materialise and the population still suffers from poverty and unemployment.

Coup attempt against Chiluba fails

In October 1997, some officers staged a coup, claiming to be fighting mismanagement and corruption. However, loyal soldiers arrested the rebels after only a few hours. The subsequent state of emergency was lifted in March 1998. In late December 1997, Kaunda was arrested without charge. After a hunger strike and mediation by former Tanzanian President Nyerere, the detention was changed to house arrest.

The trial of the alleged coup plotters began on 1 June with Kaunda's release after the state dropped all charges against him. Kaunda, who had earlier indicated that he would retire from active politics, said in a speech on 21 October 1998 that he would remain the political leader of UNIP because his departure would weaken the opposition. In 1999, the Lusaka court sentenced 59 soldiers who had taken part in the coup attempt in 1997 to death. Zambia's internal political stability was threatened after the assassination in November 1999 of Wezi Kaunda, son of former President Kenneth Kaunda.

The Angolan accusation that Zambia was supporting arms shipments for the Angolan rebel movement UNITA, led to renewed tension between the two neighbouring countries in 1999. However, the Angolan civil war was not limited to its own territory, and Zambia also had to deal with it. The estimated number of Angolan refugees in Zambia was 160,000 at one point.

21th century

In the December 2001 parliamentary elections, the MMD remained the largest party in parliament with 68 seats. Other parties are: UPND (48 seats), UNIP (13), FDD (12), Heritage Party (4), Patriotic Front (1), ZRP (1), Independent (1). After Chiluba unsuccessfully tried to amend the constitution to allow for a third term, Levy Mwanawasa (MMD) was elected his successor in a disputed election and took office in January 2002.

In the summer of 2003, a constitutional review process was launched, involving consultation with civil society. It is not clear when this process will be completed and what the results will be. Various sections of civil society are calling for change, such as abolition of the death penalty, improvement of the position of women (including inheritance law) and limiting the power of the president. The main point of contention between the government and opposition forces is whether the process will lead to a change in the electoral process before the elections at the end of 2006. The government does not seem to agree with the call for presidential elections to be held through a two-round system (if none of the candidates achieves an absolute majority in the first round).

The political landscape in the run-up to the presidential, parliamentary and local elections at the end of 2006 is characterised by a fragmented political field. Opposition parties are very divided internally and among themselves, despite attempts to forge alliances. Oppositions are generally determined more by personalities than by content. Despite a lack of popularity, MMD is likely to win, due to opposition divisions, economic successes of the government and the usual advantages of an incumbent ruling party.

The 2006 elections were peaceful and free. International observers were positive about the transparency and organisation of the elections. With support from rural areas, Mwanawasa was convincingly re-elected, although the MMD lost many supporters in the North and the Copperbelt, where the party was traditionally strong. In these areas and in Lusaka, the Patriotic Front of Michael Sata, known for its vigour, has made enormous gains, among other things by appealing to the fears and discontent of the urban poor. UNIP, UPND (the largest opposition party in the previous parliament) and the smaller FDD participated in the elections under an alliance (UDA). Although UPND retained its position in the South, UNIP and FDD lost a lot of ground to the MMD and PF. The shifting regional power base of the government, following the elections, has been translated into (cabinet) appointments and new policy emphases in favour of the (North) West, East and rural areas.

In August 2008 President Levy Mwanawasa died in a hospital in Paris. He was succeeded by Rupiah Banda in November 2008.

In February 2010, Zambia and China signed an agreement on mining and planned joint economic cooperation. Former President Fredrick Chiluba died in 2011.

Michael Sata (1937- ) has been president of Zambia since 23 September 2011. In March 2013, ex-President Banda was accused of abuse of power after his immunity was lifted. In January 2014, Frank Bwalya, an opposition politician is accused of defamation after comparing President Sata to a potato during a radio interview. In October 2014, President Sata died. In January 2015, Edgar Lungu became the new president after elections. In April 2016, there were riots and looting following allegations of ritual killings of Rwandan refugees. President Lungu expressed his disapproval of this violence against foreigners. Lungu was re-elected in August 2016. In the summer of 2017, there is unrest as the opposition does not consider Lungu the legitimate winner of last year's elections. In August 2017, Lungu declared that he wants forced HIV tests with the aim of making Zambia HIV free by 2030.

Hakainde Hichilema won a landslide victory over the incumbent president, Edgar Lungu, in the August 2021 elections. He is the first president to be elected by the opposition Liberal Party United Party for National Development, having already run for the post several times.


Else, D. / Zambia
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Posthumus, B. / Zambia : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
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Last updated May 2024
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