Republic of Zambia

POPULATION: 15.72 million (2014)

AREA: 290,586 sq. mi. (752,618 sq. km)

LANGUAGES: English (official); Bemba, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda, Nyanja, others


PRINCIPAL RELIGIONS: Christian 50–75%, Hindu and Muslim 24–49%, Traditional 1%

CITIESLusaka (capital), 1,640,000 (2001 est.); Kitwe, Ndola, Chingola, Mufulira, Luanshya, Kabwe, Livingstone

ANNUAL RAINFALL: Varies from 50 in. (1,400 mm) in the north to 20 in. (510 mm) in the south.

ECONOMY: GDP $27.07 billion (2014)


  • Agricultural: cotton, tobacco, coffee, corn, sorghum, rice, cassava, peanuts, sugarcane, livestock and livestock products
  • Manufacturing: food and beverage processing, textiles, chemicals, fertilizer
  • Mining: copper, zinc, lead, cobalt, coal, emeralds, gold, silver, uranium

GOVERNMENT: Independence from Britain, 1964. Republic with president elected by universal suffrage. Governing bodies: 150-seat National Assembly (legislative body), elected by universal suffrage; Cabinet, appointed by the president.


ARMED FORCES: 21,600 (2001 est.)

EDUCATION: Compulsory for ages 7–14; literacy rate 78% (2001 est.)

Republic of Zambia

Zambia, a landlocked country in south central Africa, is known for its spectacular natural beauty and geographic diversity. It is also highly urbanized and was, until recently, one of the continent’s most prosperous nations. Today, however, Zambia struggles with the effects of an economy heavily dependent on mining and years of limited political freedom for its people.


Located on a plateau between 3,000 and 5,000 feet high, Zambia has a pleasant climate. Heat and humidity are a problem only in low river valleys. The Muchinga Mountains dominate the northeastern portion of the country, sloping down to the Rift Valley along Zambia’s eastern border with TANZANIA. Central Zambia is a rolling plateau that gives way to the KALAHARI DESERT on the country’s western border. LUSAKA, the capital, lies in this central region.

Zambia’s many rivers and lakes provide an ample supply of water. The most important waterway, the mighty ZAMBEZI RIVER, forms a good part of the country’s southern border. The river cascades over Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall, and then flows into Lake Kariba, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. Other notable water resources include Lake Mweru and Bangweulu Lake and Swamp.


The first inhabitants of Zambia were the Bantu-speaking Tonga, who arrived around A.D. 1000. Over the next several hundred years, other peoples, including the Luba and the Bemba, migrated there. In the 1820s the Mfecane, a ZULU military movement in South Africa, drove the Ngoni and the Sotho north into the region. By the time Europeans settled in the area, Zambia had a highly diverse population.

Colonial Rule

In the 1890s the British South Africa Company signed treaties with several local chiefs granting the company control over Zambia’s land and resources. In the early 1900s extensive copper deposits were discovered in southern Zambia. Copper soon became the mainstay of the colonial economy.

In 1924 the territory became a British protectorate known as Northern Rhodesia. Meanwhile, in neighboring Southern Rhodesia (now ZIMBABWE), European settlers gained control and established their own government. In the 1940s the white settlers of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland (now MALAWI) proposed linking the three territories in a federation. African nationalists opposed the move, fearing domination by the white racist leaders of Southern Rhodesia. Nevertheless, in 1953 Northern Rhodesia joined with Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to form the CENTRAL AFRICAN FEDERATION. Southern Rhodesia dominated the federation, and much of the revenue from Northern Rhodesia’s copper mines was used to develop its southern neighbor. Living conditions for Africans worsened as wages failed to keep up with a rising cost of living. Britain dissolved the federation in 1963, and Zambia became an independent republic the following year.

Kaunda’s Zambia

Kenneth KAUNDA, head of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), became Zambia’s first president. The main opposition party was the African National Congress (ANC). The constitution called for an elected president serving no more than two five-year terms. It also established a one-house legislature.

In 1973 Kaunda outlawed all parties besides the UNIP. He enlarged the legislature and abolished the two-term limit on the presidency. As president, Kaunda had sweeping powers, including appointing almost all the government officials. Under the new system he won every election for the next 18 years.

The Kaunda government nationalized most of Zambia’s major industries, including the copper industry, which accounted for over 90 percent of the country’s export earnings. Continuing the policy of the former colonial rulers, Kaunda neglected the agricultural sector. Prices for agricultural produce were so low that some farmers stopped growing crops to sell. Many abandoned their land and moved to the cities, even though few jobs were available there. Unemployment rose and the country became dependent on imported foods.

Until the mid-1970s Zambia prospered through its exports of copper. However, the price of copper collapsed in 1974 to 1975, cutting average incomes in half. Forced to borrow heavily from foreign countries, Zambia accumulated huge debts. In the 1980s Zambia agreed to an International Monetary Fund program designed to reduce state spending and balance the national budget. The program produced few results and Kaunda eventually ended it. However, he kept some of its policies, such as devoting a portion of export earnings to debt payment.

Political Change

By 1990 economic hardship had led to political unrest. A group known as the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) called for an end to single-party rule. After a failed coup in June, Kaunda agreed to allow multiparty elections. The following October, Frederick Chiluba of the MMD won the presidency and his party captured 125 of the 150 seats in the legislature.

During his first term in office Chiluba privatized over 140 stateowned businesses. He also ended the government monopoly on the purchase of food, which increased farmers’ incomes and led to agricultural improvements. Although the national debt declined, economic problems such as inflation and a weak currency, as well as government corruption, still plagued the country.

As the 1996 elections approached, Chiluba feared that Kaunda might attempt a political comeback. To prevent this, he passed a law that allowed only native Zambians who had not served as president to run for the office. Kaunda, of course, had already served as president; in addition, since his parents came from Malawi, he was not considered a native Zambian. Kaunda’s angry supporters refused to take part in the election. Nevertheless, about 40 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls, and Chiluba won.

Shortly after the election Kaunda warned of a coming “explosion” in Zambian politics. The next day an army captain made an attempt to overthrow the government. Although the uprising was crushed within hours, Chiluba declared a state of emergency and took complete control of the government for the next several months.

The Chiluba government has faced high unemployment and an economy still heavily dependent on copper. It has also struggled with major health issues. In the late 1990s about 70 percent of Zambians were infected with tuberculosis and about 20 percent had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Wars in neighboring CONGO (KINSHASA) and ANGOLA have created ongoing foreign policy concerns.


Zambia’s economy can be summarized in a single word: copper. This resource still provides over 80 percent of export revenues. However, prices have not recovered from their downturn in the 1970s, and production has declined. The industry needs large amounts of money to purchase new equipment for aging mines and to upgrade the country’s infrastructure.

About two-thirds of Zambia’s population still practices subsistence farming. In addition, commercial farmers grow cotton, tobacco, and coffee for export. Manufacturing has become a major sector of the economy.

Mining of emeralds and other minerals has also been growing. The country’s major economic challenges include finding ways to broaden the economy and to reduce its huge foreign debt. Political problems in neighboring countries also affect Zambia’s economy. With no outlet to the sea, it depends on other nations for access to ports. Any disruption in surrounding countries threatens Zambia’s ability to export its goods.


Zambia’s population is mostly made up of Bantu-speaking peoples divided into at least 70 different ethnic groups. The Bemba, who originated in what is now Congo (Kinshasa), dominate the Northern Province. Southern central Zambia is home to the Tonga, while the Ngoni are the primary ethnic group of the southeast. The Lozi are the predominant group in the southwest. Zambia’s population is very unevenly distributed. Almost 80 percent of the people live on roughly 33 percent of the land. In the high-density population areas, the residents tend to be better educated than rural dwellers, as two-thirds of them are literate.

Many of Zambia’s ethnic groups are matrilineal, meaning that they trace descent through the mother’s side of the family. The main exceptions are some Ngoni cattle herders, who are patrilineal (descent through the father’s side of the family) and the Lozi, who trace descent through both sides of the family.

About two-thirds of Zambians practice Christianity, which has played a major role in the country’s social history. During the colonial era mission schools were important centers of educational as well as spiritual leadership for black Zambians. Many Zambian Christians have held on to various beliefs and customs of traditional religions, including ancestor worship and witchcraft. (See also Bantu Peoples; Cities and Urbanization; Colonialism in Africa; Minerals and Mining; Rhodes, Cecil John.)