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A Brief History

At the time of Christ, it is believed that the only inhabitants of Zambia were the San, or Bushmen, who were primarily hunters and gatherers. But soon thereafter the first Bantu peoples moved into Zambia from central Africa. They spread along the Zambezi River and its tributaries and pushed out the San. These Bantu peoples brought with them agriculture, cattle, and the ability to work iron. Although the early Bantu inhabitants have in most areas been replaced or mixed with later immigrants, the Tonga of Southern Province pride themselves having descent from these early settlers.

About 500 years ago successive waves of peoples entered Zambia from what is today the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These peoples broke away from the Luba and Lunda empires, entered Zambia, and imposed their control over the peoples they found living in the land. Little is known about this process apart from certain oral traditions. The four dominant groups that emerged out of this process are the Nyanja peoples of Eastern Province, the Bemba and related groups of Northern Province, the peoples of Luapula Province, and the Lozis of western Province.

In the early 19th century southern Africa was disturbed by the rise of Shaka, a military commander of the Ngoni peoples, who created the Zulu nation along the eastern coast of South Africa. Some of the Ngoni who fled from Shaka moved north and entered Zambia under a leader named Zwangendaba. They conquered many groups then living in central and eastern Zambia as they marched north and crossed into Tanzania. Following the death of Zwangendaba, most of the Ngoni moved back to eastern Zambia and Malawi and merged with the Nyanja-speaking peoples living there. Another group disturbed by Shaka were the Kololo led by a man called Sebituane. They fled South Africa, crossed the Zambezi, and conquered the Lozi kingdom of western Zambia for a time. A generation later the old Lozi royal family was able to oust the invaders and reassert control over their old kingdom, but in the process the Lozis adopted the Sotho speech of the Kololo.

By the middle of the ninteenth century the land that is now Zambia came to the attention of the rest of the world. David Livingstone explored much of Zambia over a period of almost 20 years and eventually died there in 1873. In the l880's the interior land of south-central Africa was explored by the Portuguese, who were seeking to unite their colonies in Angola and Mozambique. The British also sought to claim it as they extend their control north from South Africa. To the north Belgium had laid claimed to control of the Congo River basin, while to the northeast and southwest Germany claimed what is now the neighboring countries of Namibia and Tanzania. Under Cecil Rhodes, the British won out over the other contenders for this land and began exerting authority over the area by the 1890's.

For a while the land that today is Zambia was under the control of the British South Africa Company, who in 1911 formed it into the territory of Northern Rhodesia. In 1924 the territory came under the British Colonial Office who administered it until Independence in 1964. The discovery of major copper deposits in 1928 led to the development of numerous mines in the area of north central Zambia. Zambia was a major source of copper for the Allies during World War II. In 1953 Zambia became a part of a federation that also included Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (modern Zimbabwe and Malwai). But the African peoples objected to this arrangement and the British government dissolved the federation and eventually gave Zambia its independence as a nation on October 24, 1964.

From its Independence in 1964 until 1991 Zambia was governed by former President Kenneth Kaunda and UNIP, his political party. A drop in the world price of copper and internal problems led to a serious decline in Zambia's economy during the late 1970's and 1980's. This caused the demise of UNIP, and when new elections were held in 1991 the MMD, led by Frederick Chiluba, came to power. The MMD controlled Zambia's Parliament for twenty years. Chiluba was elected President, an office he served in until 2001. In 2001 Levy Mwanawasa was elected President. He was re-elected in 2006 but died in August 2008. Rupiah Banda, the Vice-President, succeeded him in a special election. In the 2011 elections the MMD was defeated and Michael Sata of the PF party became President.

For Further Information See:

Gann, Lewis H. The Birth of a Plural Society. The Development of Northern Rhodesia Under the British South Africa Company 1894-1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1958.

________. A History of Northern Rhodesia. Early Days to 1953. New York: Humanities Press, 1969.

________. Central Africa. The Former British States. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971.

Omer-Cooper, J. D. The Zulu Aftermath. A Nineteenth-Century Revolution in Bantu Africa. London: Longman Group Limited, 1966.

Roberts, Andrew. A History of Zambia. New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1976.

Stokes, Eric, and Richard Brown, eds. The Zambesian Past. Studies in Central African History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1966.