Brief history of Zambia summarized
A brief review of the history of Zambia, an African country, in a summarized way.
Zambia in ancient times
At the time of Christ, the people of Zambia were Bushmen, stone age hunters and gatherers. They hunted antelope with bows and arrows. They also caught smaller animals and gathered fruit and nuts and caterpillars and locusts.
They led a semi-nomadic lifestyle and made windbreaks out of stones and branches, or if they stayed in one area for a while, they made huts out of bent poles and straw grass.
Around the 4th century AD a new wave of Bantu-speaking immigrants arrived from the north. They were farmers and had iron tools and weapons. Farmers grew sorghum and beans, as well as bananas and yams. They raised herds of cattle and goats. They also hunted with iron arrows. Farmers also made pottery.
They lived in small villages of a dozen houses, each of which was more or less self-sufficient. The peasants built huts of poles and lathes arranged with a central enclosure where the cattle and goats were kept during the night. The men were buried in this enclosure when they died.
Farmers practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. They moved on when they had exhausted the ground. The peasants seem to have lived peacefully alongside the Bushmen for centuries.
A more advanced society
By the 11th or 12th centuries a more advanced Iron Age culture called the Luanga culture had emerged. The original farming villages were mostly self-sufficient, but by the 12th century long-distance trade was flourishing.
A trading center was called Inge-ambe-Ilede (the place where the cow lies), near the confluence of the Zambezi and the Kafue. Cotton fabrics, ivory carvings, and metalwork were woven there. The copper was made into bracelets or crosses, which were used as currency. The population increased and the political units grew.
Around 1500 organized kingdoms arose. Chewa in the east, Lozi in the west, Bemba and Lunda in the north were the largest. In the 16th century some men were buried with gold beads. The rulers also had glass beads from the coast of the Indian Ocean.
The arrival of the Europeans
By 1500 the Portuguese were sailing around the coast of Africa (although they didn’t go far inland). They brought new foods from the Americas, corn and cassava.
From the seventh century the Arabs took slaves from Africa and the Portuguese too. They offered African rulers goods in exchange for slaves. So African tribes attacked other tribes to capture slaves to sell to the Portuguese. But the people of Zambia did not have direct contact with Europeans until the 19th century.
In the early 19th century, Shaka, the Zulu ruler, began to conquer neighboring peoples. He displaced entire peoples across southern and central Africa. The effects were felt as far north as Zambia. A tribe fled their home in South Africa. His leader named the tribe after his favorite wife, Kololo.
In the 1830s they crossed the Zambezi and marched into the area north of Victoria Falls. They later marched west and subdued the Lozi kingdom of the Upper Zambezi. They founded the Kololo kingdom. (Later, in the 1860s, the Lozi managed to regain control of their territory.)
Another people called the Ngoni left Shaka’s domains in the 1820s. They crossed the Zambezi in 1835 and headed north to Lake Tanganyika. They later settled in eastern Zambia. The Ngoni lived in part by raiding other tribes or by raiding merchant caravans.
The first European to visit the area was David Livingstone. He traveled there in 1851. He visited the kingdom of Kololo and saw noblemen dressed in British clothes that the Portuguese had sold to Africans in Angola. He was also the first European to see Victoria Falls. Livingstone formed a mission in the kingdom of Kololo, but it failed because most of its members died.
Livingstone wanted to convert Africans and also end the slave trade. He knew that Africans wanted European products and would sell slaves to get them. He hoped to be able to replace the slave trade with legitimate trade. He knew that Africans grew cotton and that it was in great demand in Europe.
There was also a European market for ivory (it was used to make keyboards and billiard balls). Livingstone hoped that he could convince Africans to sell cotton or ivory to Europeans in exchange for their products instead of selling slaves.
The idea failed because the products would have to be brought to Mozambique for export. Unfortunately, a gorge in Mozambique made the river unnavigable and it was too difficult to transport goods on foot.
The beginning of British rule
After 35 years, Livingstone Zambia had to go its own way. It was under British rule from 1889 to 1901 due to the efforts of Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902). In 1889 Rhodes established the British South African Company (SAC) to exploit minerals in southern and central Africa.
The British Treasury refused to finance colonies in Africa. However, Rhodes and his company made treaties with African tribes that allowed them the right to search for and extract minerals.
Once the British started mining on African soil, they gradually took over. Lewanika, king of the Lozi in western Zambia, sought British protection from another tribe, the Ndebele. He too had rivals for his throne and thought that having a British representative at his court would strengthen his position.
He also hoped that the British would establish schools and educate their people. He dealt with a representative of the SAC in the mistaken belief that he was speaking to a representative of the British government.
The king allowed them to mine in his kingdom and agreed to have British citizens in his territory in exchange for £2,000 a year and the protection of the Ndeble. But the British did not deal decisively with the Ndeble until 1893, when they attacked the Lozi again.
Furthermore, no money was sent until 1897 and no British representative was sent to his court until the same year. Rhodes and his men made treaties with other tribes in 1891-1894. Among them were the tabwa, lungu and mambe.
However, the Bemba and Ngoni refused to negotiate and were conquered by force. At first the Bemba held their own against the small number of British troops sent against them. But the Bemba lived by making long-distance caravan raids.
As the Europeans took over more and more of Africa, these caravans ceased. Without them to prey on the Bemba they were weakened. Finally, in 1898, a French Catholic missionary declared himself king of the Bemba and received the SAC soldiers in the capital. In the southeast the Ngoni were routed by British machine guns.
The British then took over the Ngoni land and cattle and forced the men to become wage labourers. However, Rhodes and his men did not find great mineral wealth in Zambia.
They found copper oxide, some kind of copper ore on or near the surface, and some zinc, but nothing like the amount of valuable minerals they expected to find (beneath the copper oxide was a large amount of copper sulfide, a different type of mineral, but this was not discovered until the 1920s).
So the British imposed a shack tax. Every capable man had to pay the tax in cash. That meant many men were forced to work as wage laborers in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Uprisings against the tax were suppressed by force. If a man died, his cabin was burned and if he was captured, he was imprisoned.
However, only a small number of Europeans came to live in the new colony. There were only about 3,000 in 1914. Most of them lived on a strip of land next to the railroad that ran north-south through the center of the colony. They lived on farms worked by African laborers
. However, many Indians came to work as merchants and artisans in the colony. They were seen as “intermediaries” between Europeans and Africans.
Zambia in the early 20th century
Livingstone was founded in 1905 when a railway bridge was built over the Zambezi. (A railway was built north of Rhodesia that reached Zaire in 1909.) Residents of a settlement called Old Drift moved in. At first, Zambia was divided into two parts. They were called Northwest Rhodesia and Northeast Rhodesia.
After 1907 Livingstone was the capital of northwestern Rhodesia. In 1911 the two halves were united to form a colony and Livingstone became the capital. Lusaka was founded in 1905 to serve a lead mine at Kabwe. (It became the capital in 1935). Ndola was founded in 1904.
Zambia, or Northern Rhodesia as it was called, suffered severely in World War I. Some 3,500 Zambians joined the armed forces to fight the Germans in Tanzania (then a German colony). Between 50,000 and 100,000 Zambians joined the British Army as porters. Worse still, many grains and livestock were confiscated for military use.
Attitudes towards Africans had changed by 1923 (in Britain anyway) and company rule was no longer acceptable to the British government. So in that year Zambia became a Crown Protectorate.
In 1925 a legislative council was formed but the franchise effectively excluded blacks. However, in 1929 the British Colonial Secretary declared that in the future the interests of Africans were paramount. Unfortunately, his words made very little difference in the lives of ordinary Africans.
New mineral riches
Zambia’s fate changed dramatically in the late 1920s when rich underground deposits of copper and cobalt were discovered. Kitwe was founded as a copper mining center in 1936. By 1939 Zambia was the world’s leading source of copper and was a potentially wealthy country.
In 1930 there were about 30,000 African miners in Zambia and about 4,000 white miners doing skilled and managerial jobs. In the early 1930s, the demand for copper decreased, but the price of copper increased between 1935 and 1937, and the labor force expanded.
Also, the number of white people in Zambia increased greatly after copper was discovered. In 1939 there were about 13,000, three times as many as in 1930. Many of these whites came from South Africa.
In the early 20th century, the British government expected large numbers of whites to come and settle in Zambia. Therefore, they divided the land in two, one for the whites and the other for the Africans. But the expected influx of whites did not come. Most of the land reserved for them was still empty. However, so much land was set aside for whites that Africans fell short.
This and the need to pay taxes meant that most Africans were forced to become wage laborers for whites. In 1936 it was estimated that 60% of able-bodied men in Zambia worked outside the home. Around 60,000 people worked in Zambia, often as miners. Many more worked on plantations in Zimbabwe or Tanzania.
The large number of men working in the mines had an important social effect. Tends to weaken tribal ties. The miners tended to see themselves as miners, above all, rather than belonging to one tribe or another. And they began to organize.
In the 1930s there were no African unions, but in 1935 African miners spontaneously went on strike. There were also riots. The army was sent to suppress them. Six miners died and 22 were injured.
In 1940 white miners went on strike and forced their employers to give them better conditions. Although they did not yet have a union, the Africans decided to follow suit. Again there were riots, which were suppressed by force. This time 17 miners died and 64 were injured.
However, in 1948 African miners founded a true union. So did the African railwaymen in 1949. The existence of African unions is a major threat to the British government.
There were other signs of change in the 1930s. Missionaries had been providing schools since the late 19th century. In the 1930s, the British government began providing them. There were a growing number of educated Africans working as clerks, shopkeepers, and teachers and they, too, began to organize. They formed charitable associations.
In 1933 there were some at Abercorn, Kasama and Fort Jameson. At first, the charities campaigned against local injustices, but later they began to campaign for independence. In 1946, 14 of them joined together to form the Federation of African Societies of Northern Rhodesia (the old name for Zambia).
There were also changes in the way the colony was governed in the 1930s and 1940s. After 1930, the British adopted a policy of indirect rule. African chiefs were given a role in the local administration.
After the Copperbelt riots in 1935, the government formed urban advisory councils to give urban Africans an “advisory” role in how their cities were run. In addition, in 1943 African provincial councils were formed. They were mainly made up of traditional chiefs, but did contain some elected members.
Finally, in 1946 a Council of African Representatives was formed; 25 members were elected and 4 were appointed by the paramount chief of Barotseland (in western Zambia). In 1948 some Africans were appointed to the legislative council. In 1949 the African Nationalist Congress (ANC) was created from the charitable associations started in the 1930s.
White settlers viewed these settlements with alarm. In 1936 Europeans from Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe began plotting to maintain their power. They decided that the best way was to form the 3 different colonies in one territory.
They believed that this would allow them to control the Africans more easily. In the 1940s they campaigned vigorously for unification, but Africans strongly opposed it.
Then, in 1953, London enforced a compromise. The 3 colonies were not merged into one. Instead, they formed into a federation. Each of the three colonies had its own government responsible for local administration and “indigenous affairs.” A federal parliament was formed with authority over matters involving more than one colony and over foreign affairs.
Of the 35 MPs, 6 had to be African, 2 from each colony (although in Zimbabwe only whites were allowed to elect African MPs! African MPs were given the power to challenge any legislation they deemed racist and send it to London to pass or veto.
However, in 1957 and 1958 the federal parliament passed legislation that would increase the number of African MPs, but also reduce the franchise, so that the majority of voters were white! African MPs sent this legislation to London, but it passed.
During the period 1953-1963, the federal government “liquidated” the revenues from Zambia’s copper mines and spent very little on the colony. (White Zimbabweans made no secret of the fact that they viewed Zambia as a resource to be exploited.)
The only major development in Zambia at the time was the Kariba Dam, which was built for hydroelectricity between 1955 and 1959. A lake formed behind it in 1960-61 and 50,000 people had to be resettled.
Also many wild animals were rescued in operation Noah. New cities appear. Chingola was founded in 1943 and Kalushi was founded as a business town for miners in 1953. It became a public city in 1958.
Although copper was Zambia’s main export in the 1950s, there was also a large gemstone industry. Beryl, rubies, sapphires and other precious or semi-precious stones were mined. Meanwhile, the white population continued to grow rapidly, reaching 50,000 in 1955.
By then they formed about 3% of the population. Many of these new immigrants came from Great Britain. They often enjoyed a higher standard of living than in post-war Britain, with its scarcity and rationing. In the late 1950s, the average wage for a white worker was £2,071 a year. For a black worker it was 203 pounds a year.
In 1958 the governor introduced a new constitution for the colony. The ANC leader accepted it, causing a split in the organization. The more radical members broke away and formed the United National Independence Party (UNIP). After 1961, Kenneth Kaunda directed it.
The white settlers faced a losing battle. On the one hand, the number of educated Africans was increasing. From 1953 they were allowed to hold managerial positions in the two main mining companies.
Also, African miners went on strike for 58 days in 1955 and won a victory. They were getting better organized. World opinion, too, was turning against imperialism.
In 1960, the British prime minister said there was a “wind of change” blowing across Africa. The British government realized that the independence of African countries was now inevitable.
But the white settlers did not give up easily. In 1961, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies proposed a constitution for Zambia, which would guarantee African control. White settlers pressured him to alter it and give them control.
Kaunda threatened to ‘paralyze’ the government unless the new constitution was changed again. He called for peaceful protests, but there were violent uprisings and sabotage. This seizure was called the cha-cha-cha. The British government finally relented. The constitution was amended to give Africans a slim majority in parliament.
Elections were held in 1962, and the ANC and UNIP formed a coalition in a transitional government as the colony prepared for independence. The federation of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi was dissolved in 1963.
In January 1964, UNIP won an election and Kaunda became Prime Minister. In that year, Alice Lenshina, head of the Lumpa church, led a rebellion. Kaunda used the force to suppress it. About 700 people died. Zambia became independent on October 24, 1964 with Kaunda as president. The new country faced many problems.
There were only about 100 native Zambians with university degrees and a lack of qualified personnel to run the country. Zambia lacked infrastructure and schools. Also 90% of Zambia’s foreign earnings came from copper. So Kaunda drew up a development plan for 1965-69. He devoted large resources to the public sector (health and infrastructure and also, to a lesser extent, education).
The number of children in primary school doubled between 1964 and 1972. The number of students in secondary schools increased from 14,000 to 61,000 in the same period.
At first, the industry grew rapidly. But the economy did well in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly because of the high price of copper. After 1974 the price of copper fell. This caused great damage to the Zambian economy, which was heavily dependent on copper.
Furthermore, in 1967, Kaunda declared that his policy of “humanism” was a strange mixture of Christian ethics and socialism. This policy was not successful. The government took a 51% stake in 26 companies, including, in 1969, the two main mining companies.
In the late 1980s it was estimated that 80% of the economy was made up of state-owned companies, but these nationalized industries were wasteful and inefficient.
In 1965, sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe and Zambia stopped importing goods from that country. But in retaliation, the Zimbabweans prevented the transport of oil to Zambia through their country. Petrol rationing was introduced in Zambia. Gasoline was airlifted or brought through Tanzania. In addition, in 1968 an oil pipeline was built through Tanzania to Zambia.
A railway from Zambia to the coast of Tanzania opened in 1974. Meanwhile, Zambia was used as a base by guerrillas fighting a war in Zimbabwe.
Kaunda’s hold on power began to wane in the late 1960s. In the 1969 elections, his party, the UNIP, saw its majority reduced. Furthermore, in 1971 Simon Kapepwe accused Kaunda of treating the Bembas unfairly.
He formed a rival party, the United Progressive Party or UPP, based in the Bemba. Kaunda feared that his two rivals, the ANC and the UPP, would form an alliance to fight the 1973 elections. So in 1972 Kaunda banned opposition parties. They were regionally based, so Kaunda accused them of being “tribalist” (ie, putting tribal interests before national ones).
Some opposition leaders were jailed. Others were persuaded to change sides by being offered well-paying jobs. Later, the opposition groups were dissolved or absorbed by the UNIP.
In the presidential elections of 1973, Kaunda was the only candidate. Voters could vote for or against. Kaunda easily won the elections. In another election in 1978 Kaunda won 80% of the votes in favour, but in 1983 he fell to 60%.
However, in the 1960s and 1970s a bloated bureaucracy was created. Absorbed resources. The worst unskilled people were given important jobs. People were given jobs for their loyalty rather than their skills.
Worse still, they changed frequently. Between 1964 and 1986 there were 12 finance ministers and 9 heads of central banks. The frequent changes of people at the top made it very difficult to have consistent policies.
Worse yet, Zambia’s economy depended heavily on copper. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the price of copper fell, with disastrous results for Zambia. The country was forced to borrow money and Zambia fell deeper and deeper into debt. In the mid-1980s, Zambia was forced to accept IMF adjustment programs, which was very painful for the Zambian people.
In 1985, the IMF demanded that the civil service workforce be cut by 25%. They also demanded cuts in price subsidies, sparking riots. In 1985, austerity measures led to riots at Lusaka university and strikes. More riots followed in 1986, when food subsidies were removed.
Twenty people were killed when security forces suppressed the riots. In 1987 Kaunda broke with the IMF, but this provoked strong international criticism. In 1988 Kaunda was forced to accept a new agreement.
Living standards for most people fell during the 1980s and 1990s, and by 1999 inflation was in the triple digits. As the economy deteriorated, churches and unions led the growing opposition to Kaunda. In 1990 there were more riots after the doubling of the price of staple foods.
Finally, in June 1990, Kaunda lifted the ban on organized groups. In July, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, or MMD, was launched. Kaunda also agreed to hold a referendum on whether to keep its one-party system. But the MMD was not satisfied. They demanded multiparty elections.
Facing growing opposition from churches and unions, Kaunda relented and called multi-party elections in October 1991. The MMD won 125 of the 150 seats. In the presidential elections, Frederick Chiluba obtained 81% of the votes.
The new government abandoned the failed policy of “humanism.” In the early 1990s, Zambia agreed to a structural adjustment program. This includes the gradual elimination of food subsidies and the possibility of the market setting prices.
It also meant privatizing state industries. Privatization began in 1994 and in 2000 70% of the largest mining company was sold. Meanwhile, inflation fell from triple digits in 1990 to 25% in 1999. However, during the 1990s Zambia was affected by floods and later by droughts.
As a result, economic growth fluctuated. In some years the economy grew. In others it contracted. Zambia is also facing the problem of the AIDS epidemic. For the year 2000 it was estimated that 10% of the population had AIDS or the HIV virus. This was added to the hundreds of thousands of people who had already died and the thousands of orphans.
In the 1990s, developed countries canceled some of Zambia’s debt, and in 1999 the price of cobalt increased.
Zambia in the 21st century
In 2005, the G8 group of rich countries agreed to cancel Zambia’s national debt (effective January 2006). Also, in the early 21st century, Zambia’s economy grew rapidly.
Copper mining remained Zambia’s most important industry, but other metals such as silver, zinc, cobalt, and lead were also mined. Zambia also has potential for tourism with its national parks and Victoria Falls. Zambia is still a poor country, but it is developing rapidly.
Currently, the population of Zambia is 17 million.
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