History of Zambia

From Chalo Chatu, Zambia online encyclopedia

This article deals with the history of the country now called Zambia from prehistoric times to the present.

Early history

That archaic humans were present in Zambia at least 200,000 years ago was shown by the discovery of the Broken Hill skull in Kabwe in 1921 - this was the first human fossil ever discovered in Africa.[1]

The earliest known modern humans to live in the territory of modern-day Zambia were the Khoisans. They were bushmen, hunter-gatherers who lived a nomadic life, with stone age technology. Mainly they collected fruit and nuts, but they also hunted antelope and other animals.

The Khoisans were the only inhabitants of most of Zambia until the 4th century, when Bantu started to migrate from the north. They had far more developed technology - they were farmers and had iron and copper tools and weapons, as well as knowledge of pottery-making. They lived in small self-sufficient villages of wattle-and-daub huts, growing sorghum and beans, as well as keeping cattle and goats.

Since the early farmers practised slash and burn agriculture, they had to constantly move further south when the soil was exhausted. The indigenous khoisans were either killed, assimilated into the new culture or displaced into areas not suitable for agriculture.

With the introduction of agriculture the population grew, and more and more land became cultivated. By the 11th and 12th centuries a more advanced society was beginning to emerge. Even though most villages still were self-sufficient, long distance trade was developing. Copper mining was intensified, and copper crosses were probably used as a currency. Ivory was an export, and cotton textiles an import. One of the best-known archaeological sites for this period is Ing-ombe Ilede near Siavonga close to the Kariba Dam, uncovered in 1960. The increase in trade resulted in larger political units and more complex social structures.

From 1500 to 1900

The period between the 16th and the 19th centuries saw the emergence of organized Iron Age kingdoms as well as widespread immigration. Four kingdoms were established in this period - the Kazembe-Lunda in the north centered on the lower Luapula River, the Bemba in the north east, the Chewa in the east and the Lozi in the west, centered on the upper Zambezi River.

The territory of the present Zambia, being far inland, did not have direct contact with non-Africans until relatively recently in its history. Arab and Portuguese traders were visiting by the 18th Century. The first recorded European visitors to Zambia were the Portuguese Manuel Caetano Pereira (a trader of mixed Goanese and Portuguese descent) in 1796 and Francisco de Lacerda (an explorer) in 1798. Both came via Tete in Mozambique to Mwata Kazembe's capital to seek the chief's agreement to a Portuguese trade route between their territories of Mozambique and Angola. Lacerda died within a few weeks of arriving at Kazembe’s but left a valuable journal which was carried back to Tete by his priest and which was later translated into English by the explorer Sir Richard Burton.[2][3]

However, it is believed[4] the Portuguese first came in 1720 to Zumbo, Mozambique, just across the Luangwa River from Zambia, at the confluence with the Zambezi River. Around 1820 they had settled on the Zambian side at Feira (now Luangwa). So it is very likely they were visiting Zambian territory between 1720 and 1820.[5]

The first Briton to record having set foot on Zambian soil was David Livingstone. In 1851 he started his well-known exploration of the upper Zambezi River, and in 1855 he became the first European to see Mosi-oa-Tunya, the waterfall on the Zambezi River, which he named after Queen Victoria - the Zambian town near the Falls is named after him. Livingstone later died in Zambia in 1873.

When the first Europeans arrived, the most powerful states in pre-colonial Zambia were the kingdom of Barotseland in the upper Zambezi, and the kingdom of Mwata Kazembe on the Luapula.

The Lozi people of Barotseland had refused Arab and Portuguese traders access to their territory. When the kingdom was first established is uncertain, but it was certainly in existence by the 18th century, the Lozi calling themselves Aluya and their country Ngulu. Its ruler was called the Litunga. He had two capitals: in the dry season he stayed in the middle of the Zambezi flood plain at Lealui, while at the start of the rainy season he moved to Limulunga, above the flood water level, a move that is still celebrated in the annual Kuomboka festival.

The first certain historical fact concerning Barotseland is the arrival in the early 19th century of the Makololo, a clan of the South-African Basotho or Tswana people. Utterly defeated by Shaka's new Zulu Kingdom in the 1820s, the remnant of the Makololo, under the leadership of Sebetwane, were forced to march northwards to escape. They conquered the Lozi and became the aristocracy of Barotseland, with Sebitwane as new Litunga.

Sebetwane proved an able leader, and is spoken of with warm respect by David Livingstone, who met him in 1851 shortly before his death. He was succeeded by his daughter Mamochisane, who stepped down early in favour of her half-brother Sekeletu. With him the Makololo empire appears to have started to fall to pieces, especially after his death in 1863: a year later internal dissension in the ruling class brought a revolt by the Lozi that is said to have exterminated the Makololo aristocracy and forced the survivors to migrate to present-day Malawi.

Towards the end of the 19th century, British hunters, then traders, then settlers started to arrive.

Colonial Period

In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, spearheading British commercial and political interests in Central Africa, obtained a mineral rights concessions from local chiefs. In the same year, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe, were proclaimed a British sphere of influence. In the beginning the territory was administered by Rhodes' British South Africa Company (BSAC), which showed little interest in the province and used it mainly as a source of labour.

The most important factor in the colony's economy was copper, the discovery of which is due partly to an American scout, Frederick Russell Burnham, who in 1895 lead and oversaw the massive Northern Territories (BSA) Exploration Co. expedition which established that major copper deposits existed in Central Africa.[6] Along the Kafue River in then Northern Rhodesia, Burnham saw many similarities to copper deposits he had worked in the United States, and he encountered natives wearing copper bracelets.[7]

In 1923 the British government decided not to renew the company's charter; as a result, Southern Rhodesia was annexed formally and granted self-government in 1923. After negotiations the administration of Northern Rhodesia was transferred to the British Colonial Office in 1924 as a protectorate, with Livingstone as capital. The capital was transferred to the more central Lusaka in 1935. A Legislative Council was established, of which five members were elected by the small European minority (only 4,000 people), but none by the African population.

In 1928 enormous copper deposits were discovered in the region which then became known as the Copperbelt, transforming Northern Rhodesia from a prospective land of colonization for white farmers to a copper exporter. By 1938 the country produced 13% of world's copper extraction. The sector was developed by two companies; the Anglo American Corporation (AAC) and the South African Rhodesian Selection Trust (RST), who controlled the sector till independence.

The poor safety record and increased taxes triggered a strike of African mineworkers in 1935, known as the Copperbelt strike. The strike was crushed by the authorities; six miners were killed.

During the Second World War white miners came out on strike in 1940. Realising the importance of their products for the war, they demanded higher salaries. This strike was followed by another by African mineworkers.

Even before the war, there had been talks about merging the two Rhodesias, but the process had been halted by the British authorities, and brought to an absolute stop by the war. Finally, in 1953, both Rhodesias were joined with Nyasaland (now Malawi) to form the Central African Federation. Northern Rhodesia was the centre of much of the turmoil and crises that afflicted 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 control.

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 31 December 1963, the federation was dissolved, and Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia on 24 October 1964.

Independence and Cold War

A book published by the government upon independence.

At independence, despite its considerable mineral wealth, Zambia faced major challenges. Domestically, there were few trained and educated Zambians capable of running the government,[8] and the economy was largely dependent on foreign expertise. Most of Zambia's neighbouring countries were still colonies or under white minority rule.

The United National Independence Party (UNIP) won the pre-independence elections, gaining 55 of the 75 seats. The Zambian African National Congress won 10 seats, and the National Progressive Party won all the 10 seats reserved for whites.[9] Kenneth Kaunda was elected Prime Minister, and later the same year president, as the country adopted a presidential system.

Kaunda adopted an ideology of African socialism, close to that of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania. Economical policies focused on central planning and nationalisation, and a system of one party rule was put in place.

Towards one party rule

In 1968 Kaunda was re-elected as president, running unopposed. During the following years Zambia adopted a one party system. In 1972 all political parties except UNIP were banned, and this was formalised in a new constitution that was adopted in 1973. The constitution framed a system called "one-party participatory democracy", which in practise meant that UNIP became the sole political factor in the country. It provided for a strong president and a unicameral National Assembly. National policy was formulated by the Central Committee of UNIP. The cabinet executed the central committee's policy. In legislative elections, only candidates running for UNIP were allowed to participate. Even though inter-party competition was out of question, the contest for seats within UNIP was energetic. In the presidential elections, the only candidate allowed to run was the one elected as president of UNIP at the party's general conference. In this way Kaunda was re-elected unopposed with a yes or no vote in 1973, 1978, 1983 and 1988.

S.M Chisembele, Cabinet Minister Western Province.

This did not, however, mean that there was no dissension to the imposition of a one-party rule in the country or within UNIP. Sylvester Mwamba Chisembele who was Cabinet Minister for Western Province (previously Barotse Province) together with UNIP leaders from 7 out of the 8 Provinces established a Committee of 14. The objective of the Committee of 14 which consisted two leaders from each of the 7 provinces was the establishment of a democratically elected council of two leaders from each province to rule the country by consensus with the President as Head of State. If this had been achieved, it would have meant the curtailing of the absolute power residing in President Kaunda. The Committee of 14 attended a meeting in State House at which President Kaunda agreed to consider their proposals. However, later he banned the Committee of 14 and this action was followed by the suspension of Sylvester Chisembele and several leaders were sacked.[10] Chisembele later rejoined the Cabinet as Minister for Eastern Province and two years later in 1977 he was transferred in the same position to the Copperbelt Province, where the political situation was tense, especially so because of the forthcoming General Elections. Simon M. Kapwepwe and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, who, before the declaration of a One Party State, had been leaders of the UPP and ANC political parties respectively, had joined UNIP with the intention of challenging for the Presidency. However, their attempt to challenge President Kaunda for the Presidency on the UNIP ticket failed as both were prevented and disqualified by the manipulations of President Kaunda, who stood unopposed. Simon Kapwepwe and Harry Nkumbula challenged the resultant 1978 election of President Kaunda in the High Court, but unsurprisingly their action was unsuccessful.

The economy and the copper crisis

After independence Zambia adopted a left-wing economic policy. The economy was to some extent run by central planning, under five year plans, private companies were nationalised and incorporated into large state-owned conglomerates. The government's goal was to be self-sufficient, which it sought to achieve through import substitution. At first the plan worked and the economy grew steadily, but in the mid 1970s the economy started to decline drastically. During the period between 1975 and 1990 Zambia's economy dropped by approximately 30%.[11]

The reason for this was that the Zambian economy was heavily dependent on the copper industry, which had previously been nationalised. During the 1970s the price of copper sank drastically, partly due the USSR, the second largest producer, flooding the market. This resulted in a large deficit for the state-owned enterprise. Another reason for the drop was Zambia's involvement in the neighbouring countries politics, and the transportation problems that resulted.

To deal with the crisis Zambia took big loans from the International Monetary Fund and the Worldbank, hoping that copper prices would rise again soon, instead of issuing structural reforms.

Foreign policy

Internationally, Zambia's sympathies lay with forces opposing colonial or white-dominated rule. During the next decade, it actively supported movements such as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) under the independence war and under the subsequent civil war, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) in Southern Rhodesia, and the African National Congress (ANC) in their struggle against apartheid in the Republic of South Africa, and the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in their struggle for independence for Namibia. Zambia also hosted some of the movements. For instance, the ANC exile headquarters were in Lusaka, and ZAPU had a military base in Zambia. This resulted in security problems, as the South Africa and South Rhodesia raided targets inside Zambia on several occasions.

Rhodesian counterinsurgency operations extended into Zambia after Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) rebels shot down two unarmed Vickers Viscount civilian airliners (Air Rhodesia Flight 825 on 3 September 1978 and Air Rhodesia Flight 827 on 12 February 1979) with Soviet-supplied SA-7 heat-seeking missiles. In retaliation for the shooting down of Flight 825 in September 1978, the Rhodesian Air Force attacked the ZIPRA guerrilla base at Westlands farm near Lusaka in October 1978, warning Zambian forces by radio not to interfere.[12]

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. TAZARA, a railway to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, built with Chinese assistance, reduced Zambian dependence on the railway line south to South Africa and west through an increasingly war-ravaged Angola.

Civil strife in neighbouring Mozambique and Angola created large numbers of refugees, many of whom fled to Zambia.

Internationally, Zambia was an active member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and hosted a summit in Lusaka in 1970. Kenneth Kaunda served as the movements chairman 1970-1973. Among the NAM countries Zambia was especially close to Yugoslavia. Outside the NAM Zambia also had close relations with the Peoples Republic of China.

In the Second Congo War, Zambia backed Zimbabwe and the Congo but did not participate as a belligerent.

Multi-party democracy

The end of one party rule

One party rule and the declining economy created disappointment among the people. Several strikes hit the country in 1981. The government responded by arresting several union leaders, among them Frederick Chiluba. In 1986 and 1987 protests arose again in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. These were followed by riots over rising food prices on 30 June 1990, in which at least 30 people were killed. Few days later, Lieutenant Christopher Mwamba Luchembe of the Zambia Army attempted to a coup d'état to rid the Kaunda government. In the early hours of 1 July 1990, Luchembe announced a hostile takeover on state owned radio at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). The attempt failed and the situation was curbed within three hours by the government, leading to the arrest of Luchembe.

These extensive protests made Kaunda realise the need for reform. He promised a referendum on multiparty democracy, and lifted the ban on political parties. This resulted in the quick formation of eleven new parties. Among these Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), led by former union leader Frederick Chiluba, was the most important. After pressure for the new parties the referendum was canceled in favour of direct multiparty election.

Frederick Chiluba and the MMD

After a new constitution had been drafted, elections were held in 1991. They were generally regarded to have been free and fair, and Chiluba won 76% of the presidential vote, and the MMD 125 of the 150 seats in the National Assembly, with UNIP taking the remaining 25.[9]

Economically Chiluba, despite being a former union leader, stood to the right of Kaunda. With support from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, to which Zambia was heavily indebted, he liberalised the economy by restricting government interference, re-privatising state-owned enterprises, such as the important copper mining industry, and removing subsidies on various commodities, most notably on corn meal.

When one party rule was first abolished in 1991, many expected a more democratic future for Zambia. These expectations were however clouded by the MMD's treatment of the opposition. Questionable amendments of the constitution and detentions of political opponents caused major criticism, and some donor countries, i.e., the United Kingdom and Denmark, withdrew their aid.

Coups and emergencies

In 1993 the government-owned newspaper The Times of Zambia reported a story about a secret UNIP plan to take control of government by unconstitutional means, called the "Zero Operation Plan". The plan included industrial unrest, promotion of violence and organisations of mass protests. UNIP did not deny the existence of such a plan, but underlined that it was not a part of their official policy, but the views of extremists within the party. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and putting 26 people into detention. Of these, seven, including Kenneth Kaunda's son Wezi Kaunda were charged with offences against the security of the state. The rest were released.[13]

Prior to the 1996 elections, UNIP formed an alliance with six other opposition parties. Kenneth Kaunda had earlier retired from politics, but after internal turbulence in the party due to the "Zero Operation Plan" scandal, he returned, replacing his own successor Kebby Musokotwane. Chiluba's government then amended the constitution, banning people whose parents were not both Zambian citizens from becoming president. This was directly aimed at Kaunda, whose parents were both from Malawi. In protest UNIP and its allies boycotted the elections, which were then easily won by Chiluba and the MMD.

In 1997 matters escalated. On 28 October a coup d'état attempt took place, as a group of army commanders took control over the national radio station, broadcasting a message stating that Chiluba was no longer president. The coup was brought to an end by regular forces, after Chiluba had again declared a state of emergency. One person was killed during the operation. After the failed coup the police arrested at least 84 people accused of involvement.[14] Among these were Kenneth Kaunda and Dean Mungomba, leader of the opposition party the Zambia Democratic Congress. The arrests were condemned and criticised as illegal inside as well as outside Zambia, and accusations of torture were made as well.[15] Kaunda was released in June the following year, but 44 of the soldiers who took part in the coup were sentenced to death in 2003.[16]

2001 elections

Prior to the elections in 2001 Chiluba tried to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. He was forced to step back on this point after protest from within the party as well as from the Zambian public.

See also


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  1. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/collections-at-the-museum/museum-treasures/broken-hill-skull/index.html
  2. William Govan Robertson: "Kasembe and the Bemba (Awemba) Nation." Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 3, No. 10 (Jan., 1904), pp. 183-193.
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 edition.
  4. By whom, and why?
  5. The Northern Rhodesia Journal online, Volume V No. 1 (1962) p43. Accessed 21 March 2007.
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  8. There were only eight indigenous Graduates in the country at Independence
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  12. Moorcraft & McLaughlin 2008, pp. 140–143
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External links

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Migration history of the Zambian people
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Early history
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Multiparty democracy
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