The Khoisan were known to have occupied the region of modern-day Zambia until about AD 300, when migratory Bantu started to settle in the area. These early hunter-gatherer tribes were eventually wiped out or assimilated by more organized Bantu tribes.
The Zambezi Valley and Kalambo Falls have been the site of archeological excavations that have revealed a series of human civilizations. Ancient camping site artifacts around the Kalambo Falls, in instance, have been radiocarbon dated to about 36,000 years old.
Broken Hill Man’s fossil skull bones, dated between 300,000 and 125,000 years BC, indicate that the region was inhabited by prehistoric man.
The early history of the tribes of modern-day Zambia can only be deduced through oral tradition handed down through consecutive generations.
During the Bantu expansion in the 12th century, large waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants came. The Tonga people (also known as Ba-Tonga, “Ba-” meaning “men”) were among the first to settle in Zambia, arriving from the east near the “great sea.”
The Nkoya people came early in the expansion as well, arriving from the Luba–Lunda kingdoms in the current Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Angola, and were followed by a considerably greater migration, particularly during the late 12th and early 13th centuries.
In most parts of modern-day Zambia, more sophisticated kingdoms and empires had emerged by the late 12th century.
To the east, Kalonga established the Maravi Empire, which included large swaths of Malawi and portions of modern-day northern Mozambique.
Some Mbunda moved to Barotseland, Mongu, towards the end of the 18th century, after the migration of the Ciyengele, among others. The Mbunda were prized by the Aluyi and their commander, the Litunga Mulambwa, for their combat prowess.
The Nsokolo people arrived in Northern Province’s Mbala region in the early nineteenth century. The Ngoni and Sotho peoples came from the south in the nineteenth century. Most of Zambia’s different peoples had settled in their present regions by the late nineteenth century.
Francisco de Lacerda, a Portuguese explorer, was the first European to visit the region in the late 1800s. Lacerda died in 1798 while leading an expedition from Mozambique to the Kazembe area of Zambia (with the aim of discovering and traversing Southern Africa from coast to coast for the first time). From then on, his buddy Francisco Pinto headed the mission. During that time, Portugal claimed and explored this region, which is located between Portuguese Mozambique and Portuguese Angola.
In the nineteenth century, further European tourists arrived. David Livingstone was the most famous of them, with a goal of eliminating the slave trade via the “3 Cs”: Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization. In 1855, he was the first European to view the spectacular Zambezi River rapids, which he named the Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. “Scenes that beautiful must have been looked upon by angels in their flight,” he wrote.
In the Lozi or Kololo dialect, the falls are known as “Mosi-o-Tunya,” meaning “thundering smoke.” Livingstone is the name of the town near the Falls that bears his name. After his death in 1873, highly publicized tales of his travels inspired a slew of European tourists, missionaries, and merchants.
British South Africa Company
In 1888, the British South Africa Company (BSA Company), headed by Cecil Rhodes, acquired mining rights for the region that would eventually become Barotziland-North-Western Rhodesia from the Litunga, the Lozi (Ba-rotse) Paramount Chief. To the east, a faction of Angoni or Ngoni (originally from Zululand) revolted in December 1897, headed by Tsinco, King Mpezeni’s son, but the insurrection was put down, and Mpezeni accepted the Pax Britannica. North-Eastern Rhodesia was the name given to that region of the nation. In 1895, Rhodes tasked his American scout Frederick Russell Burnham with exploring the area for minerals and methods to improve river transportation, and it was during this expedition that Burnham found significant copper resources along the Kafue River.
Northern Rhodesia was formed in 1911 when North-Eastern Rhodesia and Barotziland-North-Western Rhodesia were combined to create Northern Rhodesia, a British protectorate. After the British government chose not to extend the Company’s charter, the BSA Company surrendered sovereignty of Northern Rhodesia to the British government in 1923.
Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a conquered area managed by the British South Africa Company, became a self-governing British colony in 1923. Northern Rhodesia was handed to the British Colonial Office in 1924 following discussions.
Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland
Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland (now Malawi) formed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, creating a single semi-autonomous entity. Despite resistance from a sizable percentage of the people, who protested against it in 1960–61, this was carried out. Northern Rhodesia was the epicenter of most of the federation’s turbulence and crises in its last years. The campaign was first headed by Harry Nkumbula’s African National Congress (ANC), but Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) eventually took over.
An African majority in the legislative council and an uneasy alliance between the two African nationalist parties emerged from a two-stage election conducted in October and December 1962. Northern Rhodesia’s independence from the federation and complete internal self-government under a new constitution and a new National Assembly based on a wider, more democratic franchise were among the measures approved by the council.
The federation was dissolved on December 31, 1963, and Kaunda was elected Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia in January 1964. Sir Evelyn Hone, the Colonial Governor, was close to Kaunda and encouraged him to run for the position. Soon after, the Lumpa Uprising, headed by Alice Lenshina, erupted in the north of the country, marking Kaunda’s first internal war as president.
On October 24, 1964, Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia, with Kenneth Kaunda as its first president. Zambia faced significant difficulties when it gained independence, despite its significant mineral riches. There were few skilled and educated Zambians capable of administering the government at home, and the economy was heavily reliant on outside knowledge. John Willson CMG contributed some of this knowledge. In 1964, there were over 70,000 Europeans living in Zambia, and they continued to have a disproportionate economic impact.
Political tensions arose as a consequence of Kaunda’s support for Patriotic Front rebels conducting incursions into neighbouring (Southern) Rhodesia, culminating to the border’s closing in 1973. Despite Rhodesian administration, the Kariba hydroelectric plant on the Zambezi River has enough capacity to provide the country’s energy needs.
Zambian reliance on railway lines south to South Africa and west via an increasingly unstable Portuguese Angola was lessened by a railway (TAZARA – Tanzania Zambia Railways) to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, which was completed in 1975 with Chinese help. Until the railway was completed, the TanZam Road, which runs from Zambia to Tanzania’s coastal towns, was Zambia’s main conduit for imports and vital copper exports. The Tazama oil pipeline, which runs from Dar es Salaam to Ndola, Zambia, was also constructed.
Mozambique and Angola gained independence from Portugal in the late 1970s. The Lancaster House Agreement in 1979 allowed Rhodesia’s mainly white government, which made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, to embrace majority rule.
Civil unrest in both Portuguese colonies, as well as the escalating Namibian War of Independence, led in a flood of refugees, further complicating transportation problems. By the late 1970s, the Benguela railway, which ran west via Angola, was virtually closed to Zambian trade. Zambia’s support for anti-apartheid groups like the African National Congress (ANC) posed a security risk, since the South African Defence Force targeted dissidents during foreign raids.
The price of copper, Zambia’s main export, fell precipitously in the mid-1970s throughout the globe. The expense of shipping copper across long distances to market was an extra burden on Zambia’s predicament. Zambia sought help from foreign and international lenders, but servicing its rising debt became more difficult as copper prices remained low. Zambia’s per capita foreign debt remained among the highest in the world by the mid-1990s, despite little debt reduction.
The riots against Kaunda escalated in June 1990. During the breakthrough June 1990 demonstrations, the government murdered a large number of demonstrators. Kaunda survived an attempted coup in 1990, and in 1991 he promised to restore multiparty democracy after the Choma Commission of 1972 imposed one-party control. Kaunda was ousted from power after multiparty elections.
The economy stabilized in the 2000s, with single-digit inflation, real GDP growth, lower interest rates, and higher levels of trade in 2006–2007. Foreign mining investment and rising global copper prices account for a large portion of its development. As a result of all of this, aid donors flocked to Zambia in droves, and investor confidence in the nation skyrocketed.